February 13, 2009
One evening Mitch, a very good friend and flying buddy of mine, called to ask if I wanted to fly to Santa Fe, N.M., from St. Louis, Mo., in his Mooney Bravo for a weekend of motorcycle riding. My answer, of course, was yes. On the way out we stopped in Amarillo, Texas, to refuel and get some lunch at the English Field House, the restaurant on the field. There we enjoyed the finest grilled chicken breast sandwich with fresh avocado I’ve ever had. Right then Mitch and I decided we would return there for lunch on our trip home to St. Louis.
We had a wonderful weekend riding motorcycles, and the morning of our departure was sunny and clear. Mitch had filed an IFR flight plan from Santa Fe Municipal Airport to Spirit of St. Louis Airport in a suburb of St. Louis, with a stop for fuel and chicken sandwiches at Rich Husband Amarillo International Airport. The weather was clear all the way to Amarillo, and soon we were on our way, GPS direct at 11,000 feet. The air was smooth as glass, and we were enjoying a steady tailwind.
We picked up the Amarillo ATIS about 75 miles out and learned that Runway 31 was closed for resurfacing. But it gets windy in Texas, and particularly on this day. The wind at the surface was out of the northwest at 45 knots. The active Runway 4 was 13,502 feet long, but the 90-degree crosswind was well beyond the Mooney’s 17-knot maximum demonstrated crosswind component. We knew that Tradewinds airport was just seven miles southwest of our destination, and its Runway 35 was pretty well aligned with the prevailing wind. In fact, we had to fly right over Tradewinds to get to Amarillo International. Should we go to Tradewinds or continue on to Amarillo International and those coveted chicken and avocado sandwiches? We decided to answer the call of the sandwiches.
As we began our descent to Amarillo, we felt the first evidence of the strong surface winds: some chop that made us reflexively tighten our seatbelts. Amarillo Tower cleared us to land, and we slowed to 140 knots, gear extension speed for the Mooney, then 110 knots for approach flaps. On final, our crab angle was so extreme that the right wing blocked a clear view of the runway. The turbulence was creating one rough ride. Was that grilled chicken sandwich really worth all this?
A normal landing technique in the Mooney is to add full flaps on short final and cross the numbers at 75 to 80 knots, then decrease manifold pressure while trimming back until touchdown. Mitch, a high-time Mooney pilot, was doing exactly what I would have considered a good approach for the landing by flying faster than normal. In a strong, gusty crosswind, I like to increase the indicated airspeed by at least 10 knots depending on the strength of the crosswind. The extra speed would provide additional rudder authority that would help us align the nose of the aircraft with the runway centerline. Too little speed would allow the aircraft to weathervane into the wind.
We had slowed down to 90 knots on short final, and we decided to use approach flaps instead of full flaps. The idea was to hold the airspeed between 100 and 110 knots and fly down the runway until just before touchdown. At that point we would use right rudder and left aileron and pull power off. Over the numbers the altitude looked good and the airspeed was around 105 knots. We also had 13,056 feet of concrete in front of us. But would we have enough rudder authority to keep the aircraft tracking straight down the runway?
As the Mooney got within a foot or so above the concrete, both Mitch and I pushed right rudder to bring the nose around, and full left aileron to keep the left wing down. We were looking straight down the runway on the centerline. We were cleared to taxi to the ramp at the next turn off. As we taxied toward the restaurant and fuel truck both of us were wiping our sweaty hands on our slacks. We had lunch and re-fueled.
The chicken sandwiches were great. But were they worth braving a 45-knot crosswind? I certainly wouldn’t try it again.
After lunch, we taxied back to Runway 4 for departure. Facing into the wind during engine run-up, the airspeed indicator was reading 45 knots. Run-up finished, we were immediately cleared to taxi into position for take off. We taxied onto the runway, held the brakes and went to full power as the tower gave us progressive wind checks. We released the brakes and were quickly on our way to St. Louis after what must have been one of the shortest takeoff rolls in Mooney history.
Jerry Majda obtained his private pilot certificate in 1974. He is a CFII with more than 4,100 total hours, including more than 1,600 hours of dual given.
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