Safety Publications/Articles

Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Caught in the wind

Now that spring is here, many pilots dust off their pilot certificates and start flying again. If you haven't flown much during the winter months, a couple hours of dual might help you to avoid the kinds of accidents detailed here. Although no one was hurt in any of these accidents -- all of which occurred in April 2001 -- the four aircraft were substantially damaged.

On April 1, a Cessna 195B took off from Montgomery County Airport in Conroe, Texas. The pilot of the tailwheel airplane was using Runway 19, and the winds were from 170 degrees at 9 kt. During the takeoff roll, the left wing rose and the right wing tip dragged on the ground. According to the pilot, full left aileron and right rudder couldn't keep the airplane from weathervaning. The pilot then reduced power, and the airplane "nosed down and landed on its back." The cause of this accident was the pilot's failure to properly compensate for the wind.

On April 13, a Piper Seneca on final approach to Runway 27 at Hagerstown, Maryland, experienced light to moderate turbulence and a crosswind that required a 30- to 40-degree correction. The pilot said that at about 100 feet above the runway, however, the crosswind subsided dramatically. At three to five feet above the runway, he reported a "significant and abrupt" buffeting of the airplane. The airplane then weathervaned to the right, rolled left, and started to drift left of centerline. The pilot applied corrective control inputs, but the airplane touched down nosewheel first, bounced, and then landed on the nosewheel again. The nosegear collapsed, and the propellers contacted the runway. Reported winds at the time of the accident were 280 degrees at 22 kt with gusts to 28. According to the NTSB, the cause of this accident was the pilot's failure to maintain runway alignment during the landing phase. A factor in the accident was a sudden change in wind direction and speed.

On April 22, the pilot of a Cessna 177 attempted a go-around from Runway 20, a 2,100-foot turf runway at Hampton Airfield in Hampton, New Hampshire. After passing over a tree line, the airspeed "shot up" to 105 kt and then back to 80 kt. Perceiving this to be heavy turbulence, the pilot chose to execute a go-around, climbing at "best climb of 65 to 70 kt." The airplane would not ascend and struck trees 50 feet beyond the departure end of the runway. Reported winds in the area at the time of the accident were 280 degrees at 18 kt with gusts to 25 kt. The NTSB reported that this accident was caused by the pilot's inadvertent encounter with a downdraft.

On April 29, a pilot on short final to Runway 27 at Virginia Municipal Airport in Eveleth, Minnesota, attempted a go-around when a gust of wind blew his Cessna 172M off the centerline. A subsequent gust caused the airplane to enter a right turn. According to the pilot he "added full power and was going to go around, but at that slow speed, I didn't have much aileron control and could not get the airplane to turn into the wind." The pilot did not have enough altitude to clear the trees along the right side of the runway. Local winds at the time of the accident were 200 degrees at 16 kt with gusts to 24 kt. The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's inadequate compensation for the crosswind condition.

If you'd like some helpful information about operating in spring winds, see ASF's Ups and Downs of Takeoffs and Landings Safety Advisor, available both in print and online.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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