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Training Tip: Tailwind troubleTraining Tip: Tailwind trouble

Inbound to a nontowered airport, you tune in the common traffic advisory frequency hoping to hear which runway local traffic is using.
Suspect a tailwind on final approach? Go around!

All’s quiet, so you report your position and intentions to land. The airport’s automated weather system is inoperative, so you will overfly the field above traffic pattern altitude and check the windsock for landing information.

Just then a voice on the radio advises, “Traffic has been using Runway 17.” This is welcome information that will save you time, as you are positioned for a proper entry to the pattern for Runway 17.

An uneasy feeling stirs in you as you start your turn from base leg to final. Did you really turn base so close in that the 5,000-foot runway’s threshold now appears so much nearer than expected?

Your airspeed is normal for your configuration, but now the runway numbers are slipping beneath the spinner, and your altitude is plainly too high—even to attempt a forward slip.

If we were to freeze the action here and illustrate the choices you face on a “decision tree,” its two branches might be captioned (A) “I have a tailwind and have drifted in toward the runway, but fortunately it’s a long runway,” and (B) “I have a tailwind. I should go around immediately.”

Choose (B). As for (A), don’t count on a long runway saving the approach when an overshoot has resulted from a tailwind-landing attempt (inadvertent or otherwise). Even if your airspeed is correct, your groundspeed will be much higher. The effect of that is presented in landing distance tables of most aircrafts’ pilot’s operating handbooks, one of which advises to increase landing distances by 10 percent “for each 2 knots” of tailwind up to 10 knots. (Above that value the POH is silent, perhaps to discourage the practice.)

The (A) scenario gets worse: While you are tacking 50 percent onto your landing roll distance in that hypothetical 10-knot tailwind, you are voluntarily “shortening” the runway by pushing the overshoot approach to a touchdown point too far down the surface to stop safely.

What happens next? Bad decisions lead to limited options, and bad outcomes.

Deciding which way to land should be based on more than a best guess or a stale wind report from the ground. Take time to be certain—and reject any approach that gives rise to that uneasy feeling.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Technique, Takeoffs and Landings, Student

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