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Training Tip: The nine-knot edgeTraining Tip: The nine-knot edge

Here’s the proposition: A quality landing demonstration. I do one, you do one, same airplane, same loading, same long runway to land on.

When setting up for a landing, make sure you are heading into the wind. Landing with a quartering tailwind can be dangerous. Photo by David Tulis.

No special techniques or artificial runway markings needed, like a mock bush-pilot fly-off. We’ll each enter the pattern and land, winner being whomever touches down at the most precise airspeed, best positioned on the centerline, and exits at the first taxiway without unreasonable braking. Pretty straightforward.

Oh, I forgot to mention… I get a nine-knot edge because you have to land with a tailwind and I don’t.

And in another twist that might make you holler “Rigged!,” things are arranged so your tailwind is the worst kind for directional control—a quartering tailwind.

Something I witnessed from a cockpit recently convinced me that pitching this type of contest could put needed focus on a landing scenario that pilots sometimes allow to put them south of safety.

Returning to the airport after two hours of flight in dead calm air, I watched as the pilot then flying entered the base leg for Runway 33, as instructed. It hadn’t been surprising, two miles out and descending, when moderate chop began to jostle us, and the tower announced new surface wind of 210 degrees at seven knots. That was consistent with the forecast for the period; the pilot acknowledged the wind and continued.

Well, I thought, that’s a wee bit of a crosswind. Nothing wrong with that, but that wind vector, south of 240 degrees, produced a tailwind component. Stir in some turbulence, and a landing may get sloppy.

As it now does. We flop-skip to touchdown, downwind of the centerline. Directional control on the ground is skittish in the quartering tailwind—trust me, it doesn’t take much.

The next landing will be mine. I decide to seize what I guesstimate to be a nine-knot advantage with a simple request: “Tower, is Runway 15 available for landing?”

With traffic light, the controller grants the request, inviting me to go ahead and “teardrop back around” for the approach, and announcing that Runway 15 is now the active runway.

I'll still have the chop and the crosswind. But I lose the four-knot tailwind component, grabbing a five-knot headwind component.

Nine knots less over the ground for landing? Yes, please.

It was my call to make, and I made it. Don’t wait for someone else to give you a safety edge you can get yourself.

How do you visualize the effect of wind on your landings? Share your thoughts at

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: Flight Training, Communication, Loss of Control
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