Sooner or later it happens to every pilot: You get where you’re going to find wild winds, not mild winds, as you prepare to land.
You can handle this. Relax, take a breath, and assess the situation. Pilot training is all about making decisions under changing or unexpected conditions. Here are some key do’s and don’ts to help you confront this common scenario.
It’s important to resist any feelings of wanting to get the airplane on the ground immediately. Pilots call this hazardous mindset “get-down-itis,” and it is not associated with the most successful outcomes.
Inventory your choices. Pick the runway most aligned with the wind direction. If that means requesting a runway not then active at a towered airport, do it. If that’s not possible or the crosswind component is still too much, diverting to a nearby airport may be the best call—good reason to know what’s available in the vicinity.
On final, concentrate on maintaining a straight track down the extended centerline. If there’s turbulence, keep a few knots of extra airspeed for better control responsiveness. Use minimum flaps; avoid configuration changes that disturb your trainer’s trimmed condition.
At any stage, be ready to go around if you can’t land pointing straight ahead or without drift. Be as (smoothly) aggressive as necessary with the controls to manage directional alignment and control sideways drift.
Remember wind shear. Guard the throttle so you can add power quickly when correcting for a sudden increase in descent rate or to start a go-around. Get wind checks from the tower.
Maintaining a touch of power until you are down can help mediate your descent rate in gusty winds. Touch down with a few knots to spare above stall, but still main wheels first for a tricycle-gear airplane.
Be sparing with braking—in strong wind you won’t need much—and keep flight controls positioned properly throughout taxi operations.
Don’t preoccupy yourself with whether you misjudged the forecast or inadvertently violated your solo limitations. You can ponder that later.
Don’t overcontrol in turbulence—it makes things worse.
Don’t continue the approach if the controls reach the stops without having the desired effect. (That’s a huge cue to go around.)
Don’t let the radio distract you. It has no value as a flight control.
You can do this! Just keep your priorities straight and remain composed.