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Gusty winds require diligence


A sudden wind gust or a sudden drop in wind on take-off or landing can ruin our whole day.

We have been taught to add half of the gust factor to our final approach speeds, but we don’t always carry that gust factor to touch down and many of us forget the winds can do the same things to us on take-off.

The pilot of a Murphy Rebel on amphibious floats took-off in gusty wind conditions. Just after lift-off, the wind dropped and the aircraft settled back onto the runway. The aircraft then over ran the end of the runway into a soybean crop and nosed over. The pilot was uninjured and the passenger received minor injuries.

The sudden loss of wind and consequently the drop in indicated airspeed and lift caused the aircraft to settle back onto the runway. A slightly higher take-off speed may have prevented this.

The pilot of a Zenair Zodiac CH601 was taking off from runway 06 with a gusty wind from the southeast at 10 gusting 15 knots. After lift-off, the right wing lifted, the aircraft veered left and touched down on the runway again. The aircraft departed the runway to the left, struck some deep ruts, nosed over and came to rest inverted. The pilot was able to get out of the aircraft and lift the tail so the passenger could get out. Both received minor injuries.

The pilot was unprepared for the wind gust from the right and was not able to make the appropriate crosswind inputs to stop the aircraft from veering to the left.

We tend to look at the windsock to determine which way to take-off and then we forget to make the appropriate crosswind corrections and we forget to be prepared for the possible gusts. A slightly higher take-off speed may have helped here as well.

The pilot of a Volksplane VP 1 took-off to the south from a private strip where the wind was from the south at 16 gusting to 23 knots. Shortly after take-off, the pilot began a 180 degree turn. The aircraft suddenly pitched down and struck the ground in a nose down attitude. The pilot received only minor injuries.

A sudden drop in wind speed combined with the turn away from the wind reduced the indicated airspeed to below the stall speed. A higher take-off speed and a higher climb speed may have prevented this.

The pilot of a PA 12 floatplane took-off from a river with one passenger on board. Shortly after lifting off, the aircraft encountered a sudden loss of wind; the aircraft stalled dropping one wing and struck the river surface wing low. Both pilot and passenger received minor injuries.

There are two possible scenarios here. First, it is possible the pilot took-off in gusty conditions and was not prepared for the sudden drop in headwind. Second, winds tend to funnel down rivers in valleys or between high stands of trees. As soon as the aircraft climbed out of the valley or climbed above the trees, it encountered a sudden wind shift which caused a loss of headwind.

The pilot of a PA 18 was landing at a remote strip in gusty wind conditions. On touchdown, the right wing hit the ground and then the aircraft ground looped to the left and departed the runway to the left into some willows.

Tail draggers and gusty winds are a challenge. Most pilots perform a flaps-up wheel landing in gusty wind conditions. The challenge comes when the aircraft starts to slow and the tail has to be lowered. Improper crosswind control inputs or a sudden wind gust that the pilot is not prepared for at this time will almost guarantee a ground loop.

A Van’s RV 7 amateur built aircraft was on final to a private strip in gusty wind conditions. Just prior to touchdown the aircraft nose suddenly dropped, the nose gear hit the ground and the aircraft nosed over and came to rest inverted. Both the pilot and passenger sustained minor injuries.

If indeed this pilot added the gust factor to his final approach speed, it doesn’t appear that he held a slightly higher airspeed into the flare.

The pilot of a Cessna C-172RG was landing on runway 04 when a gust of wind caused the aircraft to veer and pitch forward resulting in a prop strike.

This cryptic report doesn’t tell us if it was in fact a gust of wind or a sudden drop in wind that caused the aircraft to veer and pitch forward. In either case, the pilot was not prepared for the wind change.

The pilot of a Stinson 108-3 with two passengers on board attempted to land on runway 11 with the wind from 160 degrees at 15 knots and gusting. This attempt was aborted and the pilot attempted to land on abandoned runway 05. He lost control of the aircraft, crashed and came to rest 100 yards to the west of the runway centreline. The pilot was seriously injured, but neither passenger received any injuries.

The Stinson 108 is a notoriously difficult aircraft to land in a crosswind. It has a large vertical stabilizer and a very small rudder. As airspeed decreases, the large tail becomes a sail with very little control from the small rudder. The mystery here is why the pilot who had difficulty with a gusty crosswind from 50 degrees to the right, decided to change runways to one where he had the wind from 110 degrees to the right.

The wind on take-off and landing tends to receive less attention than it should. We forget about the wind as soon as we line up for take-off and we forget that the wind affects us in the flare for landing more than it does on final approach.

The slower we fly, the more a crosswind or a wind gust affects us. The flare is not a place to relax, especially not in a tail dragger.

Crosswind take-offs and landings require practice and gusty winds of any sort require diligence.

Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies medevacs from Victoria in a Lear 25. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.

Got an aviation safety story to tell? Dale Nielsen would like to hear from pilots who have educational aviation experiences to relate. Excerpts from these stories will be used in upcoming safety articles. Dale can be contacted via e-mail: