|Posted by Aaron Harrington on April 16, 2012 at 12:05 AM|
This past Wednesday night, April 11th, I scheduled N12334 with the intention of going up for a few circuits around the pattern to do my required 3 take-offs and 3 full stop landings to maintain night currency. This coming Wednesday, April 18th, I am doing a cross country flight to upper NJ to pick up Shannon and bring her back home for a meeting she has early Thursday morning. She doesn't get out of class on Wed till 6:30 so it would be cutting it close if I tried to race back to Harford county in the approaching darkness. So, to save myself embarrasment or the possibility of violating a few FARs, and for my own benefit of practice and currency, I went to the airport.
The whole day, the weather was looking really iffy for my night 'self lesson' and the forecast was calling for Winds 330 @ 15 G18. As many of my fellow pilot friends know, I am comfortable with 18+ if I am by myself or with very experienced passengers but generally I will just stay on the ground wishing I was in the air and reschedule for another day. However, the weather around here has been really wonky lately and it was anybody's best guess as to when the wind would calm down, and knowning my luck, it would be foggy for the next 7 days, potentially putting me into a position i'd rather not be in. So I thought I would at least go to the airport after work, check out the situation for myself and make the call as the sun set. I do have to thank Robert for reminding me how windy it actually was but I wouldn't say it was gusting 18 quite yet (15 very intermittently probably) and the wind sock was more or less down the runway so I made the call to go up.
After a thorough pre-flight and an extended run-up, I taxied back down the runway and did something I sure love doing, which is clicking that mic button 5 times and seeing the whole world light up. Its so cool. I turned around and lined myself up down 28, saying to myself, "compass, DG, mixture, brakes, full power, RPM, suction , fuel, oil pressure, oil temp, no high voltage light..... here I go" and dropped my heels to the floor and steered down the runway. I knew it was going to be some hearty practice when the nose swung to the right as the wind shifted from about 300 to 330 and I started bumping all over the place. "oh boy" I said to myself sarcastically over the headset. Downwind, base, final, and I don't care who you are, but if you're coming into Harford at night and haven't done it in nearly 3 months, you thank Kevin Hess for fixing those PAPIs and make sure they are blinking back and forth between red over white and white over white. Those trees start to become disconcerning when the tops start to be light up by the landing light.
First landing was a floater. I flared and just stayed in the air for what seemed like forever (maybe 300 ft) as I had maybe 20 gallons in the tanks and without passengers. But I heard "chirp"...."chirp" as I touched down. Next landing was, in my opinion, my best one of the evening, but I did bounce ever so slightly as I touched down a little fast but a much more stabilized approach. As I went up for a third (with plans to do a total of 4 or 5 take-offs and landings total) the wind started shifting back and forth between about 280 and 330 and the sock was starting to flap up and down. I would say it was 12 gusting 15 with the periods between gusts a lot closer together now, and I could tell when I turned final because the plane rose way up as I came over the trees and then stared sinking fast as I approached the road. I throttled up and the wind started bouncing me around quite a bit. I was going to give it a few more seconds before just going around and right as I crossed the telephone wires, it all settled out and I set her down gently but firm. I thought I better not push my luck so I settled for the 3 and taxied back. Of course, after I tied the plane down, the wind died down.... but it was very good practice and a good lesson. I highly recommend going up for some night practice in the wind as I think us pilots dont practice it enough. I'd rather have another pilot with me next time to give some pointers or some "here's what I would have done differently" perspective.
So, I'm ready for my trip to Somerset, (changed from Morristown to avoid Signature charging me $30 handling fee on top of $11 landing fee) and I am excited about doing a night cross country. I am going to spoil myself though and take the "SP" because I want panel lights!