The weather was… interesting to say the least. The remnants of a blown out hurricane were brushing the islands and forcing powerful winds ahead of it. I had scheduled a flight. My first in a month and a half according to my logbook, but what seemed like an eternity to my mind. I was a bit nervous, but I was also determined. My first mistake. I needed to feel the wind at my feet again.
I showed up at the school and did my walk around of the Delta Dog (Cessna N5207D), talking to her and letting her know our plans for the two hours I reserved. We would be flying directly out of Honolulu to Kalaeloa and practice our performance landings. We’d be doing as many as we could manage, hopefully some short field, soft field and emergency approaches. She seemed as eager as I.
After I collected the ATIS information for Honolulu, I started her engine and we taxied out to the run up area. We went through our preflight maneuvers and decided we were ready to go. I asked for clearance out of Bravo via the Tripler departure and was informed about the Red Hill departure. First time I had ever taken that departure, but I remembered it was similar to Tripler if not close to the same. As I settled into all the preflight requirements to get out of Honolulu, I felt at ease in the plane. We were becoming one entity again.
After getting clearance to taxi to runway 4 Right at Foxtrot, I turned the ailerons into the wind, and we rolled straight down the line and into position smoothly. I watched a United 737 land on the crossing runway 8 Left, and was told by the tower to “Position and Hold” on Runway 4 Right.
I moved into the takeoff position and immediately went through the final checkout before takeoff. The Delta Dog and I sat eagerly on the runway looking at the sky. “Cessna Zero-Seven-Delta, cleared for take off, runway Four Right,” and I was cruising down the runway building speed. At 55 knots, we lifted from the ground, I straightened the ailerons, settled into a constant speed climb and we soared into the sky.
Leveling at 1500 feet I followed the departure pattern west out of Honolulu. I called up the ATIS information for Kalaeloa, and found the winds to be less than savory for normal landings. But I was determined. My second mistake. The winds were 110 at 10. (From 110 degrees at 10 knots) The runways in use were 4 Left and 4 Right. Basically, the wind was a near direct cross. I calculated the winds to be a factor of 9 knots cross, and I knew my Cessna had a maximum of 15 knots out of the factory, but I also remember my instructor telling me to do nothing over 10 knots. I made the decision to try for it. My third mistake.
I radioed Kalaeloa tower for clearance for a “Stop and Go” and received clearance for Runway Four-Left. Runway Four-Right was in use by the Coast Guard helicopter also taking advantage of the crosswind.
I descended to 800 feet and angled into the downwind leg of the traffic pattern. Once abeam (parallel) of the runway numbers, my expected landing spot, I pulled the throttle to 1700 r.p.m.’s and lowered the flaps ten degrees. I turned onto the base leg and saw the bright orange windsock at the end of the runway pointing directly at me. It looked to be at a right angle to the runway. And it was at full inflation. I took a breath and dropped the flaps another 10 degrees. I turned onto the final leg at 300 feet and began to line up with the runway. I put in the rest of the flaps, full left rudder, nearly full right aileron and practically turned the plane on its side as I slipped down to the runway. As I came up on the numbers I was at about 50 feet, but I expected to be a little high. As I lowered to within ten feet of the runway it became an even harder struggle to keep the plane aloft and straight. I could feel every inch between the runway and me. I could feel the wind buffeting the plane. Suddenly I felt my right wheel actually touch the runway and I tried to straighten out immediately. The result was a scary ride and my wake up call.
As soon as my wheel touched down the wind tried to flip me over to the left. The plane started careening towards the right of the runway. I started fishtailing! I raised the flaps to ten degrees immediately and put in full power to abort the landing. I was in a bubble of immediate need. Whatever the plane needed to stay upright I did. I put in power, pulled it out a little. Put in more left rudder, switched to right rudder, yanked the ailerons right and then level again. I felt myself losing the battle to keep her upright. The plane wanted to flip over to the left, but kept sliding to the right of the runway. At one point I remembered looking down the end of the runway and realizing I was looking more left that straight. For a split second, a feeling of complete resignation came over me. I knew I was going to crash. The plane wouldn’t rise, and she wouldn’t straighten out. I knew I was either going to run off the side of the runway or flip over. And yet somehow I knew I couldn’t crash, I was in control of the plane not the other way around.
That flash of determination roused me again. Half way down the runway with the far end approaching quickly, I put in full throttle, raised the flaps fully, and dropped the right wheel on the runway. Suddenly I was going straight! I barreled down the runway with full right ailerons, and lifted off with 1000 feet to spare. I never knew how short 4500 feet could be until that moment.
But I was not done. As I climbed back to 800 feet, I was running through my head, what I did wrong. The plane should be able to handle a nine-knot crosswind. I had done twelve with my instructor when he was showing me how to do slips. I knew I could do it. I stayed in the traffic pattern. When I came abeam of the numbers again, I pulled the throttle back to 1700 again. A surprised sounding voice over the radio gave me a clearance for the option on runway four-left again. I knew why they were surprised, but I was determined. I’d done this before and I would do it again. I acknowledged the clearance and turned onto the base leg. Again the windsock pointed its orange finger at me. A warning I took to say “Be careful and serious.” That was the mistake I had been making. I wasn’t being careful and thinking seriously. I continued to descend and entered the Final leg at 300 feet again. Again full left rudder, right ailerons and slipping down to the runway. My speed was too fast, so this time I put in ten degrees of flaps, and angled the plane down to the numbers. Raising the nose ever so slightly so as not to bleed too much speed, I stopped descending. That wasn’t what I wanted either. I was at 100 feet and less than 500 feet from the runway. I lowered the nose slightly, watched my speed, kept my slip angle as constant as I could. I knew I was coming in with one wing lower than the other, but I was confident. I hadn’t put in nearly as much flap this time, giving the wind less chance to lift me up. I had a bit more ground speed this time too. I felt much better about this landing. I came in over the numbers and passed them. Floating down the runway at about ten feet, I knew I had missed my landing point but I knew I could make the landing. Suddenly my right wheel touched down and I leveled the ailerons forcing the left wheel to touch down. The plane buffeted some, but I immediately raised the flaps, turned the ailerons into the wind and pressed hard on the brakes. Pushing down on the yoke I managed to keep the plane on the ground and came to a complete stop. I was shocked and ecstatic. I had landed the plane in a nine-knot crosswind! I knew I could do it.
Sitting for a while I took deep breaths and decided I could do four more landings before returning to Honolulu. I was tired but exhilarated at the same time. That first attempt had taken a lot out of me, but it also showed me what I did wrong and why you shouldn’t land with full flaps in a mean crosswind. The instructor may have told me that, but nothing drives it home like a life experience. I learned, REALLY LEARNED how to do a crosswind landing.
I did two more teeth clenching, breath holding landings on runway Four-Left. As I was taking off for my third landing, I heard the Tower give clearance to another Cessna for “Stop and Goes” on runway Four-Left. I remembered the Coast Guard Helicopter saying that it had completed its last practice landing, so I asked for permission to switch to runway Four-Right. The tower gave me clearance and I made right close traffic.
As I turned on the Crosswind leg, perpendicular to the runway, I saw smoke coming from the ground. I had a perfect vantage point, from 800 feet to see trees burning in a small section next to the road leading to the beach. I radioed the Tower telling them they had a fire and asked if anyone had reported it yet. No one had, and they thanked me for the information.
My first landing on Four-Right was a little long, I turned onto my base leg to soon, but I landed the plane just as perfectly in the heavy crosswinds as I had my previous two. I took off again for my final landing at Kalaeloa. As I crossed over the fire again, it was raging. Grey smoke was piling into the sky and the trees were going like matchsticks. I put all my concentration into landing. I came abeam the numbers, reduced the throttle and lowered my flaps. At 45 degrees out I turned onto base, notifying the tower. I saw the other plane for Four-Left in it’s downwind, and dismissed it. I entered the final leg and lined up for what was looking like a perfect landing. I lowered a little more flaps and kept some speed up for the landing. With full left rudder, right ailerons and the right wing dipped down, I came over the numbers and felt the right wheel touch down. Leveling out, I was ecstatic. Not only had I completed landings in a mean crosswind, but my last landing was picture perfect, right on the numbers.
Bringing the plane to a full stop, I waited on the runway. I said I was only doing five crosswind landings, and that was all I was going to do. I wasn’t going to push the envelope any further. But in order for me to return to Honolulu, I had to exit to the north which would have me crossing over runway Four-Left, where the other Cessna was landing. I decided to wait, watch his landing, and once he was clear of the runway, request a North departure.
The other Cessna came in with full flaps, and slowly descended to about 20 feet off the runway. That’s when he started waggling. He tried to get down but he was fighting the wind hard, dipping one wing and then the other. The wind wasn’t letting him descend. After he crossed the midpoint of the field he aborted the landing, and began to climb. He radioed the tower for clearance to the North. The winds were definitely not what he wanted to deal with that day. I couldn’t blame him. It was a really mean crosswind.
I asked the tower for a clearance to the north and was granted it. I took off feeling excited about what I had just done. I learned something and improved my skill. And I even saw the fire trucks headed to the fire I had reported from the air. It was a good day to fly. After radioing the Tower that I had cleared their airspace, the Tower radioed back,
“No Traffic reported. Excellent flying, pilot. G’day.”
I literally floated back to Honolulu, on Cloud Nine. I was given clearance to fly directly over Pearl Harbor toward the Navy Marine Golf Course via Ford Island. Turning onto the downwind for runway Four-Left, I was relieved when the Tower updated the winds to be 080 at 8; only a 4.8 Knot crosswind. I greased the landing at Honolulu and taxied back to the hangar. It was most definitely an excellent day to fly.