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Thursday, May 21, 2015

High Wind Testing__How To Survive The Elements

This had been another one of those odd articles that started one place and ended up somewhere else. It started off as a puff piece that I could use to launch some video of stupid flying in stupid conditions, and then it occurred to me how many people truly struggle with flying in a little wind. I've seen people terrified to go up in 5mph winds, and if you live in the tropics that will put you out of the game for about 95%of the time.

If you are terrified of wrecking your plane, or can't afford to wreck, 3D is probably not a good choice for you anyway. If you truly want to be an extreme aerobatic pilot, you have to learn to fly in those extreme conditions that has the regular old Sunday flier packing up his gear. If you want to be the best you can be and get the most out of the plane and yourself, you have to push yourself, and this includes flying when it's not very comfortable.

Having said that, there is no sense in being stupid about it. There are times when you say "Oh, hell no," and that's when you don't fly. If you are sitting around thinking "well, maybe...." that's the time to go. If the conditions are just a little too much for you, I'm betting you can still do it.

As long as the wind is steady it's not a big problem. It's when you have gusty conditions that the plane can get slapped around. If the gusts are too big, then it gets dangerous and maybe even a bit stupid. The way I can tell it is time to quit is when it's no longer fun. If the gusts are 10mph more than the wind, it's time pack up. Being a little uncomfortable  is to be expected, but when you are fighting for your life the whole time, that's no fun and you are probably going to have a nasty accident.

Deal with It
Like everything else we don' want to do, if you want to fly sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with it.  I live in Pinellas County, which is a Peninsula on the west Coat of Florida. On one side we have Tampa Bay, and the other the Gulf Of Mexico. Between the inland heat waves and the afternoon Gulf sea breeze, conditions are tricky most of the time. It's only very rarely we get calm conditions, and most of the time we are flying in at least 10 mph wind. It's something you get used to because otherwise you would spend all day watching the wind sock instead of flying. If you fly in Pinellas county, you just deal with it.

Because this is what we have, there are times we fly when it's not a good idea, like, say, yesterday. You have to change your flying style a little and leave yourself a bit more margin, but it can be done.
You have to be very conscious of wind direction and not let yourself get too slow going downwind. It also helps to carry a bit more power and obviously you have to be much quicker reacting with throttle. You can actually use the wind to your advantage because it's like free lift that you don't have to pay for with speed. You can see this in some of the elevator drops I do and the plane is actually travelling backwards!

 It's things like this we call "wind games." You are basically taking a crappy day and turning into fun. Like this you don't spend much time doing tail touches or torque rolling down low because that would be asking for it. In wind games you do a lot of elevator drops and super high nose downwind harrier flying. You can check the videos and see what kind of crazy things we try.

We probably fly a lot of times when it's not real smart, mostly because we want to fly. Most often we fly in bad  conditions because there is a video camera there. I'm fortunate that almost all the guys I hang with are good video men,  and we rarely miss a shot. If we do miss a shot it's no big deal because you just do it again. I tell them the only unforgivable sin is to miss a crash because you cant do those over!

We shot this yesterday in 15-20 mph winds with 25mph gusts. This is getting way up there and it was probably not to smart to keep flying. Fortunately I had my two beater planes with me and I will fly either of those in anything but tornado warnings or a full tilt thunder storm. You can hear the wind ripping even over all but the loudest part of the music.

Get A Beater
I don't recommend that you fly in these kind of winds, but if you go up in wind that normally stops you from flying it will make you sharper. This is when a good flying beater becomes indispensable. . People keep trying to buy my beater Yak, but because it's a bit scruffy it would not kill me to wreck it (at least not as much s breaking a new plane would), and that makes it invaluable. This plane is two years old and been through three rudders, two canopies, a cowling, two tailwheel wires and a tailwheel, and a few sets of SFGs. I've knocked the stab out of it three times and it doesn't sit in there quite right, but she still flies beautifully. I fly it hard with little regard and much disdain. When I do kill this plane I will feel guilty I treated it so badly. I don't believe I have treated any airplane so badly and still gotten such sterling service out of it.

Working The Wind
Use a little altitude and try a few crazy things. High wind at altitude is especially useful for working on harrier because it throws so many variables at you that it teaches you to be sharp and it helps speed your reflexes. Your survival and plane saving skills become sharper. If you are going to fly 3D, you have to learn to fight your way out of trouble, and high wind training is really useful. You just have to use enough altitude and remember the elements are against you.

The worst (most dangerous) part of high wind flying is landing. That's when you are closest to the ground and going the slowest. If a gust hits you just right it can slap you straight into the ground, and it's especially bad from between 3 to 5 feet off the deck. The wind hits the runway and becomes turbulent, and this is called "ground effect." You get ground effect even in perfect conditions because air is still coming off the plane, but in high wind this can really upset the plane. Any time we get knocked down by the wind we say be got a "wind bitchslapping,"

Because the air becomes so turbulent low to the ground, I like to carry a little more speed when landing. Speed makes the plane more stable and more resistant to the previously mentioned slapping. In general I go for a wheel landing, but whenever we shoot video we go for the spectacular. 

In the end, if you get accustomed to less than desirable conditions, you will fly that much better when the weather is nice. That, and you will be having fun on days that before would have kept you grounded. Of course, you don't want to fly if it's so bad that it totally wrenches the plane out of control. That can be dangerous to the people around you, so you have to learn what you can handle.

If you wreck your plane, don't blame me!

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