As I drove to Beirut Airport today I didn't really notice there was wind. Last Sunday conditions were ideal and I did 12 touch and goes in 1.3 hours. My instructor wasn’t too happy though, expecting my return after only half as much.
From the windsock, I guessed today’s wind about 10 to 15Knts. Definitely crosswind to runway 17. My instructor asked me "how do you like the wind today?". About 10 days ago he didn’t let me take the aircraft in a similar wind since I was only at my 3rd or 4th solo. I wasn’t sure what his decision would be today but anyway I was eager to show confidence. Especially that what I've mostly noticed from crosswinds (with my meager 20.8hrs) is that you only have to point the nose of the aircraft into the wind on approach by the right amount to keep the aircraft locked on the runway’s centerline. Also, I keep some power to "evolve" through the crosswind approach more efficiently. My instructor seemed sure of himself and ok'ed me to go for 3 touch and goes and come back. I thought it was too little and walked to the aircraft a little bit disappointed because of the shortness of the flight, but this was soon about to change.
Eager to go, I hopped in the aircraft and started the procedure. 10 minutes later, I am on runway 21 clear to take off. Wind is a strong headwind for runway 21: 220/12knots. The aircraft leaps airborne enthusiastically and my first problem: I am asked to turn left instead of right and to fly over the city at 1500ft due to traffic. The aircraft is bouncing over the city vigorously due to mechanical turbulence. No problem. Still confident, I rejoin final to runway 17. I have trouble controlling my approach speed: I usually approach at 75Knts because the normal approach for a flaps-up C152 is between 60 and 70, adding to it 5Knts for safety. However, this time, I had trouble keeping the speed below 80Knts because I had to coordinate my direction. Not sure if I was causing it unconsciously myself, but my speed was always returning to 80. Somewhere in me there was the continuous fear of seeing the speed fall all of a sudden. My first approach was laborious and I wasn't comfortable with the speed, impossible to manage a 75Knts approach. I also had to keep power because I felt that the crosswind would push me left otherwise. ATC clears me to touch&go on runway 17 with a wind report that isn’t too encouraging.. 220/14Knts. If you do the math: runway 17’s actual direction is 165 (instead of 170). 220/14Knts means an offset of 55’. 14Knts x Sin(55) = 11.5Knts of crosswind component. I remembered a student telling me once that the maximum crosswind component that a C152 can take is 12Knts. But my survival instinct pushed away the thought and I focused on the approach.
I kept the aircraft aligned and struggled to flare for a smooth landing…. But it slammed on the runway… said to myself it’s ok for a first try. Then I accelerated through the trouble of keeping the aircraft straight, and pulled up. And “it” happened: I felt a strange fear as the aircraft completely hovered sideways to the left as soon as it was airborne, it hovered over runway 18, then over to the highway that parallels the airport!!!!! The ball was to the right and I had a strange sensation that the left wing wanted to go down. I pressed right rudder but not too hard because I was in an uncomfortable position, I eased up a bit and let it take me, just as long as the wings were level. I decided to start my right turn much sooner than usual, and initiated it. The controls felt funny and the aircraft wasn’t turning unless a steep banking angle is applied. In the middle of the turn I found myself with a 30+ (if not more) angle. When I reached downwind, it occurred to me that funnily and unexpectedly the aircraft responded most predictably and comfortably there, where the wind is at the tail, even though the crosswind amount is the same. It’s as if the wind wasn’t pushing me anymore.
The whole flight was agitated, and it occurred to me that flying smoothly and confidently through this wind was not obvious, solid experience is required.
I experienced this weird consequence of crosswind at each take-off. At my final landing, the aircraft slammed again, getting me worried about the landing gear. My landings are often extremely smooth so flare practice in these conditions is definitely in order.
Anyway, the flight was over and I turned the next taxiway, stopped to let an MEA Airbus A320 cross in front of me, taxied down to the hangar, and finally briefed with my instructor about my endeavors..
Next time this happens, I’ll be shoving the rudder pedal as much as needed to continue flying above the centerline after take-off, correcting with the ailerons.
It occurred to me that one could never be too confident. One has to try all the situations, and if they don’t occur to him, he has to go and look for them. I was said that my instructor gave me only three runs but two times in the flight I felt at the limit of my comfort zone…
Anyway, 5 minutes later I was in my car, back to earth driving to work as if nothing happened, as if I wasn’t in the air just 10 minutes ago and as if I am calmly thinking about my work, just like all the other mortals stuck in traffic and pollution around me. Those people who have never experienced the earth except from the ground. I was playing their game again. But couldn’t help thinking about how I was flying ABOVE all these people, checking out the restless city from 1500ft on this beautiful but windy Thursday morning. Especially when I also saw the building of my office, down there, vegetating at 0 ft…
I also thought about the MEA pilot and how flying an Airbus A320 through crosswind to Paris is business as usual for him…
Enjoyed sharing my experience with you, hope you enjoyed reading it