Aviation Safety Corner

GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I would like to finish our discussion on, "Wind at Your Back." The record shows that pilots should not discount the effects of a tailwind on takeoff and landing performance. This is Part IV of IV.

Now, let's start our discussion, "Landing Accidents." Most of the 164 tailwind landing accidents resulted in substantial damage to the aircraft, but they usually were "mild" in terms of injury to the occupants.

An exception was a charter flight that crashed at the Bridgeport, Conn. Airport late one night in April 1994. The aircraft was a Piper Navajo, piloted by a 3,500-hour commercial pilot. During the approach, the pilot had ILS glide slope data available, but he wasn't using it.

The airport had partial obscuration with fog, and the pilot didn't realize he was too high and close during the approach and landing. The airplane landed on Runway 6 (4,700 feet of asphalt) with a six-knot tailwind from 250 degrees. The pilot was unable to stop the Navajo before it collided with a blast fence off the departure end of the runway. The pilot and seven of his passengers were killed; another passenger survived with serious injuries.

Far more typical is an accident that involved a student pilot who crashed a Cessna 152 at Mattituck, N.Y. in February 1996. It was the student's third solo flight out-side of the traffic pattern to practice air work in the local area.

The student was not authorized to fly solo to other airports. Nevertheless, he decided to practice takeoffs and landings at another airport with a 2,200-foot runway.

Witnesses saw the airplane about three-quarters of the distance down Runway 1 and about 100 feet above the ground, performing a go-around. A few minutes later, one of the witnesses saw the Cessna attempting another landing. The airplane was still moving fast three-quarters of the way down the runway. It went off the end of the runway and collided with a three-foot snow bank.

There were skid marks along the last 450 feet of the runway, with the last 150 feet showing signs of a deflated right main tire. The airplane was substantially damaged, but the pilot got away with minor injuries.

Winds at the time were from 220 at 12 knots. NTSB blamed the crash on the pilot's inadequate decision-making and inadequate evaluation of the weather, which resulted in a down-wind landing and overrun.

Now, Let's discuss, "Takeoff Accidents." A telling example of a tailwind takeoff accident involved a Beech 35 Bonanza that crashed at West Manchester, West Virginia in October 1992.

The pilot was attempting to take off on Runway 22 (2,050 feet) with winds from 040 at 10 knots. Witnesses saw the airplane when it was about halfway down the runway. It rotated, became airborne and reached a maximum altitude of four to six feet. It then touched back down on the runway continued the takeoff roll for approximately another 550 feet, then lifted off nose-high just before the end of the runway.

The landing gear struck a tree at the departure end of the runway, and the Bonanza entered a descending left turn and hit the ground. The pilot and both passengers were killed.

Now, Let's discuss, "Avoiding Trouble." What can a prudent pilot do to reduce the hazards of a tail-wind
operation? First and foremost, don't engage in tailwind operation. Do everything you can do to determine the correct wind direction and velocity. And, if at all possible, takeoff or land with a headwind.

At uncontrolled airports, check the on-field wind indicators (refer to the AIM for details) and query the folks on the ground via unicom. At smaller, less-developed facilities, look at any indication you can to determine the wind direction before landing. Things like smoke, tree or foliage movement, ripples or waves on bodies of water and dust movement can provide at least some idea of which way the wind is blowing.

Secondly, understand the performance effects on your aircraft. Refer to the performance section in your AFM. Always do proper takeoff and landing performance calculations during your preflight, and use the information to make decisions about your flight.

If you absolutely must take off or land with a tailwind, an understanding of what it will do the performance of your aircraft will help you deal with it. It would be worthwhile to experience tailwind operations under controlled conditions, with a CFI aboard, so that you will know what to expect.

Now, in conclusion, remember if an unexpected tailwind is encountered on landing; go around if there is any doubt about being able to stop the aircraft on the runway.

Don't miss next month's Aviation Safety Corner, when I'll start a new discussion on, "Initial Climb Strategies" exploring the pros and cons of using your airplane's best-rate versus best-angle climb speed after liftoff. This will be in a four part series.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
Larry G. Harmon
FAA AVIATION SAFETY COUNSELOR

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