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According to AOPA's Nall Report, nearly 40% of fixed-gear, single-engine accidents are on landing. And in the majority of those accidents, wind is a factor.
It's spring, and across a lot of the US, it's windier than most of the year. That's because as the jet stream starts moving north for the summer, it brings with it lots of competing high and low pressure systems. When you have strong pressure systems (and pressure gradients), you get a lot of wind.
Carrying extra airspeed on final approach, and flying faster than the manufacturer recommends for your weight, usually makes it more difficult to land. But on a windy, gusty day, you do just that. Here's why.
Wind gusts can be variable and unpredictable, which are two things you never want to deal with when you're landing.
When you fly on a gusty day, you know that your airspeed indicator can have some pretty wild fluctuations. And when you're getting beat up in the pattern, it's better to be a little bit on the fast side than too slow.
The reason is simple: if you're on speed or a little slow on final approach, a sudden loss in headwind from a gust could get you closer to stall speed that you'd like. And if you're like us, that's a pucker factor you'd rather not deal with.
So what's the solution? Add some speed. Here's what the FAA recommends.
When you're dealing with a gusty day, the FAA recommends that you add half the gust factor to your final approach speed.
For example, if the winds are reported at 18 knots, gusting 30 knots, it means you have a gust factor of 12 knots (30-18 = 12). So if you take half the gust factor, you get 6 knots (12/2 = 6).
Yes, it's math, but it's really simple math you can do in the airplane.
For example, in an SR-22T (Gen 5), Cirrus recommends that you fly final at 80 knots. So on a day with a 12 knot gust factor, you'd add 6 knots to the published 80 knots, for a final approach speed of 86 knots.
So what about flaps? Should you put them all the way down on a gusty day? According to the FAA, not necessarily.
When you land with less than full flaps, you have two advantages. First, your plane will have a higher pitch attitude, requiring less of a pitch change as you transition from final approach to touchdown.
And second, you'll land at a higher airspeed, which gives you more positive control of the plane throughout touchdown. But keep in mind that more speed isn't always better. Flying an excessive final approach speed (more than half the gust factor) can cause you to float and miss your landing point.
But by sticking to half the gust factor for your airspeed, your landing will be right where you want it: on point, with little float.
By adding half the gust factor to your final approach speed, you can land on windy days with as much confidence as a calm day. And at the same time, you'll give yourself a safe cushion from an unexpected loss of airspeed on final.
Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at email@example.com.