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Why You Shouldn't Land With A Tailwind

Terry Williams / Ann Arbor News

From the moment you start learning to fly, you're taught to not land with a tailwind. But is it really that bad? Here are three landing accident reports from the NTSB that prove it is.

So when it comes to landing accidents, how much tailwind is too much? In each of these reports, the pilot faced less than 10 knots of tailwind.

Accident 1: Runway Overrun With 5 Knot Tailwind

(Read the NTSB report here.)

A Cirrus SR22 was landing on runway 22 with a 5 knot tailwind at KAVX. The airplane, which was near max gross weight, reportedly touched down within the first few hundred feet of the 3,000' runway. However, the pilot wasn't able to bring the aircraft to a stop, and it overran the runway, coming to rest on a 45 degree downslope past the departure end of the runway.

According to the NTSB, at maximum gross weight in the weather conditions of the airport at the time of the accident, the airplane had a calculated ground roll of about 1,250 feet, with a total landing distance of about 2,500 feet. Taking into account the 5 knot tailwind and the 1.69% upslope, this airplane's final ground roll was calculated to be about 1,300 feet, and the total landing distance was about 2,650 feet.

So what happened here? First, runway 22 was being used by other aircraft, which may have pressured the pilot to use the same runway. While the tailwind component was only 5 knots, it increased landing distance by 25%, and gave the pilot little margin for error. And unfortunately, the pilot's decision to land with the tailwind ended up with the plane going off the end of the runway. Had the pilot chosen to land with a headwind instead, they most likely would have had enough runway to safely stop.

Accident 2: 7 Knot Tailwind On AN IFR Approach

(Read the NTSB report here.)

A Cessna Turbo 210 was on an RNAV approach in IMC. Based on radar data, the approach was unstabilized from the final approach fix inbound, and the aircraft broke out of the clouds significantly left of the runway.

The pilot made a right turn and maneuvered the aircraft toward the runway. But because of the aircraft's position and the 7-knot tailwind, the pilot touched down approximately half way down the wet runway.

Even though the pilot had 40 degrees of flaps in, they were unable to bring the aircraft to a stop on the remaining portion of the runway.

The aircraft overran the departure end of the runway at approximately 45 knots, and impacted terrain, collapsing the nose gear.

So was tailwind the only factor in this accident? No, but it played a crucial role. Had the pilot faced a headwind, and not a tailwind, they would have most likely been able to land earlier on the runway. And had the pilot even touched down half way down the runway, they may have had enough stopping distance to stay on the runway. According to Cessna 210 landing performance charts, a 7 knot tailwind increases the aircraft's landing distance by 28%.

Obviously a missed approach would have been the best decision, but by continuing the landing, the tailwind was a major factor in the accident.

Accident 3: Tailwheel Landing With 8 Knot Tailwind

(Read the NTSB report here.)

Anyone who flies a tailwheel aircraft knows how challenging they can be to land in wind. And when there's a tailwind, landing safely is even more difficult.

In this accident, a Cessna 140 was making a landing with a 5 to 8 knot tailwind. During landing, the airplane touched down hard, and the pilot lost directional control.

The aircraft began side-loading, causing the left main gear to collapse and the left wing to strike the runway, substantially damaging the aircraft.

Any time you have a hard landing or porpoise landing, maintaining control of the aircraft is the first priority. But in this case, the tailwind amplified the directional control problem.

Landing into the wind may not have prevented the hard landing, but it would have made maintaining directional control and going around much easier.

The Moral Of The Story: Don't Land With A Tailwind Unless You Absolutely Have To

It's pretty clear that when you land with a tailwind, you're demanding a lot more from yourself as a pilot. Whether it's a long touchdown, increased rollout distance, or a low initial climb performance on go-around, everything is more difficult, and takes a lot more space when the wind is at your back.

In most GA aircraft, landing distance is increased by 10% for every 2 knots of tailwind. That means if you have a 10 knot tailwind, you're facing a 50% increase in landing distance. So the next time you're faced with an option of landing with even a "little" tailwind, take a minute to think about the convenience and time savings, versus the possibility of becoming the next NTSB accident report.

And whenever you can, pick the headwind runway instead. From what we've seen here, the few extra minutes it might take to maneuver and land is worth it.

Colin Cutler

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 colin@boldmethod.com.

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