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How Two Aircraft Went Off The End Of The Runway On a Bad-Weather Day


It may not officially be winter, but it feels like it across a lot of the country right now.

And while the cold temperatures make your preflight a whole lot less enjoyable, they can make your landings even worse.

Adverse weather - rain or snow - can turn a normal landing into a landing that gets a whole lot more exciting than you ever hoped for.

Here are two examples from the NASA ASRS database where pilots got more than they bargained for on the runway...

Piper Cherokee Overruns In The Rain

...As I approached the airport, I was flying at 125 MPH, faster than my usual 110 MPH approach speed and was having a hard time spotting the airport in the moderate rainfall. As I got within 2 miles, I spotted the runway and realized my position was on an extended left base leg...I announced on CTAF that I was on left base.

I was close and high - near pattern altitude - but I thought I could slow the plane down. I brought the throttle to idle, and very shortly announced my turn to final. The airspeed with full flaps hit 100 MPH rather than the usual 85-90 MPH. I touched down fast and lightly, but at a higher than normal speed.

The runway end was close ahead when I slammed on the brakes and made an attempt to turn left to escape at high speed down the taxiway. The tires hydroplaned on the rain-slick runway, and the plane slide sideways smashing a runway light at the end of the runway, and into the wet and muddy grass runway overrun area.

Cessna Caravan Overruns On A Wet Runway

I landed at ZZZ and went 200 feet into the open field which is beyond the touch down zone end of the runway and into the drop zone. A heavy storm and rain shower had immediately just passed. I made a normal approach which usually gives plenty of stopping distance instead of a longer approach for a wet runway. After touching down I applied brakes and immediately started to hydroplane causing the plane to fishtail. I released the brakes to let the plane roll and put the aircraft into reverse. I decided to not go around as the fishtail had caused me to become off center line and I feared adding power would increase the hydroplaning. Having just flown into the area from [a nearby] airport, I spoke with company on the radio and told them I was coming to park because of the bad weather so I knew there were no skydivers [on] the field. I knew the other Skydive companies were parked and no one was jumping. Having to do a low approach due to rain showers, I also saw that there was no one on or near the open field which is the drop zone. After the hydroplane and putting the aircraft into reverse, I knew the field was open so I let the aircraft roll and went into the field about 200 feet where I was able to apply the brakes and stop. I turned around and parked the aircraft. I was the only person in the aircraft and no damage was done.

The heavy rain and me not allowing for additional stopping distance by landing where I usually do were contributing factors. I believe that because I had flown through heavy rain that had made it very difficult to see for roughly 30 seconds on the downwind leg of approach, that I was more concerned with getting on the ground than thinking about making a longer approach to compensate for the extremely wet conditions. I did not initiate a go around because of the hydroplaning right after landing and being off center line and knowing I still had plenty of distance to stop with the open field.

I understand my decision and lack of forethought and judgment could have proved not safe in another scenario. I will be reflecting on this mistake and make sure I always provide myself with extra runway and make an appropriate approach anytime the weather is bad and wet.

First Off, What Are The Runway Conditions?

While both of these landing incidents happened on wet runways, the same (or even worse) things can happen on icy, or icy/wet mixed runways.

So how can you figure out what the runway conditions are like before you arrive at your destination?

When airports conduct a braking action test, they issue a NOTAM for the braking action. You can find the NOTAMs in ForeFlight, like the example below:


What Do the Numbers Mean?

In the NOTAM for Airlake, the braking action is reported as "3/3/3". If you look at the chart below, it means the braking action for the runway is "medium" at the touchdown, midpoint, and rollout parts of the runway.

When you see braking action numbers, the bigger the number, the better the braking action. The scale is from 0 to 6. 0 means nil braking, and 6 means dry runway normal braking action.

What About Towered Airports?

When a braking action NOTAM is issued at a towered airport, they'll include it in ATIS.

But keep in mind, even if a runway condition report is NOTAM'd for the airport, the tower is not required to give you a conditions report over the radio.

It's not because they don't want to be helpful, it's because they're often times very busy.

If conditions are rapidly changing and the ATIS isn't representative of the true runway conditions, tower may give you updated runway information directly. But if you have a question about the runway condition after listening to ATIS, it's always best to ask.

Preparing For Touchdown

When you touch down on a contaminated runway too fast, you can significantly increase your landing distance. Trying to compensate by over-braking only makes thing worse.

On slick surfaces, your brakes are much less effective, and they can quickly get you in trouble. Initially after touchdown, use little to no brakes. Then, gently press them to feel their effectiveness. It's easy to get anxious and jam on the brakes, but that can lock up your wheels. And when that happens, your braking effectiveness decreases, and you can start sliding. The more gentle you are on the brakes, the easier it is to maintain directional control on the runway.

When All Else Fails: Go-Around

If you have enough runway, and braking/directional control is clearly a problem, going around even after touchdown may be an option.

During your go-around, adding power increases airflow over your tail, and you'll most likely have better directional control on the ground with the rudder (even considering left-turning tendencies).

If you do go-around, lift off, and take time to think through your Plan-B. That might be making another attempt at the airport, but it might also mean flying to another airport with better runway conditions.

Preparing To Land In Less-Than-Ideal Conditions

Next time you fly, pay attention to the runway conditions. We're just entering the season for slick runways, and if you're not prepared, you can find yourself in a lot of trouble in almost no time at all.

Know the runway condition codes, give yourself enough plenty of runway to stop, be gentle on the brakes, and fly your airplane all the way to the taxi turnoff.

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