24 May 1993

How high is that crosswind?

The mission was to fly Beverly to her home in Davenport, Iowa. I would return to Middletown the same day. I flew a Piper Arrow fifteen miles to Xenia to pick up Beverly and her father, John. After we took off on my IFR flight plan, I noticed that the cockpit noise was excessive. John's door was ajar. It is impossible to close the door on a Piper Arrow inflight. Dayton New Lebanon airport was the most convenient place to stop. Dayton Approach obliged. After we took off again, Dayton was kind enough to keep my original IFR flight plan active.

Two and a half hours into the trip, I calculated that it would take another hour and a half to get to Davenport, because of increased headwinds. The Arrow had the range, but the passengers' bladders did not.We landed into a thirty-knot headwind at Dwight, Illinois. The sectional indicated that gas was available, but no one was at the airport. Fortunately the bathroom was open, but we could get no gas. The Arrow had about two hours of fuel left, and it would take an hour and fifteen minutes to get to Davenport. I do not like to fly with less than one hour reserve. There was no en route airport that had fuel. Since it was severe clear, 45 minutes reserve would do. (30 minutes is the legal requirement.)

Davenport is 15 miles north of the Quad City Airport. According to Quad City ATIS information, the winds were 30-35 knots out of the west. At Davenport there would be a 60o crosswind. The Arrow's maximum demonstrated crosswind component was placarded at 20 mph (18 knots). That crosswind would be pushing beyond the Arrow's limits.

On arrival at Davenport, the 45 minutes of fuel would be split between two tanks. In spite of checking the tanks at Dwight, there was a small chance of running one tank dry during the Davenport approach. If the crosswind increased, I could have been forced to divert ten miles south to Quad City. Quad City's Runway 27 was directly into the wind. I decided I would make one approach to Davenport. On runway 21's short final the airplane was slipped with full right rudder. I asked the unicom for current winds. They reported 270o at 30 knots, well above the crosswind component for the Arrow. Just after my call the airplane began to drift right of the centerline. I added crab to the slip for an instant. Could I get out of the crab and slip, slow down and flare to land without being blown off the runway? I'll never know! I executed a missed approach and landed at Quad City.

That was the only time I have had to execute a missed approach solely on the basis of high crosswinds. I might have pulled off the landing, with only a little rubber scraped off the tires. Or I might have veered off the runway and flipped. The FAA, my fellow flying club members, Liz, Beverly's husband, and my mother-in-law would not be happy about the bent metal and injured or dead bodies.

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