By lex, on November 12th, 2011
Something of a hectic day, yesterday. I’d filed my flight plan from Scott AFB to Newport News by 0630, and noted with a jaundiced eye that while the low clouds and rain had subsided, the frontal passage had left my destination whipped by strong winds, from 310 at 18 knots gusting to 28. The “long” runway at KPHF is 8000 feet long, which is the shortest runway I’ve landed the Kfir on so far. Throw in a crosswind component at precisely the operating limit with external stores, and it promised to be sporty.
It was, in the event.
Funny thing about runway lengths: In the FA-18 we considered an 8000 foot strip as fleet average. A 6000′ runway would do in a trice, so long as there was arresting gear at either end. Anything shorter than that simply wouldn’t do outside of an emergency, the runway required calculation taking into effect runway length, aircraft gross weight, approach speed and density altitude among other things. Your true airspeed – and groundspeed – being higher than that indicated at a high altitude field. On account of the reduced air density providing fewer air molecules both over the wings and into the pitot probe.
I trained at the long runway at Point Mugu, 11,000 feet in length, but routinely made the turnoff with 3,000 feet remaining. Mountain Home’s runway was 14,000′ long – over two nautical miles – and you almost didn’t have to use the drag chute at all. The long runway at Fallon is over 2 miles long, and the shorter of the two parallels was just a little under that. The right runway at Scott is 12,000, as was the only runway at Buckley. But the longest runway at headquarters is, as I said, 8000 feet. And the crosswinds were at limits.
There to here was nothing much to talk about. As you get closer to Washington, DC, the controllers seem a little more clipped and intense. The iPad proved once again to be a phenomenal tool for navigational situational awareness – changes to the en route clearance were incorporated fluidly, and without the customary crashing around inside the cockpit, trying to find the right chart, trying to find the correct fix. Especially when aware of the fact that a deviation 20 to 30 degrees north of course might result in being joined by a pair of F-16s defending the Special Flight Restriction Area surrounding Our Nation’s Capital, each of them with the master arm switch placed to “arm” and a case of the a**. I don’t know what they’d think to see a 70′s era French/Israeli fighter wandering about the SFRA without permission.
I didn’t want to find out.
Picked up the field with little trouble, there’s an estuary that points to the distinctive, V-shaped runways and makes chart-to-ground navigation fairly straightforward. I flew over the wind-flecked bay at about 2000 feet on the way to the approach end, getting a bit of a jounce from the cross-currents in the air. Decided on performing a low approach rather than landing a little heavy on my first look at the shorter runway. Was pretty glad that I did, because when I crossed the threshold I really wasn’t in a good position to land, at least not comfortably. Fifteen degrees at least of upwind crab, nasty transients, the angle-of-attack tone beeping in my headset at surprising moments.
The second approach was better, and the landing uneventful as it turned out. There are two basic crosswind landing styles in tricycle gear aircraft, the crab – where you point the nose into the wind to reduce the drift – and a hybrid technique known as “wing down, top rudder.”
You never want to land in a crab, whether in tricycle gear aircraft or in taildraggers, because in the former you introduce landing gear side-stresses which result in undesirable directional oscillations when they don’t cause the gear to collapse. Crab on landing in a taildragger and yourself introduce the ground loop. In the wing down, top rudder technique, you put just enough bank angle in to neutralize the drift and then apply opposite rudder to land upwind gear first. The WDTR method didn’t seem appropriate the Kfir’s approach characteristics, so I stuck with the crab until just prior to touchdown, kicking most of the differential angle out between the heading which neutralizes the drift and the runway heading just prior to touchdown and lowering the nose straight away, rather than aero-braking by holding the nose up. Didn’t want to run out of rudder.
I was glad to feel the tug of the drag chute as the 6000 foot runway remaining board flashed by, telling me I had a mile to go before leaving the prepared surface. It sounds like a lot. It’s not, not at nearly three miles per minute on touchdown. Dumped the chute at the taxiway intersection on the departure end, shut her down, climbed out, introduced myself to local maintenance.
Changed quickly into my shore-going weeds, and made the departure flight for San Diego with time to spare. It wasn’t until we were headed to the runway on the Delta flight that I noticed that the trees had started to turn. The fall has come to Virginia. I’ve been gone so long I didn’t think to miss it.
And I went “home” to California.