I'm Glad I'm Not Flying That
One of the occupational hazards of being a video editor is becoming an inevitable victim of the genius of YouTube code writers. They have absolutely figured out the art of click bait and if youíre able to resist falling into the black hole of wasting hours watching pointless videos one day, you wonít the next. The other day when I finished loading an AVweb report, this link popped up in the sidebar.† †
There are a dozen others like it, but this series of extreme crosswind takeoffs and landings was shot entirely at Birmingham, England last winter. Evidently, BHX had a record year for storms and winds because the very able photographer who shot these, identified as flugsnug, got lots of interesting examples of the genre: airliner makes harrowing landing.†Included in this is what may be the most spectacular example of edge-of-control crosswind skidding Iíve ever seen.
Scroll the video to about 7:40 and sit back and enjoy the action. Iím not sure what that airplane is. Could it be an MD-80 or -90? An S-80? I canít tell. Upon observing what happens after touchdown, Iím not so much impressed with the piloting skillóor lack thereof, if thatís the caseóbut with how well the structures guys did their work to design landing gear that can survive that kind of abuse. Perhaps the entire weight of the aircraft isnít on the mains when it slides left from right of the centerline to far left of the centerline, but the weight is somewhere. Maybe on the nosegear. (Itís not all sliding; the long lens distorts the motion, so part of itómaybe even mostómay be a forward lunge to the downwind side. Still impressive, though.)
Iíve experienced minor excursions/slides like this in light aircraft and theyíre quite sickening because there arenít any control inputs you can use to immediately correct the problem. Too bad airplanes arenít equipped with thrusters, like ships have. Of course, airliners are almost designed to make ugly crosswind landings. Because of low-slug engines, they canít sideslip into the wind, as we do in light aircraft. Thereís a high likelihood of scraping an engine nacelle or catching a wingtip. I think thatís probably true of aircraft with rear-mounted engines, too.
So the operative crosswind technique is what some light aircraft pilots use, which is to hold the centerline with a crab into the flare, then align the airplane at the last minute with rudder. (Or just let the gear and tires do itÖ) In a strong crosswind, this still sideloads the gear, because once that crab comes out, the sidewise driftóor least the momentóstarts. See an example of that at 3:50. Note, too, how the nosegear just slams down into full compression. Ouch. More kudos to the engineers; condolences to the maintainers.
Scroll the video back to 2:03 and youíll see how takeoffs in extreme crosswinds are just as hard on the airframe. As the airplane is accelerating, you can see it trying to weathervane and the only thing preventing that is tire friction and a dab of rudder. Look at the sliding and drift as the airplane gets light on the wheels and rotates. Airliners donít have the option of starting the takeoff roll at the far downwind corner the runway and taking off diagonally down the runway. That technique can at least remove some of the crosswind component and reduce the weathervaning and tendency to skid sideways. Even 15 degrees of component relief can help.
I think many of us believe that a squeaker in a crosswind is the mark of true piloting skill. Iím not so sure; I think it might just as well be luck. In an extreme crosswind, the safest thingóother than landing somewhere else where the wind is down the runwayóis to get the tires planted with the least amount of drama. The friction they provide on the runway surface imparts far more control than the control surfaces ever will. The touchdown doesnít have to be pretty; just controlled.
As an aside, Iíve seen runways with some grade and undulations, but nothing quite like Birmingham. Look at the long shot at 10:10. That pavement has more dips than the Cyclone at Coney Island.†If the first hill doesnít launch you, donít worry, there are four more.
Now that youíve burned 11 minutes watching this, take some comfort in knowing that the world as a whole has wasted nearly 120 man years looking at what the videographer, in typical Brit understatement, calls ďcrosswind difficulties.Ē
Well, hell, it beats a cat video.