Friday September 08, 2006
A Tale of the Wind
Yesterday, Gordon Hutts drove from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to join me for the flight from East Cooper to the USS Yorktown. Jim McElroy came by and took us back to the Yorktown so we could discuss possible alternatives to landing on the deck. As painful as that thought may be (I've been dreaming about this landing for almost 3 years), we have to face the fact that the weather isn't cooperating. The rain, although annoying, is scattered, and it may have been possible to get the flight in between the showers. The ceilings haven't been bad either. The Boogy Man is the direction of the wind.
My approach to the Yorktown deck is due south. Therefore I need either no wind, or at best a slight headwind from the south. Any crosswind, due to the mechanical turbulence created by the height of the deck over the water, the planes on the deck, and the superstructure, makes the landing a no-go. Even a direct headwind will have a fair amount of turbulence. A tailwind, which would combine the mechanical turbulence with me landing "hot" on a steel deck with limited maneuvering room, is a deal-breaker. I was not going to try a tailwind landing under any circumstances.
The direction of the wind when we landed at East Cooper was northeast. A quartering tailwind. Unfortunately that direction hasn't changed in days. In most locations there's a period of calm for an hour or two, usually around sunrise. That's why I'd chosen to stage from East Cooper, as it's less than a 20 minute flight to the Yorktown. I wanted to fly and land in that short, calm window.
No such luck for us. Every morning when I awoke to check the weather before sunrise, the breeze was already up, and it was from the north or northeast. I checked with numerous weather sites, and Jim McElroy even put together a conference call with a well-known meteorologist for one of the TV stations. The verdict was the same, no matter what the source: No change in wind direction for probably a week, and the wind was going to get stronger as the days passed. Our best bet would be to try a landing as close to the Yorktown as possible, this morning.
This was a heartbreaking decision, but at some point pragmatism has to win. We've been on this trip for 17 weeks, and to sit here for another week hoping the weather will become favorable, and that another hurricane or tropical depression doesn't pop up, isn't practical.
The location I chose was the parking lot next to the Yorktown, which is as close as I could get without landing in the water. Gordon and I took off from East Cooper at 7:15. As soon as I reached 500 feet the north wind grabbed me, and I scooted over to the Yorktown, where I swooped in over the gift shop and landed in the parking lot. Gordon stayed in the air, circled a few times for the news crews, and headed back to East Cooper. Whereas it only took us a few minutes to reach the Yorktown, it took Gordon over an hour to get back, so strong was the wind.
Rusty was supposed to be waiting at the parking lot with the news crews to film the landing. Fate decided otherwise. On the way to the Yorktown the trailer blew a tire. The only flat tire we've had the whole trip! To his credit, Rusty changed the tire in a time so short it would've made a NASCAR pit crew envious. But to no avail. He arrived two minutes after I'd landed. That's why there's no video posted here of the landing. However, the TV stations have promised they're sending me video, so I should have some video posted in a few days. When you do see it, note the effect the wind had on the landing. As I came over the gift shop I "slid" down the wave of air, dropping sharply for a split second. After touching down a gust caught the chute and I popped a little wheelie. And that was landing into the wind!
The trip is over. 17 weeks, over 50 airports, 3,600 miles, coast to coast. Time to go home.