A Funny Thing Happened …

… at the airport the other day. A friend and colleague actually witnessed a very good landing of mine. It almost never happens that your good landings have a witness – and it almost always happens that the bad landings are viewed by throngs.

‘Tis the way of the sky. Landings are hard to do – for some people, the hardest things they’ll ever accomplish in their lives. Good landings are gifts from the gods of flight and, whenever I achieve the odd good landing, I whisper a prayer of thanks – because, occasionally, the gods of flight demand human sacrifice and you never know when that whispered thanks might come in handy.

The circumstances surrounding this particular good landing were rife for a very bad landing – but more on that, later. I had taken a student up in my Decathlon for a fun flight – a tour of the desert on a sunny SoCal Skies day. There were airmets for turbulence, but airmets are sometimes wolf-crying little boys. We departed Montgomery for points east and, as we approached the higher terrain, we could feel the sky alive with bumps. There was a Santa Ana wind a-building from the north and, on the backside of the lumpy terrain the wind was burbling, backfilling and eddying about and I could sense that the light turbulence we were encountering would strengthen as we drew closer to the terrain. Since new students are rarely comfortable with light turbulence – and nearly incontinent with moderate – we headed to the coast.

We had fun in and around coastal San Diego, down the tip of Point Loma under Lindbergh’s Class Bravo, through the heart of the harbor with North Island NAS’s blessing, into the south bay then past Brown Field and back home. The ATIS was reporting winds 030° at 13 kts gusting to 19 and they were landing on Runway 5. We tailwheel pilots like a challenging crosswind – we’re goofy like that.

Told by tower to make a right base entry to Runway 5, we proceeded thence, whilst listening as the controller called wind ranging from 010° through 050° and blowing anywhere from 11 to 15 with gusts upwards of 23. Whoo-eee.

Cleared to land, I watched the windsock swing and flicker around a northerly to northeasterly direction and proving the controller right on the wind’s strength.

I set up in a side slip (the wing low method of crosswind landing preferred by all those who fly tailwheels) and fought the wind. There was a nice bit of sink at the approach end of the runway and those tall trees and high power lines passed uncomfortably close beneath us.

I fought with the wind in the flare, banged it onto the runway on the left main and stuck it onto the runway with forward stick – a one-point landing. I held the aileron against the wind and kept it on the left main until I ran out of aileron authority, let the right main touch, then the tailwheel. It was a very good landing.

Back at the hangar, an hour after the student had departed, I saw a couple of hangar mates, Bob and Gary, shooting the breeze and I joined them. Gary mentioned that he had seen my Decathlon land while he was awaiting takeoff for a short flight and commented on what a great landing he witnessed.

“Were you flying it, or was it someone else?” It was hard to suppress the smile. Gary went on to tell Bob what a great landing it was and I was delighted – because Bob is the best stick on the field and who doesn’t love being praised in front of the best. Ah, ego.

Doing a thing well for its own sake is why many of us are drawn into the sky – but sometimes you get a little bonus. I write about this because, as I stated at the top of the column, it never happens that your good landings have witnesses. Well, almost never. We don’t live for those rare moments, we pilots, but golly gee they’re great when they happen.

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