Scary high wind ground handling

Published by: jeff trike on 30th Apr 2011 | View all blogs by jeff trike
My wingman Paul and I and were returning from our overnight trip to Hatch and the Spaceport. It was thermally, but not too bad. However, the winds were forecast to pick up later in the afternoon. When I crossed the spine ridge near Ladron Peak I tuned into the Belen AWOS and heard "Wind Calm".

Paul was a couple miles ahead of me. For the last 20 minutes of the flight we both monitored AWOS and heard "Wind Calm", or Wind < 5kts in random directions.  So it was calm, but thermally at Belen.

Paul was 3 miles ahead of me and I watched him land and taxi over to our hangar. As I entered the downwind leg, he radioed, "Jeff, watch out, it's not calm, there is a pretty stiff crosswind." "Thanks for the warning Paul." I replied back.

There would be no touch and goes or engine idle, power off landing practice today. I set up a nice long powered stabilized approach. The wind sock was straight out, 90 degrees cross coming from the northwest. Probably 12kts, but not more. I have done this before and was focused, but not overly concerned. I pulled in for extra airspeed and slowly lowered my trike onto the runway and greased it in at high speed. I remember thinking to myself, "That was too fast, but a otherwise a good landing."

I don't brake unless I have to and I let the trike coast down the runway, bleeding off speed. I was coming up on the taxiway exit when a strong surge of wind came in from the north. It was all I could do to keep the wings level.
Ground handling a trike in high winds is no fun. The wind was lifting the right wing, and I was losing ground. The higher it tipped, the harder it pulls and eventually, you can reach the point of no return, where the wing will rise until the opposite side drags on the ground. I was very concerned now, the threat of tipping over was very real.

My engine was idling and I was still rolling down the runway at 5-10mph. The lateral force of the wind deflected my path off the centerline and to the left.  I noticed this, but at the time I totally concentrated on getting that wing level and I felt I was losing the battle. The trike was now 30 degrees off the centerline and I didn't care. Then I noticed the tipping moment of the high wing was easing off. I didn't have enough runway width to straighten out, so I went with the turn and felt the tipping force rapidly drop off to zero. With the tail down and pointed towards the wind, I could easily control the wing now. I rolled across a narrow strip of dirt between the runway and the taxiway, then crossed a second strip of dirt between the taxiway and the ramp. I kept the tail into the wind on the ramp, but had to turn turn back with a crosswind to get over to my hangar.

Some visiting trike pilots from Colorado had seen Paul land and had come over to the hangar. I didn't know who they were and was worried they might walk into my prop so I killed my engine early. The winds were not too bad, because I got out without any help, and pushed my trike the last 20 yards into the hangar. Paul checked the AWOS and it reported gusts of 28 kts.

This turned out to be on the the few times I didn't bother to turn on my video when landing.  Too bad. 

It was scary, but I did learn something about ground handling in highwinds in a trike. If you are losing the battle of keeping the wings level in a crosswind, just turn downwind and point the tail into the wind. Pointing upwind will probably work as well, but if you turn downwind you don't even have to step on the throttle. The forces will balanced out and you can wait it out, or if necessary tie down in place. Anything beats tipping over.

Jeff Gilkey



  • B  Alvarius
    by B Alvarius 7 years ago
    Glad you got through the rough part. Fifteen to 18 feet of wing with the wind underneath it can quickly become a handful. The winds down here have came up also. Plus we get the smoke from the fire west of Nogalas.
  • mike lavergne
    by mike lavergne 7 years ago
    Jeff, I'm confused!!!! There is no tail on my trike. I'm sure your talking about the wing. Would that mean the wind is at your back and your pushing the bar forward? Mike
  • Captain X
    by Captain X 7 years ago
    Jeff, thank you for posting this!!

    (Mike, until Jeff replies, I'm sure he means wind at your back and pushing the bar forward)
  • Larry  Mednick
    by Larry Mednick 7 years ago
    Hi jeff, there is a big advantage to turning downwind vs. Upwind. If you are tipping over sideways, turning Towards the wind will help the Trike flip. Turning downwind can save you even if you are up on two wheels and going over.

    People say keep your wing level to taxi in a xwind, but as soon as you allow it to accidentally come up you might be in trouble. Tilting the upwind wingtip down causes more bar pressure especially of your wing has more anhedral, but the worst that can happen is it will pin your wing to the ground.

    You would be amazed how easy it is to taxi with a 28 KT xwind with a 10 meter wing with a 27' span. This is one reason I like tiny wings. Anyway good post, important topic.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 7 years ago
    Jeff good story for all to learn from. It sounds like the wind helped you turn down wind. I had a situation where I was in a cross wind and could not go downwind. I lost the battle lowering the upwind wing "slightly" to make sure and not get flipped and it pinned the wing on the ground. Since I was alone I waited until someone came along and asked to help. With the leverage of the assistant out on the wing wire we were able to lift the wing and get it behind the hanger.
    For those who want more tips of high winds see the Weight Shift Control Flying Handbook High wind "Emergencies" Page 13-15.
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