Scratch one off my list for 2011. CFI Roger, JGP and I headed up north after the morning fog lifted from Hamilton to have a look at Waiheke Island (NZKE). Waiheke Island was everything I had said in my previous post and more. Situated ontop of a north/south running ridge where the prevailing wind comes from the southwest, it is one of the trickiest places I have ever landed. On the uneventful trip up we skirted the edge of the Firth of Thames, a beautiful part of the North Island. I had my eyes peeled for other traffic but the only aircraft I saw airborne was a Boeing 777 turning finals for Auckland International overhead the Whitford NDB.
I called up 10 miles out from the strip and closed in from the southeast, flying down the western edge of Ponui Island the crossing over to the middle of the island where the airstrip lies.
The above photo is taken on a rather high approach for runway 35. After we joined overhead we chose 35 as the into wind runway (although it only had 1 functioning wind sock) and descended non traffic to join right hand downwind for 35. The sight picture for all aspects of the circuit is all screwy because the runway is ontop a ridge. You get the feeling you are much higher than you need to be but it is all an illusion, as the closer you get to the threshold the ground comes up steeply to meet you. We came in quite low over the vinyard you see in the foreground, and Roger had me chop the throttle completely as we hit a patch of rising air that ballooned us over our touchdown spot. I probably should have gone around because I didn't have my wits about me, but Roger let me continue with the landing. We came in quite hot (it seems 65 knots is too fast for strip flying) and floated down the runway, then we hit the upslope so I had to flare a lot more and we touched down about halfway up the strip and quickly rolled to a stop thanks to the quite marked upslope.
Here's a photo I took at the threshold of 35. It shows the upslope better.
But even the photo doesn't quite do it justice.
We were blessed because the winds were quite fickle and light so we were able to operate from both ends of the strip. We took off from 35 and had another go at the 35 approach. Even in light air we were hitting bumps as the air currents flowing around the terrain interrupted air flow over the wings. I was a little too heavy handed on the power again and we floated past our touchdown point. Had we been at max weight it might have been touch and go to stop on the runway remaining even with the slope. Stable approaches at a stable airspeed is vital and adding too much power equals more unwanted airspeed which you have to wash off later in ground effect.
Then we taxied to the top of the strip and swung around. We spend a few seconds examining the wind sock. It was showing a quartering tailwind of about 2-4 knots. Looking down the slope, I ran through the max performance checklist in my head and selected my target points aloud. I also said that if we rejected the takeoff and insufficient runway was remaining I would try to steer JGP down the taxiway which would give us another 150m to stop in.
So, feet on the brakes hard. Throttle fully open. Check static RPM, ensure max thrust is being produced before feet come off the brakes. Eyes flick to first landmark, the shed to the left of the plane. It comes up to the A pillar and disappears, eyes flick to the ASI, which is live. Good we have leapt the first hurdle. Back on the controls to take the weight off the nosewheel. Eye's scan instruments quickly, temps and pressures OK, eyes out to make sure we are tracking straight. We are, so look for the next landmark, the car parked over the fence on the right. It is coming up, so bring the controls back a touch and up comes the nosewheel followed by the main gear. We are flying, and in a shorter distance than I had anticipated, so use the ground effect to build airspeed, and then bring the nose up slowly to climb attitude. I would never have thought that slope could trump wind direction, but when the wind is below a certain strength, it does. JGP climbs away and I start running through the upcoming angled approach for runway 17 in my mind.
Waiheke has a number of houses on the extended centreline of runway 17, so for noise abatement, a 45 degree angled base/final leg is flown followed by a very short final approach of about 150m or so. What was great was there are a couple of landmarks you can line up and fly quite a good approach. Again, Waiheke's uniqueness means you need to throw out the guidebook somewhat and fly an oblique downwind leg to get you set up right for the final approach. If you are too close in you'll never get the plane sorted out in time to land safely.
I turn in and line up my two landmarks, and concentrate on flying a nice stable approach. There are a few bumps around but I had worse last week so I ignore it and think about where I need to turn final. The touch down spot is obscured by the sloping land and the trees to one side, but I keep a mental picture of where I need to be. This time I judged the turn well and although we are a touch high I close the throttle and down we come. We touch down slightly further down the runway that Roger would have liked, but it was OK because we had the mains down before the downslope. I brake to a stop and we turn around to backtrack for another go.
Off we go, this time I swing even further out on downwind before starting my turn in. This time things don't go to plan as well as they might have. I had the approach speed nailed, the approach was generally stable but I fixated on what I thought was the threshold but in fact was a paddock to the west of the actual runway. This meant I had to take corrective action to save the approach and we drift right of where we need to be. In hindsight, and indeed at the time I did entertain going around but I chose to continue with the approach. I recall the airspeed dropping below 50 knots which probably saved the day because we bounced, got airborne again, and we eventually settled and I brought JGP to a stand still with about 80m of runway left. I distinctly remember thinking about going around and mentally flying the departure. When Roger said I probably should have gone around I said I had thought about it at what was probably the most appropriate time to do so and had I been alone I would have abandoned the approach then and there.
When we swung around, Roger directed my attention to the windsock, which was now indicating about 4 knots directly down 35, so we taxied to the end, turned around and departed off 35 and headed back to Hamilton.
It was a great trip, I learned heaps about strip flying, reading conditions, and some of the things that can catch you out. I still have so much to learn, and we both agreed that there shall be a wind limit of 10 knots over which I will not attempt a landing if I am PIC. I can only guess at how vicious the winds would be at that strength.
So a great days flying, plenty of lessons learned and things to think about, and 2.0 in the logbook. A good day all round.