This contributor had a scary encounter with a slippery runway
Name withheld by request
On a cold winter morning, I departed the Yarra Valley (Victoria) in my Jabiru J120, initially headed to land at an unfamiliar airfield near Tyabb to drop off something I had sold to a fellow aviator.
The buyer had emailed me some airfield information and said the preferred landing direction was from the east. I armed Ozrunways with the lat/long of the airfield and headed off. It was not far, perhaps 20 minutes at the most. When Ozrunways said I was close to the unfamiliar airfield, I still hadn’t seen it. I was already at circuit height when I suddenly did see it, a grass east-west runway, and it didn’t look overly long. I did spot the windsock but I pretty much ignored it because the guy I was meeting up with had said to approach from the east.
As it turned out, the wind at that location was fairly strong, blowing from the east, which I hadn’t noticed at first. I joined the circuit on the crosswind leg for 27, then downwind (all the usual checks) but turned base way too early. This was soon compounded by the tailwind once I turned final—but I ignored the wind direction. I was totally focused on landing from the east, as I had been told, and didn’t consider other landing options. Of course, since I had a tailwind, I had a much higher groundspeed than usual on final approach. There was no way I was even going to come close to landing unless I pushed the nose harshly and, if I did that, airspeed would have been through the roof. I just said to myself, well, messed that one up badly, no harm done, apply go-around power, clean the plane up and climb back to circuit height.
I decided to fly a much longer downwind leg so I would have more time to set myself up correctly. However, at that time, I still hadn’t given any consideration to the fact that I would have a tailwind and, consequently, a much faster approach. My approach on final on this second attempt was much more on track to where I should be.
As I rounded out and touched the ground, I was still too fast and the grass was short and wet. The runway was sooo slippery that my Jabiru slid from side to side. Braking was useless and my aircraft just slid all over the place; I’d never felt anything like it in 20 years of flying—I barely had any control at all.
It was a short runway with tall trees and power lines at the end. I only had a split second to decide if I was going to continue to try to stop the aircraft or apply power and go around.
I determined I was going to smash into the trees at the end—there was just no way to stop in time. I decided to apply full power and try to climb out and hopefully clear the power lines. My Jabiru only has one stage of flap for take-off and two for landing. Since I was slip-sliding away when I applied go-around power, I still had both stages of flap out; yet I dare not withdraw flaps for fear of that associated drop and crashing onto those power lines. As I flew over the power lines, I was close, really close and I couldn’t believe I’d found myself in that situation. I was pulling back on the stick as much as I could to climb at the max rate without stalling it. I was just waiting for the wheels to hit the power lines as the ASI showed 40 knots but, as luck would it, I cleared them. Once cleared I pulled one stage of flap and lowered the nose to build up some airspeed.
Fortunately, the land ahead wasn’t hilly. As the airspeed increased, I raised the remaining stage of flaps. Then, having got normal airspeed back, I climbed back up to circuit height, very mindful of what had just happened. Calming myself and regaining my thoughts, I flew a very long downwind leg before turning base. I still didn’t give the wind direction a thought—I just thought the landing was so terrible due solely to the soaking wet grass.
I turned to long final and made sure I slowed the plane right down and crossed the threshold at a lower than usual airspeed. On landing it was still slippery but nothing like the previous attempt. I applied brakes successfully and stopped the aircraft before running out of runway.
I turned the plane around and taxied up to the guy who was waiting for me, also a pilot. As I taxied by the windsock, I only realised that I was landing on a short runway, with wet grass, with a tailwind. Ohhhhh, now I see. The guy said, ‘I thought you’d see the windsock direction as you flew overhead and approach into the wind from the west.’
Of course, he was right, but I was more focused on finding the airfield than I was in truly observing the wind direction. As a consequence, I very nearly paid a big price.
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