Pushing Limits

Paul Ingram

06 Mar 2019

It’s vital in aviation to understand the technical limits of the aircraft you’re flying – stall speeds, manoeuvring speeds, crosswind speeds, etc. Not knowing them or respecting them can have disastrous consequences for you and any passengers on board your plane.

But pilots are human and like with speed limits on the road – just because they exist doesn’t mean we should break our back to meet them.

The Cessna 172S typically has a maximum demonstrated crosswind component of 15 knots, the PA28 around 17. This doesn’t mean this is the highest crosswind the aircraft is capable of handling, it means it’s the highest crosswind component a test pilot has landed the aircraft in, and is usually a conservative number. I’ve known people to land a 172 in a 20 knot crosswind component. Equally, I’ve seen people struggle with 7. If you’re up there and you’re up against the limit, however, you either have to deal with it or divert.

We should always try to push our limits though – safely! How can we ever expect to learn if we constantly shy off bad weather or challenging conditions? As a good friend to me recently, “there’s nothing worse than a CAVOK pilot.” And this makes perfect sense – if you only fly in fair weather conditions then you’re going to enjoy some great sights. On the flip side, the minute you encounter adverse conditions, are you going to be current enough to handle them, or are you going to panic and make a judgement error?

I’ve inadvertently flown into IMC with my daughter in the plane when flying around poorer weather conditions and immediately reverted to my training, hearing my instructor’s voice in my head from my hour on instruments. I Increase my crosswind experience where I can – I had barely any crosswind exposure during my PPL training (but got a 10kt crosswind component on my skills test!) but since passing almost all of my landings have been and I’m now up to 12-13kts comfortably in a PA28. I aim to practice emergency procedures every month or so, and am pushing myself into longer nav flights in new areas with the intention of getting to Wales in the coming months.

There are times when you would probably be better off taking an instructor or at least a more experienced safety pilot with you. Safety is key – know your limits and stick to them – but when there’s an opportunity to try and flex our muscles we should take it and avoid complacency.