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By Rick M
Hi everyone. It's been a while since I've posted here.

There's an ongoing thread (http://www.hanggliding.org/viewtopic.php?t=13387) about how best to handle a downwind landing. I thought I would take a different look at this and start a discussion about ways to avoid landing downwind in the first place.

The basic premise of the original thread was suddenly finding yourself going downwind on final. This assumes the approach started off correctly but a thermal or whatever changed the wind conditions on you. Let's not bother discussing being a total screw-up and just turning the wrong way :)

So you find yourself heading toward the LZ after a nice flight. The general wind is known, there are wind socks and tell-tales in the LZ to help. But you know it's been switchy or thermally. Here's what I typically do when possible to greatly improve the likelihood of me landing into the wind, even in nasty, thermally conditions.

The first step is planning. You should be thinking ahead. You know it's going to be tough air to land in. So get to the LZ with a little altitude to set things up. The last thing you want to do is get to the LZ with little altitude and have to fly straight onto final approach and hope the wind holds steady in the right direction.

Assuming there is at least a prevailing wing direction, head straight to the upwind end of the LZ with several hundred feet. You'll find two things. Either nice smooth air or ugly air you don't want to land in. If you get to the upwind end of the LZ in nice smooth air then start your DBF. You'll end up on final in the same smooth air you left at the upwind end of the LZ.

But if you get to the upwind end of the LZ and it's thermally then hang out as best you can. Even if the lift isn't strong enough to climb back out, there should be enough lift to hang out at the upwind end of the LZ. Do figure 8's or even 360's as appropriate for the air. Watch the wind socks as you hang out there. Eventually the air will smooth out, in between cycles, and the wind socks should all show the same direction and the upwind air you are in will be nice. This is the time to enter the pattern. As you fly downwind you will be following the rougher air that just went through. Turn base as needed and then final. You will now be flying final into the nice, straight, smooth air you were in at the upwind end of the LZ. There is little chance of landing downwind at this point.

I was taught this technique by a much better pilot than I. The first time I used it was at Steamboat Springs last year and it was actually a variation of what I just described. I got to the LZ with some altitude and was trying to work some light lift. I was directly crosswind to the windsock in the LZ at about 400' AGL. As I did figure 8's in the light, choppy lift I noticed the wind sock kept switching 180 degress every 15 seconds. Great! This will be fun. But while the wind sock kept doing its dance, I was able to hang out in the corresponding light lift. The lift wasn't strong enough to get back up but enough to keep switching the choice of direction to land. I was patient. I milked the light lift as I watched the wind sock. Eventually the wind sock picked a direction and stayed put for 20 seconds. The air I was in smoothed out. I went for it. I raced downwind (based on the settled direction for the time being), turned base then final into the nice straight wind. I ended up with a perfect landing in the middle of the field. A minute later the sock was all over the place again as more cycles came through. I timed it perfect and it wasn't luck. The technique made it easy. Watching other landings after mine was tough. Some got lucky, some didn't. Nothing too bad but it was a crapshoot for those that didn't use the technique I had recently learned.

Before I learned this technique I typically headed straight to the downwind end of the LZ and did figure 8's to lose altitude and then did a base to final kind of approach. This is just a form of gambling. You have no way to know what kind of air is coming and what kind of air you will glide into on final. Starting at the upwind end of the LZ and doing a normal DBF (downwind/base/final) approach gives you greatly improved information about the air.

What other tips or tricks do you have to avoid getting caught going downwind on final?

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By NMERider
Welcome back Rick! :welcome: That was a very well written post about avoiding a downwind final.
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By rodmurray
I find landings coastal a piece of cake ,inland often a challenge so thanks Rick for posting this thread.And some realy useful advise there,particularly on days where there is a bit of a prevailing wind.What is the best approach however on a nil/switchy wind ,thermic day,outlanding flat paddock?Assuming we have a bit of height to set something up?
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By latunatexx
Thanks for the well written advice Rick. I have always been one of those gamblers, so I will be changing my evil ways. :thumbsup:
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By Rick M
rodmurray wrote:What is the best approach however on a nil/switchy wind ,thermic day,outlanding flat paddock?Assuming we have a bit of height to set something up?
What I posted should cover the "thermic day outlanding" situation. Of course the initial trick is determining the prevailing wind direction so you can get to the upwind side of the planned LZ. Determining wind direction for an outlanding is a whole other topic I'm not nearly experienced enough to answer well.

If you are landing in a nil-wind situation, say late in the day, then there should be no worry of getting caught downwind because there is no wind. I'd try for any sort of uphill if possible just in case a puff comes in while on final.

If you are asking about landing when there is no wind but thermals are coming through from all different directions then I don't have a good answer. There is no upwind side in this case. Hopefully you can stay up long enough to see a tendency in the thermal track to pick an upwind side. Otherwise I don't know. Good question.
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By remmoore
At the end of an XC flight, I once found myself circling above a switchy field. I watched trees around the boundary showing the wind consistantly switching 180 deg in pretty fast cycles.

As I got a bit lower, I could see that there was a slight uphill slope perpendicular to the switching airflow. I realized the decision was simple; I took the uphill/crosswind final and had a great landing.

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Well said ,That was some great advice Rick. :thumbsup:
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nicely stated Rick ! Red didn't go into detail but he always has stated that we all wait for good launch cycles , we need to do the same with landing cycles ,

i was using this method both at red cliffs and at Comodore, here is some information you can get from holding out as well, i wasn't setting up my approach like you said , but i was trying to time my landing cycle, as i was coming in i was experiencing thermic conditions, i then 360'd in the lift and found myself getting drifted farther and farther from the lz actually more drift then altitude gained, so i knew by the direction of my drift, which way the prevailing wind was blowing as the wind sock was switching, when the lift died the air was smoother, i then made a note of my drift , checked the sock and it was pointing the same direction, since my drift took me farther away form the LZ i went the opposite direction of my drift towards the lz which was directly into the wind , i didn't have enough altitude to perform a dbf so it ended up being a long final.

there lies my mistake i let the thermal drift me farther back then i should have so i couldn't perform a dbf approach, obviously if the thermal is drifting you that far, the wind is blowing quite fast and you are going to bucking a head wing back to the lz .

Awesome technique Rick, i have held out and waited to come in but i never thought of setting up my approach as you explained, just be careful not to allow the thermal to drift you farther back then your altitude gained when you are holding off :thumbsup:
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Rick - your technique is spot on. Many pilots get addicted to the "S turn" approach for various reasons. One aspect here that I would like to emphasize is the skill of picking your moment to get down and racing in at high speed. Not everyone has the skill (myself included) of flying a DBF approach at high speed from beginning to end. As you noted, if you had dawdled during your approach you would have missed the patch of smooth air that made your landing work.

Hope to see you again at Steamboat.
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Another benefit of hanging out on the upwind side of a LZ in preparation for a Downwind, Base, & Final approach is the opportunity to not only pick the air for your landing but to be in position to work lift and thermal back up. There's nothing like the pleasure of aborting the landing and zipping your harness back up as you climb back up into the sky where you belong. Then you can land much later in the day when things have settled down - a pleasant variation on the concept of picking the air you want to land in.

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