It has been a long day, but the end is in sight. The fun began in Los Angeles with two round trips to Las Vegas; now we are enroute to Cleveland with 112 passengers. We had interesting landing conditions on the last flight to Lost Wages, in that the wind forced the tower to utilize runway 7 Right for arrivals, which is unusual. I have landed on 7 Right about a dozen times, maybe... My young co-pilot had never landed on 7 Right. Guess who was the flying pilot?
When we briefed the landing, I told him if he would fly the approach by the numbers and not let the rising terrain freak him out, he would do just fine. In other words, be configured with landing gear down, flaps extended and 1,500 feet above the airport five miles from the runway. If you have never landed on a runway before, those numbers will work everytime and everywhere. The trick is to be flexible with the lateral path leading to the runway. In other words, if the tower is using four mile final approach segments, then you have to use one mile of the base leg turn as part of your five mile configuration path. Sometimes the tower will clear you to fly direct to the runway from a point in space that will not yield a path lined up with the runway, i.e., a crooked final. We call these dog legs. No big deal if the flying pilot's brain will accept this as the path to the runway and get configured. The flying pilot can roll out on runway heading a few hundred feet above the ground. No problem for a 27 year old with cat like reflexes, that is, if his brain will quit thinking about flight attendants and concentrate on a simple geometry problem.
The tower cleared us for a visual approach to runway 7 Right ten miles from the airport and on a right base leg. I could tell by watching our movement over the ground that we had a strong tailwind... One look at the inertial navigation read out confirmed a 60 m.p.h. tailwind. The heavy 767 ahead of us blew through the final approach path and was now banking sharply right to regain the final path. Ooops! I decided to remind the co-pilot about the wind, then to quit coaching him. Being micro-managed while trying to fly a large aircraft on final approach is aggravating and counter productive. He rolled out on runway heading to the right of the actual path, then allowed the wind to blow him onto the path. Once on the final path, he banked gently right until he had a heading that would prevent the crosswind from blowing him off the final approach. In pilot land, this is known as crabbing.
The maximum recommended crosswind for an A320 is 43 mph, although in the hands of an experienced crosswind pilot, it can handle 45 mph. The tower was calling the winds 35 mph with gusts to 42 mph, and to make it interesting, a slight tailwind component. I had previously told the flight attendants and passengers that the landing would be less than smooth, so we were mentally prepared for a firm landing.
As the co-pilot flew the beast over the end of the runway, I could see fingers of sand blowing across the surface and the windsock was standing straight out, perpendicular to the runway. He began to slip, or cross control, the aircraft, trying to bring the fuselage parallel to the centerline, so as not to touchdown at an angle, which is really hard on the aircraft. As he slipped into the wind, the right main landing gear touched down first, then the aircraft bounced about a foot. At the top of the bounce, the co-pilot selected reverse thrust. Yikes! Here it comes... It was as if the aircraft asked, "You want to stop flying? OK, we can do that!" We fell back to the runway with much vigor. Behind me, I could hear stuff clanging in the forward galley. When my vision cleared, we were on the centerline and decelerating rapidly with sand, dirt, and loose paper blowing across the runway. Welcome to Sin City folks.
The co-pilot was mortified as we taxied to the gate. He kept apologizing, but I reminded him that I had warned everyone in the back to expect a rough landing. I then asked him if he would ever again select reverse thrust with the wheels off the ground. He said he would definitely not do that again. I told him not to worry about it.
When I opened the flight deck door, the flight attendants said, "Good job, Boys!" Several passengers complimented the crosswind landing.
That was a few hours ago... Cleveland is about 90 minutes away. Ten minutes ago, we circumnavigated a large storm that is casting a shadow ahead of us to the horizon. It resembles a dark blue road to the edge of the world. Actually, day's end is located there...