Windy City


Id had enough of Chicago for one weekend. It was spring of 2002, and the U.S. was still reacting to 9/11. Id flown into now-defunct Meigs Field a few days earlier for business and pleasure. Now, I was ready to go, having overdosed on both.

First, of course, I had to get through Mayor Daleys gauntlet of airline-style security: After presenting my pilot certificate, drivers license, a picture of my first-born male child and assorted other documentation, three of Chicagos Finest

High Wind Takeoffs


watched me walk through a metal detector.

I preflighted, loaded my bags, strapped in and listened to the ATIS. A Notam prohibited single-engine operations in a 20-knot-or-greater direct crosswind. The runway at Meigs, of course, was oriented 18/36. The observed wind was from 090 at 20 knots; the tower would not clear me to takeoff.

“What are my options?” I asked on the frequency. The controller suggested a telephone number I could call to discuss my question more fully. One that wasnt recorded.

After I dialed the number, the same guy answered. “I cant clear you to take off in these winds,” he explained. “But if theres no traffic, you can depart at your own risk, just without a clearance. As far as the FAA is concerned, theres no violation since its a local regulation.”

“Sign me up,” I responded. Of course, by this time, all this talk of a “whopping” 20-knot crosswind got me to thinking: Now would be a really bad time to prang my airplane, with its 17-knot demonstrated crosswind component. So, I took my time taxiing and running through the before-takeoff checklist, ensuring everything was right. Since the runway at Meigs was relatively wide, I started my takeoff roll on the downwind side, angled into the wind.

Smoothly applying power, I hadnt rolled far when the airspeed came alive; a few more yards and I had liftoff speed, plenty of runway and plenty of control. Smoothly applying firm back pressure, I was airborne, cocked slightly into the wind, climbing and retracting the gear. Ive since landed the same airplane in 20-gusting-30 crosswinds without a problem. Staying on my toes and keeping the rudder happy is key. As is being spring-loaded to go around or abort if things go awry.


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