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There's Always Next Time

The airspeed needle was bouncing up and down. The wings were rocking side-to-side. The furball dog on my wife's lap was squirming and fussing. We were on final approach to Little River, California in our club's A36 Bonanza and were getting knocked around pretty good. In other words, it was a typical approach into the coastal airport, where the sea breeze usually combines with the surrounding hills to make things interesting.

"Gas, undercarriage—three green lights—mixture, prop," I called out while trying to keep lined up with the runway centerline and minimize excursions from the glide path. We were going to meet my parents for lunch and maybe take them for a short flight in preparation for a long trip we're planning. As I flared the airplane and milked back the throttle, a right crosswind gust pushed us left of the centerline. I rolled in more right slip to arrest the drift and made a surprisingly smooth touchdown and rollout.

"Very nice!" Janet commented.

"Thanks!" I said. "That was a little trickier than usual. I'm starting to wonder about the wisdom of taking my folks up today." We tied down the airplane and walked over to the small office where my folks were waiting.

"Great to see you!" my mom said, giving us a hug.

"That's a good looking airplane!" my dad said. It had been awhile since he'd seen it.

"Thanks! We're very proud of it," I replied.

At lunch, we caught up a bit and talked about our plans to visit friends and family in the Seattle area and then continue on to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. My dad has back trouble and finds it painful to sit for long periods, so we wanted to get him in the airplane and find a combination of cushions to make him as comfortable as possible. As it is, I'm planning our trip in short hops to allow him to get out and move around frequently. My folks had never flown with me in the Bonanza, so we wanted to do a little test flight to get them acquainted with it before the long trip.

The wind was generally light and a bit off runway heading when we got back to the airport, but the occasional gusts were pretty strong. I did a quick walk-around and we got my dad situated in one of the rear seats. As we did so, the gusts started to pick up and I started getting an "I'm not so sure about this" feeling. I climbed in next, followed closely by my mom, and we got her settled in the right seat. I started running the checklist and started the engine.

"Wind variable between 300 and 340 at 17, gusts 22. Crosswind. Wind shear," reported the AWOS. This was a bad idea.

"The wind's getting worse," I told my parents. "I don't think this is a good day for your first flight in this airplane. I want you to have the best possible experience. Let's plan for a short flight the day before our trip."

"Sure, that'll be fine," my mom replied.

"You don't want to scare the hell out of us the first time out, eh?" my dad asked.

I chuckled and said, "Yeah, that's considered bad form. We'll pick a friendlier day."

I shut down the airplane and we chatted a bit more about the trip. I noticed that the omnipresent fog was now visible off shore, so it wouldn't be long until it pushed inland. Janet and I said our good-byes and got the airplane ready to go.

There was a gusty crosswind as I started the takeoff roll with the yoke fully to the right. As we picked up speed, I slowly moved the yoke towards level. A gust started to pick up the right wing just before liftoff, so I compensated, let the speed build a bit more, and then rotated into a right crab. As we climbed out, we were hit by a series of wing-rocking gusts and up- and down-drafts, with the airspeed needle fluctuating by ten knots, so I kept our speed up. At about 1,500 feet AGL the air finally smoothed out and we turned downwind, heading for home.

"Good call not taking your folks up today," Janet said.

"Indeed!" I replied. "There's always next time."

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