Crosswinds Archive

Wing-tipping the runway?

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Folks, if you ever wondered how an airliner battles a landing in heavy crosswinds, take a look at this video. A classic “Never Again” story. What were the pilots thinking? Share your comments on this video and on AOPA Pilot editors’ crosswind stories posted here.

Put your right foot in . . .

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Somewhere over the last 30 years, I went from being afraid of crosswind landings to enjoying the challenge. Now, I almost look forward to a stiff crosswind–steady, not gusty, thank you very much.

Many challenging crosswind situations come to mind–some recent, some not so. Just this year, I’ve battled tough crosswinds at nearby Hagerstown, Maryland, and Winchester, Virginia. Zeroing in on Winchester’s Runway 32 last January, the airplane was at a 40-degree correction, it seemed. On short final, I kicked full right rudder to straighten out the nose and rolled in left aileron to keep it on track for an “arrival.” But on such a gusty day, any time you can reuse the airplane, you’re a hero.

The worst ever was St. Mary’s, Georgia, (4J6) a number of years ago. Runway 22 was the plan, but Mother Nature made it difficult with about a 22-knot crosswind component. No flaps, higher landing speed, a good grip on the airplane, and a willingness to go around and look for another airport.

It all worked out. It’s always important to go into tough landing situations primed to abandon the approach for a runway more aligned with the wind. The worst case is to find yourself with a challenging wind and not enough fuel to go someplace else. Don’t go there. And don’t forget to look for challenging crosswind days to go practice. You’ll enjoy the exercise.


Out of control

Friday, April 18th, 2008

There have been very few times I’ve felt out of control in an airplane, either flying myself or while instructing. But the two major ones that come to mind were both a result of crosswinds.

The first was as an instrument student. I was flying a Cessna 172 in Gainesville, Florida, and my instructor had me commence the approach with a touch and go. We touched down but the tires started screeching as the airplane was pushed hard to the right. I moved feet and hands, but nothing happened.

My instructor was noticeably upset, as he should have been. Instrument students should know how to land in a crosswind. Looking back, I realized that I had applied no correction whatsoever. We went around to try another and he explained it in very simple terms–bank for the centerline and use rudder to keep the nose straight. I’ve been driving that into my student’s heads ever since.

The other time was with a student. He landed in a relatively low crosswind, maybe 10 knots or so. But there was some side loading and all of the sudden we’re on one wheel heading straight for a runway light. Good times…

One that didn’t work

Friday, April 18th, 2008

It sounded like a great idea–fly from Frederick, Maryland, down to Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay, for crab cakes. It was a windy spring day and the forecast called for the possibility of moderate turbulence. Except for a few small bumps the air was smooth.

When I got to Tangier Island, however, the wind must have been 35 knots, perpendicular to (and blowing water onto!) the narrow single runway. Even with full rudder deflection the wind pushed me to the right of the runway–and that Tampico, like its Tobago and Trinidad siblings, had a lot of rudder authority.

I gave the approach two tries and then diverted to Crisfield, Maryland, which had a runway conveniently pointed into the wind. You always have a Plan B (and file an alternate restaurant), don’t you?

Two other airplanes did make it into Tangier Island that day. I later learned that one pilot, flying a twin-engine Beech Baron, had to use differential thrust to land in that wind. The other was a Cessna Skyhawk, and I sure would have liked to see its arrival.

The crab cakes at Crisfield are every bit as good, by the way. In case you were wondering.

Cajoling the crosswind

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Once upon a time there was a pilot (me) who was getting her sign-off in a feisty taildragger. And as fate would have it, winds were perpendicular to the runway that day. “No problem,” said the good instructor. And then he added, “Just remember: Keep positive control until the plane is tied down.” And so I took a deep breath and plunged into the mighty crosswind.

My neck hurt from switching my view back and forth out the left side window (witnessing ever-growing runway numbers and end lights coming nearer) to the front windshield where trees loomed but kept their distance, thank you. The airplane’s nose steadily pointed 45 degrees to the runway’s right side, and the numbers and lights were now really getting very large in the left window, so I formed a plan of action: Get lined up with the centerline, no matter what it takes.

It was an oh-so-sweet touchdown, especially hearing, “Good job, keep her there,” from the back seat. My left hand was on the throttle while my white-knuckled right hand clamped onto the stick. Overjoyed with my glorious success that had solicited kudos from the back, I let go of the controls for just a split second. The airplane reacted immediately, and so did the good instructor. Uh oh–what was I thinking?

X-Wind landings: Just follow the stripe

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

This sounds like heresy, but I’ll say it: Ignore the everlasting crab/slip debate.

Unless your aircraft has a particular limitation that demands one method or the other, it’s a fruitless discussion.

The key to successful crosswind landings is getting your mind outside the cockpit and away from mechanical ‘push this lever’ or ‘pull that one’ thinking.

Concentrate on holding the centerline during final approach, and immediately correct the slightest deviations on landing. As long as you’re continuously tracking the centerline, your hands and feet will naturally do the right things.

Don’t worry about style.

Just follow the stripe.

X-Wind technique–It all depends

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

It depends on what I’m flying. The smaller the plane–the lighter the wing loading, more to the point–the more I’m apt to crab it in, then kick out the crab and land it in the wing-low, opposite rudder move.

Heavier airplanes, or airplanes with higher wing loadings, seem to handle crosswinds better. So I’ll slip these usually as the runway draws near, then sort out the landing technique just before touchdown.

Also, the strength of the crosswind component is important, of course. I just landed a Lear 60XR in 40-knot winds blowing 45 degrees off the runway heading. Not much control deflection was required, but the timing was more critical because things are happening much faster–final approach speed was 140 knots (owing to the gust factor).

Light planes make you work harder because your speeds are slower and so you spend more time in the flare.

In another big difference, heavier airplanes stay put when they land. Lighter planes can reach flying speed in strong winds!

A long-stroke landing gear and a low wing equals success

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

My most memorable crosswind landing occurred as I and Bill Evans, who had purchased the 2005 AOPA Sweepstakes Commander Countdown airplane from prize winner Rob Melnick of Denver, landed for fuel at the Trinidad, Colorado airport in late February 2006.

When there’s a crosswind I roll out of my turn from the base leg on the runway center line. Then I adjust my heading into the crosswind to stay on the centerline. The amount of heading offset required to track the centerline helps me estimate the strength of the crosswind. On short final I then straighten the airplane out by lowering the upwind wing and adding opposite rudder as necessary. I haven’t ever run into a crosswind that was so strong that I couldn’t continue the landing, but I thought I was going to during that landing at Trinidad. 


Are we down yet?…a crosswind memory

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

My most memorable crosswind: How could I have forgotten? Well, maybe it was because I wasn’t technically flying the airplane, although I was in the left seat at the time. Here’s what happened.

On a multistate cross-country trip with a large group of pilots (which I described in the March 2003 issue of AOPA Flight Training), I was flying a Piper Archer with a CFI in the right seat and a passenger in the back, bound from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Burlington, Vermont. We’d just enjoyed a lobster lunch and were happily taking in the breath-taking scenery as we passed over the mountains.

On this summer afternoon, thunderstorms began to form while we were still several miles from our destination. We listened to the tower and noted that some airplanes were being diverted to a lake near the airport to wait out the storm. Were we next on the list?

As it turned out, no. We were told to continue our approach. But as the clouds formed and the storm spooled up nearby, the winds got a little raucous. I remember trying to plug in a frequency on the Garmin 430, but I couldn’t quite manage it. When our heads hit the ceiling and the CFI’s camera floated in the air, he offered to fly the airplane, and I accepted. With pleasure. (I like to think that if I were in that left seat today, I would have said “Yee haw!” and kept flying the airplane.)

The winds were straight across the runway at 30 to 35 knots, and Mark had to use a lot of aileron and a lot of rudder to keep us on the centerline. When we touched down and taxied to the parking area, the skies opened up, and we were drenched as we ran inside the terminal. And Mark wore a giant grin. “That’s flying!” he said.


The most awful crosswinds on the face of the Earth

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

One word; Maui. I went out there to do a crosswinds article a few years ago (I used my frequent flyer miles) and what I had heard was true. A Cessna 210 months earlier had been sitting in the runup area with the engine at full power (engine test), and it flipped on its back. Wasn’t even moving. Calm morning winds are those at 10 to 12 knots, while normal midday winds are usually 30 knots. My instructor suggested entering a sideslip while still at 100 feet when landing to see if the winds were too powerful to maintain the center line. If they are, come up with plan B, like another runway or airport. Airplanes don’t land as much as they play elevator, descending at very low or no ground speed. Once on the ground it takes everything you can remember about taxiing in high winds to make it to the FBO. Routine day in paradise.