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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.