Let’s get crossed

The July technique piece in Flight Training is on crosswind landings, and we’ve had some good feedback. But the nature of that piece is that it be short and to the point. I wanted to expand on it a bit here.

From a broad viewpoint, being able to execute a crosswind landing is an incredibly important skill. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that until my instrument training. For whatever reason crosswind landings weren’t ingrained during my private pilot training. I learned to fly in Florida, and our airport had two runways, which meant that crosswinds of any significance were rare.

My ah-ha moment came while practicing an instrument approach through to a landing, which turned out ugly. As we were skidding across the runway, I distinctly remember my instrument asking, “Do you not know how to do a crosswind landing?” Sure enough, I didn’t. He taught me very quickly and very succinctly that it’s simple rudder to keep the nose straight and wing down into the wind.

Now, the technique can get more complicated than that, but it doesn’t have to. You should at some point be able to look at the windsock and determine from an outside-in perspective, which way to apply the controls. (Wind from the right, right aileron, left rudder, and so on). But in the beginning, just push the rudder until the nose is straight and turn the aileron the opposite direction. Don’t overthink it, in other words.

So that’s the landing. What about the approach? To me, this is a made-up controversy. You’ll hear people swear by one technique or another. You can either crab into the wind on final approach, or slip it all the way down. My opinion is that you should crab. It’s obvious why this would be preferable. It’s more comfortable for you and the passengers, it’s more professional, we use crabs everywhere else to maintain ground track, there’s less chance of stalling, and I think it’s easier to execute.

The hard part of the crab technique is knowing when and how to “kick out the crab” or transition to a slip. Again, to me this isn’t an issue. You’ll know roughly how much control pressure to add based on how much of a crab you had to maintain. And aligning the nose with the centerline with rudder is very quick and easy. Getting the right amount of aileron is more difficult. But most get it within a few tries. With that in mind, I often kick out the crab as I pull all the power out. You can do it a bit earlier if you like. It’s totally up to you.

Part of my frustration with crosswinds is that they aren’t hard to handle, but yet they account for a huge number of landing accidents every year. Make sure you go out with an instructor and practice. I mean really practice. If you have a crosswind runway at your airport, use it to practice at the highest crosswind component possible.

And if you’re still looking for more crosswind info, check out the video we produced with some action of the control positions.

–Ian J. Twombly

  • John McCreight

    Thank you so much for putting together the video along with the article information. I did read/see the article infographics, but it really didn’t come together for me until I saw the video demonstrating what’s supposed to be going on. Bravo!

    I will also admit to making blunders 1 & 2 several times in a 12 kt crosswind a few days ago, though I’m hoping that will be a “nevermore” once I apply these admittedly simple techniques.

  • http:[email protected] Virgilio Vincent

    My compliments mr twombly for his article on X-wind landing thechcnique it is a master piece of clearity and brevity…ie…(a)Rudder-tracks center line…(b)Aeleron-controlsdrift…WOW…even this 80 year old pilot can remember that…thanks Ian

  • Bill Swatling

    The only drawback of the crab and late kick out is that you might find out too late that the crosswind is too strong and you don’t have enough rudder. Where I live (Atlanta area) strong crosswinds are always accompanied by gusting winds. So sometimes you don’t know if you are going to have enough rudder until you get into the slip and feel a few gusts. So in my opinion, it is better to transition to a slip a half mile out instead of 200 feet above the runway.

  • Jon Teckma

    Private students should ALWAYS be required to slip to a landing beginning with their very first landing instruction. The ‘crosswind control’ slip should begin beginning right after getting stabilized on final; for the purpose of gaining the mastery required to defeat the evil crosswind; to gain the control mastery required to fly the airplane down the extended centerline to the runway WITH CONFIDENCE and WITH PRECISION.

    The amount of ‘crosswind-control’ required coming down final, decreases as you get closer to the runway, due to the lessening of wind speed as a result of ground friction.

    After the student becomes very proficient in the ‘crosswind technique’ then they can be switched to the ‘crab-down-final’ method, which is, as mentioned by others, much more comfortable.

    One reason why so many private pilots are so bad at handling crosswind landings is because they had poor instructors who allowed them to use the ‘crab method’ early in their training while coming down final, thereby cheating them of the immensely valuable practice gained while cross-controlling ALL THE WAY DOWN FINAL.

    Students should also be taught to expect to be ‘WACKED’ by a nasty wind just before touchdown and just after touchdown. Being taught to expect this, keeps the student on guard, and helps prevent them from becoming complacent just when they think they’ve got it made.

    Once the upwind wheel touches down, the good pilot rolls the control wheel completely into the wind, to avoid getting blown off the runway by any pesky gust. Takeoffs for students, SHOULD ALWAYS BEGIN with the control wheel full into the wind; with the student bringing the control wheel back ‘toward’ neutral as wind conditions allow during the takeoff roll; but only going to full neutral just as the wheels leave the ground.

    Poor crosswind takeoff and landing instruction is why we have so many crosswind takeoff and landing accidents.

    On a related note: Wind speed on final decreases noticeably two times as far as I can detect; once at about 50-100′ agl and once at about 10-20′ agl. You can observe this phenomena when on final during the evening or early morning when thermals are absent so that you have very smooth air, coupled with a light wind.

    Stabilize the airplane decending down final, crabbing in a TRIMMED-UP, HANDS-OFF STABILIZED DECENT to the runway using rudder for directional control and power to hold your decent line to the runway — now watch the nose of the airplane.

    While it looks like you may be able to maintain the decent perfectly to the runway under such conditions, you will see the nose drop noticeably at about 50-100′, and once you get re-stabilized you will see it drop again at about 10-20′. This is a phenomena all student pilots should be made aware of.