Breezy this month

March 23, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

As we finish up March, the windy month, (and there will be more in April) let’s briefly discuss, again or still, the perennial topic of crosswind landings.

From the FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook here are the usual suspects for getting an audience with your insurance adjuster, if not an FAA inspector. And guess what? About two hundred of us a year discover that the winds can be cross indeed.

• Attempting to land in crosswinds that exceed the airplane’s maximum demonstrated crosswind component. — Is this limiting? Not unless it is in the limitation section of the POH.  If it’s not a limitation it still might be challenging to explain why you thought you could do better than the factory test pilots.

• Inadequate compensation for wind drift on the turn from base leg to final approach, resulting in undershooting or overshooting. — This is what rectangular patterns are about and getting somewhat close to the runway centerline is more than a nice thing to do. If it starts getting messed up here things will get worse.

• Inadequate compensation for wind drift on final approach. — If crabbing or slipping won’t hold it, try to find another runway more aligned to the wind.  Things will get worse.

• Unstable approach. — This is a foreign concept to many pilots and I won’t elaborate here other than to say that in a light aircraft if you haven’t got it in the groove at 500′ agl, things will get worse.

• Failure to compensate for increased drag during sideslip resulting in excessive sink rate and/or too low an airspeed.
—- My bet is that this doesn’t happen too often. If it’s really windy we tend to be really fast. Things will get worse.

• Touchdown while drifting. — Leads to that jerking sensation.

• Excessive airspeed on touchdown. — Leads to that floating sensation.

• Failure to apply appropriate flight control inputs during rollout.
— Leads to all kinds of unintentional excursions as the wind hammers the aircraft.

• Failure to maintain direction control on rollout. — Tiptoe through the runway lights with me.

• Excessive braking. — Flat spots are really good for tire sales but not so good for pilot cash flows.

Claude, who flies a Cheetah and read the article Math Myths in the January 2011 AOPA Pilot,  had a nice rule of thumb about crosswinds: “The charts for crosswind components are somewhere in the kit bag but here’s a much easier way; All you have to remember are two numbers: 2 and .7.

“Wind at 30 degrees: Divide wind by 2.” So, if the total wind is 20 knots and it’s 30 degrees off the runway heading, the crosswind component is 10 knots.

“Wind  at 45 degrees: Multiply wind by .7″. In this case, if the total wind is  20 knots the crosswind will be 14 knots. 30 knots equals 21 knots crosswind.

Obviously,  at 90 degrees you get the full blast. This seems like a quick and fairly accurate way to assess how cross it will be. Take a tip from the pros who use the gust factor, not the steady state wind as the deciding factor.

One other brilliant bit of wisdom: If you practice on a day when the wind is significant enough to exercise those crosswind muscles and there is more than one runway – take the crosswind runway. Just mind the conflicting traffic.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • http://none Jeff Sponberg

    People seldom change their habits, particularly when flying only during certain months of the year. I encourage any pilot who has difficulties with crosswinds to seek out not just a CFI, but a CFI who isn’t timid about instructing in strong winds. During my CFI days I saw some pretty scary landings…This article hit the nail on the head.

  • Geoff Garcia

    One time in a huge crosswind when I did not have enough fuel to go around I made a last moment alignment and landed the 172 on the runway aligned with the ramp between the taxiway and the runway. That seemed to work well.

  • Mike Damiano

    I’ve been telling others about the $5.79 rule. At 30 degrees it’s 50%, at 45 degrees it’s 70% and at 60 degrees it’s 90 percent. Don’t know if this is original or not but when my CFI was first trying to explain cross wind component he wanted to know how I could always do them in my head. I’m an engineer so sine wave values are something I learned a long time before I started flying. He picked the angles I gave him the 5,7,9 and we decided it was pretty much the change you get at lunch.
    In any event unless it’s your home airport pretty much every cross wind landing is a new learning experience

  • Bruce Landsberg


    I like the $5.79 approach. Geoff, that was sporty and I’m sure you’ve decided that bit more go-juice is good idea. The whole crosswind practice business really is essential for new and rusty pilots.

    Redbird Flight Simulators has a crosswind simulator that they often demonstrate at the bigger shows. Teaches the basics and if you can’t find a real xwind to work with, this isn’t a bad idea at all.

  • Joe H.Gutierrez

    Ninty Five percent of pilots landing in strong cross or quarting head winds make the same mistake, they all use flaps!! What in hell for?? The minute you start lowering the flaps you are allowing the wind to get ahold of all that area and push you around, especially in Cessnas. The cleaner you keep your airplane in landing in strong winds the more control you as pilot have. Flaps were only intended to disend at a steep angle without increasing airspeed. Why Instructors continoue to teach using flaps in strong wind landings is not good and should be done away with. In fact some pilots don’t know how to land an airplane withour flaps. Bad pilotage..Having strong head winds in landing supports the aircraft already..Try it, you will like it very much..

  • Tisserand

    Joe thanks to remind us about : not to use the flaps with strong crosswind

    being part of yr 95% i will do my best to keep it cleaner


  • John Billings

    “• Attempting to land in crosswinds that exceed the airplane’s maximum demonstrated crosswind component. — Is this limiting? Not unless it is in the limitation section of the POH. If it’s not a limitation it still might be challenging to explain why you thought you could do better than the factory test pilots.”

    This person needs to research the method of publishing the “Maximum demonstrated crosswind component”. It is NOT the result of a test pilot’s prowess… It was the crosswind component that existed the day the airplane was certificated!