Crosswinds –Again

April 17, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

Nothing seems to create more ink or anguish than the subject of crosswind landings. The FAA says, “The longitudinal axis of the airplane must be parallel to the direction of travel.” This is an engineer’s way of saying the wheels and the landing gear won’t take it kindly if you touch down sideways.

As you’ll read from the other blogs and readers, there are only basically two ways to do this: slip or crab. It’s all a matter of timing and proficiency. For new pilots, most instructors will recommend the slip or wing low method, which gives them time to line up, get a feel for the wind and the control pressures, and then decide if they and the aircraft can manage. The crab or “kickout at the last minute” requires good timing and a relationship with the aircraft.

The most common error that I’ve observed is that everyone does fine until they start the flare and then forget to hold the wing down through the landing because in non-crosswind conditions we’re always told to keep the wings level.

It’s hard to arrange a crosswind for practice where and when you need and not be contrary to traffic at a nontowered airport. The best way to manage this that I’ve found in busier parts of the country is to go to a nearby towered airport, if one is reasonably close, on a windy day and work the crosswind runway.

No need for me to belabor here as you’ll read, in depth, all the tips, secrets, and “guaranteed” methods that imagination and experience can conjure. Just keep in mind that we bend more metal in crosswind landing accidents than almost any other phase of flight, and action will always speak louder than hangar flying.

Happy Landings ….

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • ed lasher

    I used 2 techniques for cross wind landings.1) approach upwind wing LOW…after landing hold the wheel (Stick) into the wind…. or the same way the nose is going. as speed bleeds off increase the control input…and 2) if I”m landing on a wide runway in a substantial cross wind, i land diagonally, from the downwind corner toward the upwind side of the runway about a thousand feet down the runway. Naturally i didn’t continue til I took out the runway lights or saw grass being blown by my prop.

  • Kenneth Pheley

    Apparently many of your readers do not understand the diffenece between a slip and a skid when they say they are uncomfortable with cross controls durring landings.Their prinary insructors apparently did a poor job of explaining an important concept. I teach the slip method, but make my students keep one eye on the airspeed in all approaches. From everything I have read, the fact is that it is very difficult (but not imposible) to spin an aircraft from a slip. A skid however increases stall speed,and blankets the wing in the direction of the skid. It also puts unusual side loads an an aircraft resulting in a very good chance of spinning it in or stalling. The differnce shoud be understood. A slip is very safe unless the pilot is a totally ham handed pilot. I once had my primary instrutor, many years ago (when I was young and folish), take me out in a 172 and tell me to spin it from a slip. I could not do it! A skid is very dangerous on the other hand. Older aircraft with a straight wing will of course spin much easer than a aircraft with washout. I also teach the differience in indicated airspeed in a slip and nonslip configuation. It can change indicated airspeed as much a 5 miles an hour in a 172.This is a factor the last minute “Kick in method” people do not take into account. I personly an much nore concerned with people jockying controlls arround and trying to see if they have enough rudder to make the landing at the last minuterather than useing a more stabilized approach method. I believe the FAA agrees with me.

  • blake harris

    I use a combination of the crab and slip. I fly down final in a crab, tracking the runway centerline. Then as I flare, I add rudder to align the nose with the runway while lowering the upwind wing at the same time to hold the runway centerline. This method gives the passengers the most comforatable ride on final and elliminates the timing issues with kicking out of the crab at the last moment.

  • Larry Folk

    During my “pre-solo” flight training, my job caused me to relocate, and I found myself at a different airport with a new instructor. My original instructor favored a crab-to-slip transition on short final and my second instructor favored establishing a slip as part of the landing configuration activities following the turn to final. During my endeavor to become capable and confident with landings, I got plenty of practice using both techniques. I still use both, depending on the wind.

    If the wind is pressing the demonstrated crosswind component of the airplane, I’ll fly the crab. With that much crosswind, I will have been flying a crab on downwind, so the airplane will be trimmed for it, and therefore my typical landing “by-the-numbers” configuration changes will keep me on the runway numbers. Also, stronger winds are generally gusty, which I find to be less upsetting in a crab.

    Rather than “kicking out at the last minute”, I “follow the wind” to transition into the slip on short-short final. As I lessen the crab angle to adjust for the reduced wind force near the ground, there will be a point at which I transition into the slip, maybe add a little power and get aligned for the flare. I liken this to the reverse of taking off into a stiff crosswind, where I transition the upwind-wing-down rotation into a right-rudder-heavy, stick-slightly-forward crab, accelerating in ground effect along the centerline.

    In lighter crosswinds, I’ll set up the slip to maintain the centerline early on final and then use some additional power management along with the flight controls to make adjustments. In this case, the transition is simpler, “relaxing” the slip into the flare.

    My objective with either method is to respond continuously to the wind with small adjustments, such that the final approach transitions into the upwind-wing-down, longitudinal-axis-on-centerline configuration in ground effect, ready to flare. In retrospect, the slip was probably a better fit with my early training, since there was so much that was new to me, and the seat of my pants had not yet worn in to fit the seat of the airplane. The crab feels more like flying.

  • Heath Fournier

    I learned to fly in Wichita, Ks and only have about 110 hours. Here we have no shortage of cross wind scenarios. I typically use the crab down to the flare and then slip to landing. This is usually more confortable if you carry passangers a lot. I do agree with the people that say it takes some delicate handling to master and should probably on be used if you have had much practice with it.

  • James Reed

    The technique used to tame a crosswind is the pilot’s choice. I am an active instructor in the central valley of California and I have been bombarded by pilots who want to land in a crosswind with less than landing (read full) flaps. I have always thought that the majority of crosswind accidents are the result of loss of directional control upon ground contact. Full flaps will reduce ground speed and therefore directional control on ground contact. If there is insufficient control authority for effective flight controls it might be time to pick a different runway. I am very interrested in comments on this subject.

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