Crosswind landings

Aviatrix’s latest post on flying up north talks about crosswind landings. When I was a student pilot, and for a while after I got my PPL, I found crosswind landings fairly difficult. Then, one day, I suddenly realized that I’d just landed in a strong crosswind without thinking about it. Much of what I learned during initial training turned out to be of limited value, so I decided to post what actually works for me:

  • Almost every landing is really a crosswind landing to some extent, so don’t think of The Crosswind Landing as a special procedure.
  • Don’t set up the slip until you’re well below treetop/roof level, and preferably, not until you’re in the flare. The winds at 100 ft (or even 50 ft or 20 ft) may have little or nothing to do with the winds you’ll be landing in. I’ve often had a ferocious crosswind on the turn from base to final that faded to almost nothing by the time I touched down (even the windsock is too high to get the touchdown winds for a 172 or PA-28).
  • In the flare (for any landing), think of the controls differently — use the ailerons to slide the plane left/right so that it stays over the centreline, and use the rudder to keep the nose pointing straight forward. Don’t worry about a slip per se — it will just be the natural result of these inputs.
  • (Advanced) If the crosswind is very strong, back off on the rudder a bit and flare in a crab, then kick the rudder hard to straighten the nose just before the wheels touch. Don’t try this until you’re pretty comfortable (and probably never in a taildragger, unless you enjoy ground loops).

By the way, I always land with full flaps, even in a strong crosswind. The only time I don’t use flaps is when I’ve seen any trace of icing during flight — if, for some reason, there’s undetected ice on the stabilator/horizontal stabilizer, dropping flaps can cause a tail stall [video], which is almost never recoverable close to the ground.

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4 Responses to Crosswind landings

  1. Ed Davies says:

    Crabbing taildraggers is OK with a modicum of care – you don’t want to kick it straight too early or too late.

    It’s a few years since I’ve done any flying but my experience was that a combination of slipping and crabbing worked fine in Supercubs and Pawnees (both taildraggers, of course). It might have helped a little bit that they were glider tugs with a rope on the back which gives some directional stability but kicking them straight as they settle down is pretty easy. It’s my theory that if the aircraft is just about to land itself anyway and you kick it straight then it’ll land pretty promptly (as the relative airflow is now angled across the wing) – before the wind can give it much momentum across the airfield. Therefore the window of time to kick it straight is wider than you might think given that you want to do it in the few seconds just before touchdown.

    It’s always much better if you can point the thing into wind, though.

    Gliders (sailplanes) are mostly in effect taildraggers but they are almost always crabbed in a cross wind because the wings are long enough that you don’t want too much slip close to the ground.

  2. Aviatrix says:

    And if you have non-centreline thrust, you can bank even more, and use differential power when you run out of rudder.

  3. david says:

    Nice — I never thought of that extra benefit of differential power. With the price of avgas these days (not to mention general maintenance and engine overhauls), I’m not sure that I can see myself ever flying a twin.

  4. TknoFlyer says:

    I disagree with the second bullet above. While I don’t dispute the winds at 100 feet can be very different from those at the surface, setting up the slip late as you suggest is adding more workload to the most critical phase of the flight. I suggest setting up the slip shortly after turning final to allow time to adjust to changing winds without changing the workload much.

    I also disagree with always landing with full flaps – especially in gusty conditions. Of course, that may be partly due to “full flaps” being 40 degrees for the Skylane I fly, but even in later Cessnas and Pipers where the max is 30 degrees, I recommend reducing flaps in strong wind conditions.

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