Feb 20, 2018
Most pilots would agree landing in a crosswind can be challenging at the best of times. For new pilots or trainee pilots however is it often one of the biggest challenges to master when learning to fly.
Most pilots prefer to land into a head wind as this gives greater control over the aircraft, however no one can control the weather or the direction of the runway so sometimes it is necessary to land with winds blowing across the runway in a sideways direction.
Understanding how to combat the effects of a crosswind on the aircraft, wind direction and the fundamentals of flying are all essential to making a successful cross wind landing.
How To Correct For Crosswind Drift
The principle behind combating a crosswind drift is simple; heading towards the left (for example), while the wind pushes to the right will result in the aircraft moving straight ahead. There are two basic methods pilots apply when correcting for drift during a crosswind approach and landing, the ‘Sideslip’ and the ‘Crab’.
The Crab Technique
An aircraft is said to ‘crab’ when it is pointing in one direction but moving in another. In this case in order to compensate for the crosswind and keep heading straight, it is necessary to point the aircrafts nose into the wind using a combination of rudder and aileron.
This method is used to direct the aircraft for the approach and all the way up the runway, however just as it is about to touch down it is necessary to straighten up using the rudder first and foremost and also a touch of aileron to keep the wings level.
This method requires good timing and a good feel for the aircraft’s responsiveness particularly during the flare (where the aircraft slows down and may require a greater crab angle).
The Sideslip Technique
The Sideslip or Wing Low method as it is sometimes known, involves banking the aircraft in the direction of the crosswind using the ailerons. The aircraft then slips sideways into the wind but the sideways slippage is counteracted by the sideways pressure from the cross wind.
It is important to note that as the aircraft banks it will automatically want to turn in that direction, sufficient use of the opposite rudder is necessary to counteract this. The aircraft can be flown in this way for approach and up the runway. The lower speeds of the flare will increase the need for rudder and ailerons and the upwind wheel(s) will touchdown first followed by the downwind then the nose wheels.
Touching down one wheel at a time facilitates correct alignment with the runway throughout the landing process. Don’t forget to relax the rudder when the nose wheel touches down to prevent veering off toward the downwind side of the runway.
Which Method Should You Choose?
While many pilots have a preference for one method or the other there are many acceptable variations and combinations of the Sideslip and Crab crosswind landing techniques. The choice of method or combination of will be determined by pilot preference, lack of alternative options, training, experience and situational awareness.
When faced with making a safe and comfortable crosswind landing, many pilots prefer to use a combination of the two methods – the Crab for the majority of the approach while reverting to the Sideslip in the final moments before landing. This often offers the best of both worlds both for the pilot and any passengers on board.
The After Landing Rollout
Whether you use the Crab or Sideslip method (or a combination of both) to touch down, there is still more to be done once you are on the ground to prevent the aircraft from turning or spinning under the wind pressure from the side.
It is necessary to carefully add full aileron deflection into the wind while using the rudder to stay on centreline throughout the entire rollout. Keeping the ailerons fully into the wind prevents the upwind wing from lifting, and it’s much easier to maintain control of the aircraft.
When Should You Go Around?
As with every landing, proper alignment with the runway is the obvious goal, nobody wants to risk damaging the aircraft or having an accident. Every pilot has to make the ‘go around’ call at some stage, in the case of a crosswind conditions are intensified and skills are tested.
Upon approach it is necessary to align the longitudinal axis of the airplane with the horizon while tracking the centreline of the runway and continually make corrections. If full rudder deflection is in place and it is not possible to align the aircraft correctly it will be necessary to go around and have another go.
Maximum Crosswind Speeds For Safe Landings
All aircraft have maximum “demonstrated crosswind capabilities” listed in their flight manuals. This measurement is given in knots, and represents the supposed wind strength in which the aircraft can still be sufficiently directionally controlled.
This figure is not intended as a legal limitation and acts as a guide only. Experience, skill level and competency are all factors that may influence a pilot’s decision as well as any club or organisation restrictions.
Obviously exceeding the crosswind capabilities of the aircraft and the pilot is a situation best avoided. If caught out unexpectedly it may be necessary to seek out an alternative runway or in extreme cases another airport.
The information in this article is intended as a guide only, for more detailed information on landing in a crosswind in New Zealand contact a professional flight instructor or flight training school.