Crosswind landings are considered to be one of the most difficult maneuvers in light aircraft flying. Virtually all student pilots struggle when learning them, and most people still find them difficult for a long while after getting a Private Pilot’s License.
Even fairly experienced private pilots have a hard time with them, often for a number of years, unless they manage to practice them often enough to become quite accustomed to doing them.
When I was learning to fly I thought crosswind landings were just about impossible. At one time I completely despaired of ever being able to do them properly.
To be honest, I never became completely comfortable with them, even after some years of flying. But they did become easier and less frightening, and they can be for you too.
So why are crosswind landings so difficult? To go right back to the beginning, why should you need to land crosswind at all?
And what techniques should you use to fly them successfully, and to land and walk away for them after performing one, with no damage to either airplane or occupants? In this article we will look at the answers to all these questions and others.
Bottom Line Up Front
Sometimes the wind is not blowing down the runway on which you plan to land, so you have to do a crosswind landing. These landings are difficult, mainly because the wind tries to blow the aircraft away from the runway approach path, and landing so landing techniques need to overcome this.
There are basically three crosswind landing techniques: the crab method, the wing-low method, and the de-crab method, the last of which is basically a combination of the first two.
The de-crab method is probably the easiest and best of these and is the one most pilots end up using. However, this is not universal or set in stone, and you are recommended to try all three methods and see which one works best for you.
What are Crosswind Landings and why are they so Difficult
Aircraft normally land into wind. As an aside, so do birds and anything else that flies! This is the easiest and safest direction in which to land, since it means the approach speed is as slow as possible, while still enabling the pilot to keep up his or her airspeed and so prevent the possibility of stalling.
With a tailwind you would cover the ground very fast, which would make your touchdown speed dangerously fast, and even risk you running off the end of the runway.
So what about a crosswind? Well, a wind blowing across your approach path blows the airplane to the side, and you have to correct your approach in some way to maintain a steady path towards the runway.
This is not easy to do, particularly if the wind is absolutely at right angles to the approach path and/or is very strong. It requires good coordination, precision flying, and above all takes practice.
So if the wind is blowing across the approach path, what can you do? Well, if you are flying onto an aircraft carrier, you can radio the ship’s captain and ask for the ship and the runway to be placed in a better position! But unless you are a navy pilot, this is really of academic interest only.
If you are flying into an airport with multiple runways, you may find that one of the other runways is positioned better for landing. Winds can change during the day, so it is always worth checking if this is the case, even if you have been told the runway in use when approaching the airfield.
If you are using an airfield with only one runway, you can always fly to another airfield with an into-wind runway. But if none of these solutions are practical – and often they are not – then you will need to perform a crosswind landing.
Crosswind Landing Techniques
There are basically three crosswind landing techniques…
- The Crab Method
- The Wing-Low or Sideslip Method
- The De-Crab Method
We will now look in some detail at each of these, each of them has some advantages and some disadvantages, and different pilots prefer different techniques
The Crab Method
For this method the pilot turns the aircraft so that it is facing into the wind, while continuing to track down the runway approach path. This means that you have the airplane at an angle to the approach path, ie you ‘crab’ down the approach path.
In my experience it is the method preferred by most instructors, as it keeps the airplane well-coordinated and in balance. And those who are accustomed to it find no difficulty in doing this.
However, not all pilots like this method. I certainly didn’t. It requires that you point the aircraft into the wind, which means that you are looking at the runway approach out of your side window. I found this very unnatural and even disorientating.
Also, although it is not too difficult to keep a steady approach, the method requires that you straighten the aircraft up with the runway before landing. You have to do this by turning the airplane into the wind, using the into-wind aileron, and then you use the opposite rudder to straighten it up and line up with the runway.
Or as some pilots put it, you use the rudder to ‘kick’ it straight or ‘kick out’ the crab. This requires good coordination and fine judgment just before touchdown, and gives you a lot to do at a point of high workload anyway.
This is the method used by airline pilots. But while a large airliner has loads of inertia and will straighten itself out even if you land with a slight crab, a small single-engined aircraft will not.
If you don’t get the landing just right, and if you still have a bit of a crab, you’re going to jump and bounce quite a lot after touchdown. So a lot of pilots – me included – don’t like this method, whatever instructors say.
The Wind-Low or Sideslip Method
With this method you keep facing down the approach path, and turn the into-wind aileron towards the wind. Then, to prevent this from causing the aircraft to turn, you use the opposite rudder.
This means that the airplane keeps facing down the runway approach path, but with ‘crossed controls’, ie you use one aileron, and the rudder on the opposite side.
Essentially you use your rudder to line up the nose with the runway, and your aileron to correct for left/right drift. And you do this all the way from final approach to touchdown.
As you begin your round out and flare, you will need to add more rudder to keep your nose aligned with the runway, and at the same time add more aileron to keep yourself from drifting off the centerline.
Personally I find this really easy, far easier than the crab method. I like being able to keep my airplane facing down the approach path, and I also like the fact that I don’t have to alter my technique at almost the last moment before landing.
However, technically this method of flying with crossed controls is uncoordinated, and so is frowned on by experts. This is probably the reason why so few instructors like and teach this method.
But for a number of pilots, this method is easier. I always preferred it, as it meant I could keep the airplane facing towards the runway, which felt far more natural than facing sideways for the crab method.
Using the wing-low method you will need to make minor adjustments just before you land, and one wheel will land first with this method, which can seem a bit odd at first. But I have never found this to be a major problem, and this is my personal preferred method.
The De-Crab Method
This crosswind landing method is actually just a combination of the other two methods. It involves crabbing into the wind for the majority of the approach, thereby avoiding uncoordinated flight for long periods. Then, as you approach short final, you change to the wing-low method.
This technique eliminates the problem of long periods of flight with crossed controls, while at the same time making the final moments of the approach easier, as you do not have to correct the crab just as you are preparing to land.
Basically, the de-crab method gives you the best of both of the other two methods. For this reason, it is very popular.
The Best Crosswind Landing Method
The de-crab combination method is undoubtedly the best method of performing a crosswind landing, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. In fact, it is the one most pilots end up using, to a greater or lesser extent.
Those pilots using the crab method often find themselves starting to straighten up earlier and earlier in the approach, simply to make the landing easier. While those of us using the wing-low method often find that we feel safer crabbing into wind for a short period, rather than flying the whole long approach with crossed controls.
So the best method of performing a crosswind landing is the De-Crab Method.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Is the Wind Sometimes too Strong for a Crosswind Landing to be Possible?
Answer: Yes, it can be. There is a stated crosswind limit for each aircraft type, which can be found in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) for that aircraft type.
Strictly speaking, this limit has been tested by an experienced pilot to make sure it is possible.
But in theory, the wind is too strong, or the crosswind component too high, or both, when it is beyond the limits of rudder control for that particular aircraft. And if you find that turns out to be the case, you will need to either wait for conditions to change, or land at another airfield.
Question: What is the ‘Crosswind Component’ and How do you Calculate It?
Answer: The crosswind component measures the amount of crosswind you will be exposed to when you land. It is a combination of the wind strength and direction.
You obviously want to determine the expected crosswind component at your destination as part of your preflight planning. In order to do this you will need to do the following:
– Determine the surface wind forecast at the time of your arrival. The easiest method for doing this is through a TAF (Terminal Area Forecast), if one exists for that airport. If a TAF does not exist you can use the surface winds chart from any appropriate source.
– Convert the winds in the TAF from true into magnetic
– Find the angular difference between the magnetic winds and the runway of intended use
Refer to a crosswind chart
If all this sounds too complicated, there are now apps that will enable the calculations to be done more easily. But in practice, if the wind seems too strong and is perpendicular to the runway, you might prefer to simply give it a miss, which is what most of us do. There is no point in pushing either the aircraft or your own skills right to the limit!
Question: Will I ever Find Crosswind Landings Any Easier?
Answer: As with most other things, in aviation and also other skills, practice makes perfect. So try not to avoid crosswind landings completely, even if you find them difficult.
You would be better advised to either go up with an instructor and practice them from time to time, or make sure you sometimes go out flying in conditions in which a crosswind landing is necessary. Many of us never do enough flying to find them easy, but they will in time become somewhat less difficult.
A few tips to make crosswind landings less stressful…
– Practice. Start with a small crosswind component and work your way up.
– Follow the Pilot’s Operating Handbook recommendations for use of flaps in a crosswind
– Land on the fast end of your acceptable touchdown range. It is not immediately obvious, but the slower you are, the more vulnerable you are.
It can help if as well as coming in a little bit faster on crosswind landings, you leave in a little bit of power until the last second, essentially ‘flying’ the airplane down onto the runway rather than ‘gliding’ it in. I certainly prefer doing it this way.
Crosswind landings are always going to be a difficult maneuver; there is no doubt about that. But the secret, as with most things in aviation, is lots of practice.
Also, find out which of the methods described above works best for you. If you are like most of us, you are likely to end up with some version of the de-crab method.
But above all, stay within your limitations. If you don’t feel safe doing so yet, do not land in a strong crosswind. Wait until the wind changes direction or strength, or divert to an airfield with a runway closer to the wind direction.
There is never any problem with playing safe when it comes to aviation, and it’s better to play safe than risk damaging an aircraft or having an accident.
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