Crosswind Landings

We were leaving school about 6:30 in the evening.  I was with my wife and one of our authors—they had been working on a book while I was teaching school and we agreed to give him a lift home afterward.  As we drove away, we were near the approach end of Runway 34 and I saw a light twin on final.  I did not recognize the aircraft and did not know if it was from Daytona or a transient.  I did have a feeling that it was a training flight of some sort.

If you don’t know much about pilots, here is one thing I will tell you.  We are admittedly, a rude bunch.  When we see an airplane in flight, or one about to takeoff or land, we will stop everything we are doing to watch.  It is what we do.  Don’t be offended by this behavior.

So, both my wife and our friend looked at me a little oddly when I pulled into the parking lot near the runway to watch the landing.  “What?  I have to watch the landing,” I explained.  My wife understood immediately; she has suffered through my “aero-rudeness” in the past.

Both the landing and the comments of my wife, who is a non-flyer, amused me.  She may not be a pilot, be she can spot a bad landing from a mile away.  She can now almost comment on them correctly.

Whoever was flying this airplane flew the approach too fast, did not correct for the crosswind well enough, and then fought it all the way down 2500 feet of runway as they floated.  There were two main problems to this approach and landing: the first was excessive speed and the second was incorrect crosswind landing technique.

I don’t know why pilots insist on flying landings with higher than normal approach speeds.  Someone is teaching people to fly too fast on the approach.  Why?  I don’t know.  However, excessive speed on final is a bear to deal with when it comes to actually landing the airplane.  The extra speed literally keeps you in the air much longer than you would like.  This of course, translates into float and lost runway.  Remember, there is nothing more useless than runway behind you.  This is true for landings and takeoffs.

The Pilots’ Operating Handbook (POH) specifies speeds for normal and short field landings.  As a pilot, your first duty is to fly the approach at the designated airspeed.  Your second duty is to trim the airplane.  If you trim the airplane correctly, you are going to have an easy time landing.  If trimmed improperly, you are naturally going to fight it all the way through the landing.

Another area in which pilots tend to work too hard is during the crosswind landing.  There are two acceptable techniques for landing an airplane in a crosswind.

The elementary method is to slip the airplane to align the airplane’s centerline with the centerline of the landing runway.  Once you do this, the airplane will have a tendency to drift downwind if you keep the wings level.  To correct for this, you have to bank the airplane toward the wind just slightly.  With this technique, yes, the ball is going to come out of center; this is because you are cross-controlling the airplane to keep the fuselage going straight by using opposite rudder to hold it aligned, and aileron to keep it from drifting.

The advanced method is to “crab” the airplane by keeping the wings level on the approach and as you near the runway, start feeding in rudder to straighten out and then use enough aileron to keep from drifting off centerline.  This technique depends on proper timing.  As the airplane slows, you have to use the flight controls at just the right moment to catch the drift and align the aircraft with the runway.

Now here is the secret to either technique; as the airplane slows down, the flight controls will become less effective.  What this requires of you is that as the airplanes decelerates, you have to keep cranking in more aileron into the direction the wind is coming from.  You need to crank it in all the way as it slows down.

The one last thing you should remember during any landing, as well as crosswind landings, is to be smooth.


© 2011 J. Clark

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3 Responses to Crosswind Landings

  1. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could move the runway to always have the wind down the centerline? Maybe arrange a nice 20 knot headwind to help slow you down. :0) Good post, Joe.

  2. Joe Clark says:

    Thanks Harrison. And actually, they have used that concept–called aircraft carriers… They always bring it into the wind for cat shots and traps, for the most part. And then there was the experimental Hollywood North Perry Airport down in South Florida. A circular airfield that allowed pilots always to land directly into the wind. The idea failed, probably because pilots were unable to decide exactly which way to land.

  3. midlifepilot says:

    Having been taught both methods (drop upwind wing into the wind, or crab aircraft into the wind – or in fact hybrid of both?) I have to say that so far the crab method is my preferred one. I find it far easier – at the “unconscious competence” level – to crab my aircraft on approach than to drop my upwind wing.

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