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Good crosswind techniques require practice


We are still not paying enough attention to the wind on landing and it appears we are not applying adequate crosswind technique. We are paying the price with bent airplanes.

While the pilot of a C-172 was on approach to runway 24, the controller advised the pilot that the winds were from 200 degrees at 15 gusting to 20 knots. The pilot elected to land with 40 degrees of flap. The gusty wind caused the aircraft to become airborne again just after it touched down. It then stalled and contacted the ground nose wheel first. The nose wheel broke off, resulting in damage to the propeller and engine.

The pilot of a C-177 was attempting a landing on runway 19 with a wind from 250 at 10 knots. He had used the crab method of crosswind correction right into the flare. In the flare he applied left rudder to align the aircraft with the runway and in the process drifted to the very left edge of the runway.

The pilot of a C-185 landed on runway 26 with reported winds from 320 degrees at 12 knots. The pilot performed a wheel landing, but lost control as the tail wheel was being lowered to the runway. The aircraft ground looped resulting in damage to the right main landing gear and the right wing tip.

A C-180 pilot departed runway 30 in a wind from about 330 at 10 knots to practice touch and goes. He performed a wheel landing with partial flap. The tail began to drop to the runway as power was applied for the touch and go. As the aircraft weather cocked into wind and headed for the right side of the runway, the pilot reduced power and attempted to keep the aircraft on the runway. The aircraft ground looped to the right and ran off the runway. Damage to the right main landing gear and the prop resulted.

We are taught by our instructors that the stronger the crosswind and the gustier the wind, the less flap we should use for landing. The reason for this is that the less flap we use, the faster the approach speed. So if we approach and land at a higher airspeed, the less effect the crosswind and the wind gusts will have on us.

We must keep in mind that with whatever flap we select and whatever approach and landing speed we use, the aircraft is going to slow down as we enter the flare. As the aircraft slows, the crosswind is going to affect it more and we are going to require more crosswind technique.

The C-177 pilot did not stop his drift to the left with right aileron. The practice of maintaining crab into wind into the flare requires very precise timing with both the rudder and aileron. If the timing is the slightest bit off, large control inputs may be necessary, which is not a good idea close to the ground. The only way to perfect that timing is with regular practice.

For most of us, the more appropriate method of crosswind approach and landing is to change from the crab method of crosswind control a few miles from landing to applying aileron to lower the appropriate wing into wind to stop our drift and opposite rudder to align the aircraft with the runway centreline. By starting this method a mile or two from landing, we stabilize our approach, and as we all know a stabilized approach results in a better landing.

As the aircraft enters the flare and begins to slow for touchdown, we must compensate for the increased affect of the crosswind by applying more aileron into wind and more opposite rudder to keep straight on the runway. The aileron must be increased to full deflection into wind as, or just after, the aircraft touches down. Full deflection of the aileron into the wind must be held until the aircraft comes to a full stop.

We have a tendency to relax as soon as the aircraft lands and we neutralize the ailerons. This may result in the aircraft drifting toward the edge of the runway on rollout.

Most tail wheel pilots perform flapless wheel landings in crosswind conditions. Their problems start when they try to lower the tail to the runway. The aircraft is running out of airspeed and the rudder is becoming less effective. A strong crosswind or any wind gust during this transition can result in a ground loop.

Every tail dragger is different. Any aircraft with a long couple between the main wheels and the tail wheel and with a small rudder surface in relation to the vertical stabilizer will be more difficult to control during crosswinds.

The larger the vertical stabilizer the more difficult it will be to control a tail dragger during a crosswind or gusty wind. It may be wise for the pilots of some tail draggers such as Stinsons with a large vertical stabilizer and a small rudder surface to approach and land in a 3-point attitude. If it is difficult to maintain control during the approach to a 3- point attitude, overshoot and try again or go somewhere else.

If you can’t control the aircraft in the 3-point attitude, you will not likely be able to control the aircraft while lowering the tail to the runway from a wheel landing.

Landing in gusty winds or strong crosswinds, or worse, a combination of the two, requires skill. Most of us are fair weather flyers and strong surface winds catch us by surprise.

Good crosswind and gusty wind techniques require practice. An occasional flight in windy conditions to practice and hone our skills is a good idea. Give the wind the respect it deserves and keep all of your flying skills at a peak. Be safe and have fun.

Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies air charters. He still freelances as a flying instructor and seminar facilitator. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.

Got an aviation safety story to tell? Dale Nielsen would like to hear from pilots who have educational aviation experiences to relate. Excerpts from these stories will be used in upcoming safety articles. Dale can be contacted via e-mail: