Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Control The Crosswind!

It can be vexing to any pilot, but is there a right and wrong way to take on the wind?

There are several ways to start an argument. They range from the old favorites, politics and religion, to the blonde/redhead/brunette thing. Or you can simply state that there’s only one right way to land an airplane in a crosswind and that’s the way you do it. Stand back, folks, brutal words to follow.
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So, do you use flaps in a normal crosswind? Yes. Do you use lots of flaps? It all depends on the wind and the airplane.

Is it advisable to add speed in the approach for a crosswind? Generally speaking, no. But what about gusts? An old rule of thumb says that you increase the approach speed by half of the gust factor. The reasoning is that if a gust died, you still would have enough speed in the bank that you could control it more effectively. Some folks have interpreted that to mean faster is better in a crosswind, and that’s just not the case. Increased speed means increased float, and you’ll be floating along right in that band where the wind is the strongest, and too much speed will expose you to its effects longer. So protect yourself against the gusts, but don’t think whistling across the threshold at warp speed is the way to handle every wind.

Now let’s talk all about the big controversy—the “how do we fly the final approach” argument. We’ll let each school of thought speak for themselves.

Reading The Wind
One fact of life is that you’ll never see the exact same wind twice. For that reason, it’s important you take a little time before either taking off or landing to try to read the wind so you have some idea of what you’re getting into.

If the wind appears to be anything even remotely out of the ordinary, sit there and study the sock. Don’t just glance at its direction and stiffness and let it go at that. During the second or two you’re looking at it, the wind sock could be lying to you in a big way because you’re catching it in transition from one place to another. Keep your eyes on it long enough to see how stiff the sock becomes and how soft it gets, as that’s your gust spread. Then notice how it changes direction. Are the direction changes caused by the gusts or are they independent of the gusts? This is important stuff to know.

A gust spread in which the gusts always come from a different direction than the main wind means you’re in for a rougher-than-normal ride. You’ll be set up to handle the main body of the wind, but when a gust comes, it not only tries to affect your lift, but for a split second or two, greatly changes the amount of crosswind correction you’re going to need. For instance, if the high side of the gust always switches the wind from 30 degrees off your nose to 60 degrees, it’s really going to be testing your ability to read how much the airplane is drifting and change the bank angle accordingly.


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