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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You also want to compare the gust spread to your stall speed. As the gusts approach 20% to 25% of your stall speed, you have to be aware that they’re going to want to pick you up or slam you down during the flare, so be prepared to behave accordingly.

On downwind, look for telltale signs about the surface winds. Flags are good, as is smoke. Sometimes, you’ll see dirt flowing or trees bent over partway down the runway. Water gives a good graphic view of what’s happening right on the surface.

Nevertheless, you have to deal with whatever you find. A runway can cross through all sorts of micro-climates, and just because you’ve decided it’s a such and such kind of wind, don’t commit yourself to flying it that way. Always use your analysis of the wind as a guide, but make up your mind to deal with the wind on a second-to-second basis, constantly reevaluating your analysis of it and altering the way you handle it. Just because you ask the tower for the wind and they say it’s 120 at 10, never forget that they aren’t measuring the wind where you’ll be landing and that they’re never right.

The “Crab Down Final And Kick It Out At The End” Approach
The goal here is to minimize the amount of time you’re busting your butt, trying to fly a straight line with a wing down. We keep the nose into the wind and simply fly final the same way we fly downwind, when there’s a wind trying to push us, with the nose crabbed into the wind.

The beauty of this kind of approach is that you aren’t constantly adjusting your bank angle and rudder to keep it lined up; the airplane pretty much does it automatically. You cross the threshold with the nose into the wind and then start worrying about getting it straightened out before hitting the runway.

Some people say you can fly it right into the flare that way and kick it straight just before touching down. The downside here is that as soon as you start to take the crab out, the airplane will start drifting, so you have to do it at the last second, and even then, you’ll have a little drift when you touch down. You also stand a chance of having an inopportune gust die and plant you on really crooked. But what the heck? That’s what the tricycle gear is good at, straightening itself out, right? Wrong!

The other school of thought features those pilots who fly the crabbed approach. They don’t want the airplane to touch down in a drift. As they start bringing the nose up to the flare, they gently slide into a sideslip, putting the wing down into the wind and pulling the nose straight with the rudder.

If there’s a downside to this kind of approach or landing, it’s that there isn’t much time when you pull the nose of the aircraft around and put the wing down to judge the effect of the wind. A lot of the top dogs do it this way, and their experience lets them see the wind as it starts to move them and their airplanes, and they simply cancel it out at the last moment.


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