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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The “Slip Down Final And Keep It Lined Up All The Way” Approach
Rather than take a chance with the last-minute drama of the crabbed method of handling a crosswind, some pilots opt for setting up the airplane in a sideslip well before they reach the runway. The theory behind the wing-down-on-final way of thinking is that nothing is being left to chance or last-minute reactions. Proponents of this school of thought also feel they’re in better shape to handle gusts because they’re already set up in a stable position, albeit with a wing down.

An advantage to the wing-down approach is that mentally you’re already reading the changing crosswind and changing the bank angle and rudder accordingly. If it’s a steady wind, you’re just sitting there, crossed up and watching it happen. But if it’s gusty, you’re earning your pay, as you’re constantly changing the rudder and aileron combination to cancel out the side component so you’re always pointed right down the centerline.

There is some disagreement as to how far out on final you should slide into the slip. Some pilots fly the entire final that way. Others crab until within something like 1,000 feet of the threshold and then slide into the wing-down position. Either way, pilots from both schools of thought fly the last portion of final in the same way.

Regardless of which approach is used, crabbing or sideslipping, it’s easy to see that too many pilots think too hard about the crosswind. They try to intellectualize it, and you can almost hear them thinking, Okay, the wind is from the right, so I put the right wing down and use left rudder…or is it the other way around? Don’t think about it. Just use whatever rudder is needed to keep the nose right in front of you and keep a wing down to kill the drift, as simple as that.

The bottom line is that there is only one acceptable goal—touching down with the nose on the centerline with no sideways movement whatsoever. Granted, you can paste on a tri-geared airplane almost any way you want, with the nose to the side and drifting, and it will still almost always straighten itself out with a minimum of fuss. But the operative phrase there is “almost always.” There will be situations in which the airplane won’t be able to cope with the terrible situation that the pilot has left for it to sort out without bending something. Besides, even if it’s a minor misalignment or drift, it’s not the right way to do it. If you disagree with this advice, however, remind me to never loan you my airplane.


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