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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Truly Dangerous Winds
Once in a while, you’ll find a wind that has some sort of characteristic that makes it truly dangerous. You don’t find them often, but when you do, it might not be a bad idea to find another airport on which to land.

Hard-Edged, Direction-Changing Gusts
Sometimes you’ll watch the sock and see it blowing one direction in a mild manner, then it will violently snap one direction or the other, stand out straight for a couple of seconds, then drop back into the original mild mode. These winds become especially dangerous when they’re snapping from in front of the wingtip to behind the wingtip.

If, when you’re low and getting ready to flare, the wind snaps hard from in front of the tip to behind it, what you’re experiencing is a form of shear. Instantly your airspeed falls, taking the airplane with it. It doesn’t have to be a big wind to have this effect; as little as 10 knots will do it. In some aircraft and some conditions, it’s as if you’ve chopped off the wings. The only cure is instantaneous full power while, at the same time, fighting the urge to pull. The power will pitch the nose up anyway because of landing trim, so your job is to hold a stable, slightly nose-up attitude and hope the airplane powers out of the sink before you kiss off the runway too hard.

“Right Down To The Deck” Winds

As we’ve mentioned, most winds gradually die off as you get close to the ground, but once in a while, you’ll see one that maintains its velocity down to a foot or less off the runway. Sometimes these winds won’t even be rough or gusty, so you don’t know anything is wrong until you’re ready to touch down and find that as your speed goes away and your aerodynamic control becomes weak, you can’t keep the airplane from drifting. It’s as if you’re caught in white-water rapids that are trying to pull your feet out from under you.

Although it depends on the airplane and the situation, most of the time, hard application of upwind aileron and downwind rudder will sort things out, but not always. The safe money drops the hammer and goes around and, once clear of the runway, swings the nose into the wind to maintain the centerline.





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