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09/08 - Crosswind Takeoffs and Landings

By Steve Krog

Mention crosswind takeoffs and landings at an airport pilot gathering and watch their expressions change from fun and frivolity to one of stern-jawed seriousness. Crosswind operations need not be feared and, in fact, can be both quite fun and challenging for the pilot who strives to be a better pilot.

There will always be times in your flying career when crosswind takeoffs and landings must be made. Many times on windy days I’ve had students ask me, “Are we really going to fly today? It is really windy and there is a nasty crosswind on every runway. I’d never go out on my own and fly in these conditions. So why do I have to train in them?”

I respond by saying, “It may not at all be windy when you depart on an early Sunday flying to a pancake breakfast. But by the time you head back the wind could have easily picked up and now you have to deal with a stiff crosswind at your home base airport. What are you going to do then?”

Putting the need for crosswind training and practice into every day perspective helps the student understand the need for this type of training. Additionally, if you are only going to fly on no wind or light wind days, you may only be able to fly a handful of days every year. Flying is far too much fun to limit it to no wind days.

Crosswind training, in my estimation, is treated far too lightly and is not taught enough in the vast majority of today’s flight schools. One time while on a business trip to the East Coast, I had a need to rent an airplane to do some aerial photography for a client. I located the nearest Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) that rented airplanes and hurriedly drove to the airport. When I asked about a rental I was told that the wind was too strong and no rentals were allowed. The wind was approximately 10-12 mph. I mentioned to the FBO’s chief flight instructor that where I was from the only restriction we had on wind was for first-time solos. We had a sign that read: No first-time student solos when the surface wind exceeds 20 knots! He reluctantly allowed the rental but only after riding with me for three landings.

I firmly believe that if students could get sound crosswind training, many of the takeoff and landing incidents we frequently read about would have never occurred.

Crosswind Takeoffs

Let’s take a look at crosswind takeoffs and how they differ from a normal takeoff. We’ll assume in this situation that we are taking off from runway 11 and the crosswind is from the northeast at about 10 mph. Thus, we have a crosswind blowing from left to right. The airplane used in this example will be a Piper J-3 Cub, a tailwheel airplane.

With our pre-takeoff checklist complete, we are ready to make our first crosswind takeoff. First, taxi onto the runway and align the airplane with the centerline of the runway.

Pull the control stick all the way back to the stop. This places our elevator in a full up position allowing for the relative wind to put a downward force on the tail. Remember, our only means of directional control at this point is with the steerable tail wheel.

Next, move the control stick all the way to the left into the direction from which the crosswind is coming. This will position our ailerons properly to compensate for the wind. The left aileron is in the up position while the right aileron is in the down position. We do this to help overcome the crosswind, as the left wing, the windward wing, will generate more lift than the leeward wing due to the fact that the leeward wing is partially blanked out by the fuselage. If we did not make this control input, the left wing would lift off before the right wing and we would find ourselves in a precarious position. At low speeds though, the ailerons will be ineffective until the plane picks up speed.

Now it’s time to give some thought to the rudder and rudder pedals and how we’ll use them during a crosswind takeoff. We can anticipate that the left-to-right crosswind will strike the vertical fin and rudder. In doing so, the wind will try to push the tail to the right forcing the nose to go left. Right rudder pressure will be needed. During the takeoff right rudder will also be needed to compensate for engine torque and propeller “P” factor, which try to push the nose to the left as well.

With a crosswind from the left, the left aileron is in the full up position and the right
aileron is in the down position. Slight right rudder is applied.

After aligning the airplane with the centerline smoothly begin applying power. As the airplane begins picking up speed the aileron, elevator, and rudder controls begin becoming affective. With increasing ground speed right rudder will be needed for maintaining a straight track down the runway. Simultaneously ease the control stick slightly forward and remove about one-half of the left aileron correction. Remember, the faster we’re moving, the more effective the controls, so it won’t take as much aileron to keep the left wing from flying before the right wing.

As we ease the control stick forward the tail wheel will lift from the runway. Under normal wind conditions we would want to keep the airplane in a tail low attitude, but in a crosswind we want to bring the tail up to a near level flight attitude.

Just as we reach liftoff speed, apply very slight backpressure on the control stick and move the ailerons to a neutral position. There, we’ve just lifted off the runway and we’re now airborne. But our takeoff procedures are not yet quite done. After lifting off, relax the backpressure on the control stick and relax the rudder pressure you have been holding during the takeoff roll. This will allow the airplane to “seek” its own crab angle. The airplane’s nose will actually move several degrees to the left. Once we’ve completed this step, ease back on the control stick and establish the normal 60 mph climb out speed. You’ve now executed a good crosswind takeoff!

Once comfortably airborne, relax the control pressures and allow the
airplane to seek its own crab angle. Then continue a normal climb out.

The procedure for a crosswind takeoff in a tricycle gear aircraft is somewhat similar. After aligning the airplane with the runway centerline, turn the control yoke to the full left position, but leave the elevator in the neutral position. As you smoothly apply power, be prepared to apply right rudder pressure to maintain the straight track down the runway. While the groundspeed increases, about one-half of the aileron correction can be taken out. Hold the airplane on the runway until reaching liftoff speed. Then apply light backpressure on the yoke while returning the ailerons to neutral. Again, when airborne, let the airplane seek its own wind correction or crab angle. Follow this up with backpressure to establish the desired climb out speed.

Crosswind Landing

A crosswind landing can best be summarized as follows: Keep the windward wing down as long as possible to prevent sideward motion and perform the landing as any other.

It sounds simple but executing is quite different.

There are two types of crosswind landings —the wing down and the crab method. The wing down method consists of keeping the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with the flight path and the runway by lowering the windward wing while applying opposite rudder. If this sounds like the definition of a slip, it is precisely that. The crab method is done by keeping the airplane aligned with the centerline by establishing a crab angle. Then after crossing the runway threshold, rudder is applied to align the airplane with the centerline while simultaneously lowering the windward wing. Both crosswind approaches are acceptable, and both are practiced during crosswind flight training. It will be up to you to use whichever approach feels most comfortable to you.

Beginning with the wing down method, the procedure to follow is this. Again, we’ll assume we are landing on Runway 11 and the crosswind is from the northeast at 10 mph. After turning the airplane onto the final approach, lower the windward or left wing. Then apply right rudder to keep the airplane aligned with the centerline of the runway. Use only the amount of wing down needed to stop the drift of the airplane from left to right. Apply only enough right rudder to keep the airplane aligned with the centerline. Continue these control inputs right into the flare and touch down. Depending on the crosswind velocity you may find yourself landing on the left main wheel and tail wheel. The right main wheel will remain off the ground for a few more seconds while the airplane continues to slow.

Without applying correct wing down and opposite rudder application,
the airplane will drift to the side of the runway.

Once on the ground do not let up on the control stick backpressure. We need to keep the tail firmly planted on the runway for directional control. Continue moving the control stick all the way to the full left position as well, which will prevent the wind from picking up the left wing. Use whatever rudder inputs necessary to keep the airplane tracking down the centerline of the runway.

You may find during your approach to land that the crosswind will vary in velocity as you descend. This will require adjusting the left aileron and right rudder almost continuously during the approach. This may sound complicated but it really isn’t once you’ve had an opportunity to try three or four crosswind landings.

When employing the crab technique, you will need to establish a crab angle on final approach to keep the airplane correctly aligned with the centerline of the runway. As you near the runway, prepare yourself to “kick” the airplane out of the crab and into the wing down attitude by applying right rudder and left aileron. From this point forward the remainder of the approach and touch down is identical to the wing down method of crosswind landing.

The crab angle approach. Upon reaching the runway threshold, apply wing down
and opposite rudder to keep the airplane aligned with the centerline.

When a student of mine reaches the point in training to begin crosswind landings, I first have them make two or three wing down approaches and go arounds. This gives the student time to recognize the wind velocity and set up the correct amount of wind down wing and right rudder. Then at about 15 feet we execute a go around. Once they become comfortable with the crosswind approach, we begin making full crosswind landings.

I was working with a student earlier today who had a real fear of crosswind landings. However, after using the method I described above and then making 8 to10 full-stop crosswind landings, he made the comment, “This is a challenge, but it’s really fun, too.” With one or two more hours of practice, he’ll never fear making crosswind landings.

Both crosswind landing methods are used comfortably in tricycle gear aircraft. The approaches are identical, but where they differ is at touch down. Using the same example runway and wind situation, the tricycle airplane will first touch down on the left main wheel. Then ease the nosewheel down immediately after touchdown for effective ground steering in the crosswind. Seconds later the right main wheel touches down. Continue applying left aileron for the duration of the landing roll out.

In the next issue we’ll discuss the proper technique for handling aborted landings.