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Crosswind Landings

One of the things you learn when getting a pilot’s license is the technique for doing a “crosswind landing”. Obviously, the best way to land a plane is into the wind. It allows you to maintain an appropriate airspeed while having the slowest possible speed over the ground. So you keep the airplane under control without using up too much runway, and you touch down at a ground speed that allows you to stop quickly before running out of runway. When picking a runway, a pilot always seeks to land, and take off, as close to into the wind as possible.

The problem comes when an airport only has one runway available for your use and the wind happens to be blowing accross rather than down the runway. Every airplane has a “demonstrated crosswind velocity” which simply means it has been landed by a professional pilot in that amount of crosswind in test flights. It is not a limitation, but simply a crosswind speed the manufacturer could certify as safe to land with. Nearly every pilot has landed with crosswinds higher than the demonstrated crosswind speed for his or her plane. I would personally not be alarmed at crosswinds in the 20 knot range, but my skills would be tested.

So let us say you are landing to the north using Runway 36, which means it has a heading close to 360 degrees or due north, and assume the winds are from the west 270 degrees at 20 knots. As you make the approach (at 90 knots in my plane), you would be “crabbing” into the wind and the plane would be aimed at about 347 degrees to maintain your course of 360 toward the runway. You can actually calculate the wind by using something called the Rule of 60. Divide your speed of 90 knots by 60 to get 1.5. Multiply this times your crab angle of 13 degrees and you get roughly a 20 knot crosswind.

The trick on a crosswind landing is to keep this crab angle until right above the runway, at which time you use cross controls to line up with the runway. In our example of a crosswind from the left, you would do this by using right rudder to line up  the plane with the runway while maintaining your course by banking to the left. You land with the left wing low and on the left wheel first, but keep the plane straight with right rudder. The final trick, since my rudder also controls my nose wheel as well as the rudder, is to let off the rudder pressure just before the nose wheel touches the ground, but to keep the left wing low with left aileron throughout the landing roll so the wind doesn’t pick up your left wing and blow you to the right or worst case flip you over.

A perfect crosswind landing in this situation would be on the left main wheel first, then the right wheel, and then on the nose wheel just as you release pressure on the right rudder. The yoke (steering wheel) would be to the left and would stay hard left during the landing roll. It sounds tricky, and it is the first few times you try it, but with practice it becomes almost second nature to a pilot.

So the next time you land with someone, or on an airline flight, don’t be too quick to criticize a landing one wheel at a time. The pilot might be executing a perfect crosswind landing with grace and style.

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