Technique Geek: crosswind landings

Boxers or briefs or……?

Crosswind landings are a real challenge and making a perfect one is every bit as satisfying as a flawless ILS to minimums or a graceful eight-point roll. As a student I had a hard time learning to do them and later, as an instructor, I had a hard time teaching them. You simply can’t talk as fast as you have to think when landing in a gusty crosswind.

There are different ways to deal with crosswinds and not much agreement about how to best fly through a good crosswind landing.

Crosswind landing
To crab or to slip, that is the question.

One school of though is that it is best to crab into the wind and kick (rudder) the airplane straight with the runway right before touchdown. Another is to lower the wing into the wind with aileron enough to take the drift out and maintain runway alignment with the rudder. Or, especially in heavier airplanes, some pilots just land with the drift in and let the airplane straighten itself out after touching down. This might be called the screech and swerve method and don’t try it in a tailwheel airplane.

The rudder is an important flight control in a crosswind landing and a pilot who is reluctant to really push on the rudder is not going to have an easy time with crosswind landings.

I actually had a change of heart about crosswind landings well into my flying career. Originally I would crab into the wind until close to the end of the runway and then put a wing down into the wind, keeping it straight with rudder, and using that technique into the touchdown. My father used to razz me about this, saying it made no sense to land on one wheel when you had two.

I decided to try it his way and crab well into the flare and then push the nose straight with the rudder. I would be ready with aileron if the airplane stared drifting before touchdown.

I was a little surprised at how much force it took on the rudder of my Cessna 210 to push the nose straight but once I got the hang of it, crosswind landings actually seemed to work better. I did usually touch down on both main wheels and seldom was much of any aileron required until after touchdown.

How do you handle crosswind landings? Do you find them difficult? Have you ever come close to losing control of the airplane during a crosswind landing? Do you feel you were taught how to do this or did you figure it out on your own?

Sound off!

28 Comments

  • My instructor taught me both approaches, but to always land wing down on one wheel to avoid side-loading the main landing gear. Is this really a concern? Given the abuse I put my Sundowner through during training I find it hard to believe that a side-load on the gear could damage it (assuming I’m within the crosswind limits) but I don’t have a good way to verify that. It’s not exactly something I want to test experimentally, especially if the side-load is a problem!

  • I use crab method than feed in X-control as I come across the fence to the extent required while landing on the upwind
    truck/wheel(s). With Turbo-Props I sometimes used a bit of differential power on the upwind side depending upon X-wind component combined with wind strength.

    You could do this with the BAE=146 I flew as well with judicious use of the outside motor.

  • To find out if you are approaching maximum x-wind, (calculation using the figures the tower may give on final is not humanely possible) do this once and for all: Take out the E-6B, set your chosen speed on finals and 90 deg crosswind with the maximun strength from the POH. Note the wind correction angle and write it on your instrument panel or other convenient spot.
    Anytime your crab angle on final at the chosen speed exceeds the figure you got, you are above max x-wind component. Crab angle being the difference btw heading and runway direction.
    Maybe it’s a rough method, but it gives you something to judge the x-wind by.

    • One observation: I infer from your reference to the “max x-wind component” that you see this number as a fixed figure, rather like a stall speed at a given weight and flap configuration. I have always been taught that it is not such a limit – it is simply the maximum which was demonstrated with the aircraft. For certification, I believe the FAA only requires demonstration of a 90 degree crosswind at 20% VSO. It may be that a particular type of aircraft is capable of handling a much greater cross wind component than this, depending on the circumstances and the pilot’s level of skill. For example, a highly capable and experienced flying instructor demonstrated to me cross-wind landings in a Cherokee 140 which were at a much higher figure (by a factor approaching 100%) than that appearing in the manual. And this was not a fluke – she did it more than once, in different circumstances and at different airports(I recognize, of course, that one really does not ever know exactly what the wind was at the moment of touchdown). In short, the demonstrated cross-wind component is not a fixed limit (unless the aircraft POH says it is, which is not common). And it’s legal to land above the demonstrated crosswind component speed. How much you can exceed it by, if anything, and still be safe, is dependent on the characteristics of the aircraft and your skill level.

  • Both techniques(if done properly) are equal in my book. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with. Personally, i use the crab technique whenever i have a passenger with me. I use the wing-low technique when solo. Non-flying passengers get a bit scared when the airplane is banked when landing. Just my 2c worth.

  • I think I was taught both methods, but finally adopted the method Richard’s father suggested. I learned to fly where cross winds were the norm, and using a crab until the flair was the most comfortable and consistant for me. Great info and perspective as always, thanks Richard.

  • I crab into the wind and about 20-30′ above the runway I put it into a slip,I don’t mind landing with one wheel touching first. However if it’s really gusty I will crab into the wind until the mains touch down, then use rudder to align the airplane up with the runway.

  • As an Instructor, I teach both methods. Safe operation is what needs to be taught and I am not going to force a student to land in a manner that is not comfortable for them. My preference is to correct for drift prior to the threshold. Once I’ve made the inputs, I will only be left with minor corrections as I get into ground effect.

  • I was only taught the Crabbed approach. As a student (in the 70s) I found this very difficult. It was OK if your got the flare and touch down right – I often didn’t – but if not you suddenly had a whole lot more to do. You had to set the aircraft up in the slip condition. Very challenging in those early times. I now use the method that Josh suggests. Crab until you are close to the threshold and then set the aircraft up in a slip. I always brief passengers on the landing when it is a strong X-wind.

  • I have done it couple of times with both the options but I personally feel Cross control takes a little more skill & fine tuning all the way to the end.
    I would like to tell a story here, while returing from Devils tower via KCDW to KAPA centennial Colorado C172RG April 9th 2011.I had 35 knots wind from SW landing on 17R.I did a nice touch down X controlled upwind wheel first.And neutralized my control on the landing roll.Suddenly I felt my right wing were coming off the ground of it’s own.I quickly realized that it was the wind was trying to flip me over,I remembered what I was taught just gave some right aileron to force it to the ground.And I saved my day.so my feeling is cross wind landing goes all the way to taxing with proper controls & till you tie it down.

  • I was having some difficulty finding a “grove” with crosswind landings. No approach really gave me the warm fuzzy, but in fact put my stomach and nerves into an unusual attitude. Fortunately I found out about a crosswind simulator at a nearby airport. For a fairly low fee, I received nearly two hours of crosswind landings on the simulator. The instructor was fantastic and taught me not to fear the rudder but to use it.
    I can’t say that every crosswind landing has been effortless and soothing, but I now have a new found love for rudder control on those crosswind landings.

  • My most interesting crosswind landing occured at Mammoth Lakes field (MMH) recently. This is a 7100 ft MSL runnway and after a fast descent while clearing the mountains and noticing that the windsock was stiff @ 90 degrees, I set up for a long controlled approach using cross controls… all was going well until my small 20 lb. dog woke up and insisted on getting into my lap. Usually flying from a sea-level field I found it difficult to handle the higher groundspeed but the controls worked all the way to the ground.. I have always felt that crabbing, then adjusting direction is not very precise.

  • As an instructor my students are taught the theory of both techniques. Most students are happy when told to drive the aircraft all the way to the runway and keep it straight using the flight controls. This invariably results in a crab down finals followed by a combination of kick straight and a little wing down. I also teach students to accept that not all x wind ldgs are smooth perfectly excecuted manouvres. Have faith in the aircraft and use all the controls to get it on the ground straight, aileron into wind etc.

  • How about crosswind take-offs? Leaving KCVK late November after snowstorm had gone east, I was faced with a 90deg xwind of about 20kts on rwy 4, based on windsock since no weather reporting at CVK. T206 with full left aileron, 39″MP, hold brakes-go! Short roll, airborne and pointing 30deg left remaining 3000′ of runway while climbing away!

  • I am new private pilot, just receiving my certificate Dec 17. My instructor was consistent in teaching X-wind correction all the way from the ramp to take off and after landing back to the hanger. Once at take off ready, glance at the wind sock. While landing, I would crab until short final just above the flair, he would always remind me to glance at the wind sock and correct with aileron into the wind and correct the nose down the mid-line with rudder. This was in attempt to put the main gear into the wind down first, but being fresh, I still hit the mains at the same time occasionally. Can’t wait to practice more!

  • Slip during last 500 feet descent feels more stable to me – allows judging whether the x-wind is too strong to hold centerline. Critical to hold yoke into wind after touchdown to provide more drag on the downwind end of the wing to help rudder keep the nose straight.

  • In a Bonanza, try to keep the nose in the air at touchdown to avoid side loads – steer it with the aileron and rudder; side loads on the nosewheel contribute to fuselage wing spar carry-thru cracks, which is checked with dye-penetrant every 500 hours per AD. Heavy rudder points the nosewheel away from the aircraft centerline and can add sideload while planting the nosewheel.

  • Learning in a tailwheel airplane will demand you develop precise crosswind techniques. Touching down in a crab is never the optimum way to go (tire wear, gear side loads, etc.), unless the aircraft flight manual demands it (think T-38 here). Also, mechanical techniques will fail you when the cross wind changes velocity, or varies in direction (especially when it varies between both sides of runway heading). Here are techniques that always work. Take-off: Early in the roll, you’ll figure out which rudder it takes to keep the airplane aligned with the center-line. Use the opposite aileron, decreasing it slightly as you accelerate and break ground. When airborne, neutralize controls and crab into the wind. Landing: Transition to wing low at a height allowing you to get comfortable with the control input required by the conditions. Use enough rudder, and in the correct direction to keep your aircraft parallel to the center-line. Keep your airplane over the center line with the appropriate amount and direction of aileron. Thinking about cross-wind controls in this manner will allow you to instantly make the correct inputs as the wind direction and/or velocity changes.

    • I agree, the method described above will give the best feel for any conditions encountered, without the reliance on a memorized technique for a particular situation.

  • I used both the crab and lowered wing techniques, the former when the wind is stronger and the bank would be extreme, and might make passengers uncomfortable. I don’t think I was well taught on the cross wind landing procedure, and had to figure it out for myself, but I don’t actually remember ever having a problem with crosswinds.

  • I read several books. Among them, Leighton Collins’ book “Takeoff and Landings”. So much good information in that book!

  • I think slips are way easier. You get to find out early if there’s enough rudder for the current crosswind and there’s no last second transition. I fly a crab till I’m “close” then a slip through the landing.

    It’s easy when you realize it’s just:
    * rudder for pointing parallel with the runway centerline
    * aileron for lateral position to stay on the runway centerline

  • What Karl said. Not much thinking about what you are doing if you just keep the nose straight with the rudder and the plane on centerline with the ailerons. This takes constant finesse and feel but no windsock glancing is needed.

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