Decathlon takeoff

Contrary to the title, you frequently hear two different viewpoints being vociferously debated between the proponents of crabbing into wind or wing down and slipping for crosswind landings. Let’s dissect the arguments. Throughout this discussion let’s assume that the direct crosswind is at least 15 knots or more, or approaching the limits for your airplane.

Bear in mind the published demonstrated crosswind listed in the airplane flight manual is just that. It is not an airplane physical or legal limitation but, in all probability, it could be the maximum crosswind found during the airplane’s certification test flying. We will come to crosswind landings after first looking at crosswind takeoffs.

The basic problems with crosswind takeoffs are keeping straight, stopping the upwind wing lifting, and avoiding a premature lift-off. On crosswind takeoffs, the downwind wing is in disturbed air as the wind and slipstream bubbles past the nose. The upwind wing is in clean air and generates more lift, thus lifting it above the downwind wing and, once started, the problem tends to get accentuated with further blanking of the airflow over the downwind wing.

Decathlon takeoff

Crosswind takeoffs in a tailwheel airplane are not always easy.

Tailwheel airplanes have the problem compounded by the large keel area aft of the pivot point (the downwind main wheel), allowing the airplane to weathercock. If the manoeuvre is fast enough, the centrifugal force of the turn will also tip over the airplane.

Becoming airborne prematurely must be avoided on a crosswind takeoff because if the airplane touches down again with drift on, it could turn base over apex. A very painful operation made unlikely by making a flapless takeoff and holding the airplane level while accelerating to a speed slightly higher than normal, then lifting off abruptly. Flapless (check the pilot’s notes/flight manual) because it allows the nose wheel to remain in ground contact longer for added directional control to a higher speed than taking off with partial flap selected.

Sweaty palms on crosswind takeoffs will disappear if the pilot flies the airplane as though the pilot in command means business. FULL RUDDER, FULL AILERON into wind and relax the pressures as increasing airspeed improves control effectiveness. When clear of the ground make a coordinated turn into wind to correct for drift and to maintain the runway centre line.

Imagine the case where you don’t do this and find the airplane pointing straight at the hangar. Full rudder keeps you pointing straight at the hangar but there is nothing further available to return the airplane nose down the runway centre line. In this extreme and theoretical case, had the pilot applied full rudder at the start of the takeoff run and only reduced the rudder deflection as necessary to keep straight, the problem couldn’t arise.

Obviously, on those airplanes where rudder and nose wheel steering are interconnected the application of full rudder at the start of the takeoff is impractical. Students are not always told much how aileron or rudder to use. Don’t be like a trained monkey—THINK—you are less likely to get into trouble overcorrecting, than letting things get out of hand from timid control inputs on a crosswind takeoff.

Now let’s look at crosswind landings, but first let me quote from one manufacturer’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook: “The best time to know procedures and the worst time to practice them is during an emergency.” In adopting this philosophy, you need to ensure your flight techniques employed are not those used only during crosswind landings but are related to every flight you do.

If we agree (and I think most pilots do) that good landings start with good approaches, it follows that good speed and glidepath control make for good landings. Precise numbers can be quoted for airspeeds on the approach but glidepath positioning is a skill you acquire from repetitive demonstration and by trial and error in everyday flying. Glidepath control intuitively becomes a comparison of visual relationships. Airplane attitude relative to the horizon, position of the nose relative to the end of the runway, rate of closing with the ground, runway perspective, etc.

On a crosswind approach with wings level, a crab angle sufficient to maintain runway centre line maintains all these relationships. The only thing different from an into wind landing is that the airplane nose points slightly to one side or the other of the runway.

If, however, we adopt the alternative method, downwind rudder is used to align the airplane parallel to the runway as into-wind aileron is applied to prevent drifting. And to maintain your lateral position on the runway centre line a steady sideslip is established. You don’t normally fly with crossed controls so don’t on a crosswind approach. If you do all the normal relationships you strive so hard to maintain for a good approach disappear. The position of your aiming point above the nose has changed, so has the sink rate for a given airspeed and power setting; you can feel this sideslip in the seat of your pants. Nothing’s normal. It looks like a good case for the crab crosswind technique on approach down to the landing flare.

Crosswind landing airliner

Watch the pros fly crosswind landings sometime.

What next? We can’t land with drift on or we meet that old base over apex trick. When you get the opportunity, watch the professionals in their Boeings, Airbuses, Embraers, Gulfstreams, or Cessna 402s and see what they do. The real “aces” apply downwind rudder just prior to touchdown to eliminate the crab and align the airplane along the runway centre line. As rudder is applied, the upwind wing will sweep forward and because it is going faster, it develops more lift and hence roll. The pros stop the roll with upwind aileron and touch down with crossed controls.

As the airplane slows down note how they increase the control deflections. Those full-time pilots who don’t think they are in the “ace” category are very careful to make sure they don’t land with drift on. They align the airplane along the centreline early during the hold-off flare and if their speed is too high for a touchdown on the main wheels, they apply into-wind aileron to lower the wing while keeping straight with opposite rudder. This causes a sideslip but because of the crosswind the airplane will not drift laterally in relation to the runway centreline. They level the wings just prior to touchdown by slightly decreasing the aileron input—bearing in mind that it is not catastrophic to land gently on one wheel but better still to use both main wheels.

For general aviation pilots who fly for sport and recreation and don’t think they are in the professional’s “ace” category, the early removal of crab or drift then sideslip during the hold-off to make sure they don’t land nose wheel first seems to be the best technique. After all, most pilots can and do level the wings after a wing drop on hold-off, so what is very different about putting a wing down on a crosswind landing while keeping straight with rudder just prior to touchdown?

If you make a crab approach and you can only see the runway out the side window, it is easy to see that you have bitten off more crosswind than you can chew! A sideslip approach does not make crosswind evaluation as easy. Note how quickly the Boeings, Airbuses, Embraers, Gulfstreams, or Cessna 402s go-around in really windy conditions if things are not to their liking. They don’t wait for extreme airplane attitudes to develop as some light airplane pilots do before deciding to go-around. Crosswind operations are not worth shouting about but they are worth thinking about.

Finally, just because your wheels have touched the ground does not mean flying has finished for the day. As the speed washes off, so the flying controls lose their effectiveness. Thus, more rudder and aileron need be applied up to full deflection unless over control appears first.

It seldom does. Try it.

Brian Souter
Latest posts by Brian Souter (see all)
30 replies
  1. Adrian Ryan
    Adrian Ryan says:

    I learned to fly at Larnaca International airport in Cyprus. The runway is parallel to the beach, which is only a few hundred metres away, and there is nearly always a cross-wind. So, I had to get used to this very early on in my flight training. When it came to landings, my instructors demonstrated both the crab and the wing-low techniques, and asked me which I preferred. I opted for the crab technique, I absolutely hated the wing-low option. I was warned about crossed controls, but continued. My normal calm wind technique was to try and grease it onto the runway, but my instructors told me “None of this greased landing in a cross-wind, put it down fairly firmly and stop it flying, take off the flaps, and don’t be afraid to use full control deflection, let it know you mean it!”, and this has always worked for me. Suffice to say, this constant exposure to cross-wind take-offs and landings has proven to be very beneficial. During my flight training after the initial few hours, I would almost always be presented with an emergence, engine failure on take-off, flapless landings, engine-out landings etc – thank you Nicos and Demos – such that when a real emergency arose, engine failure on take-off, the training kicked in, and it was almost a non-event. So, don’t be afraid of cross-winds, treat them with respect, but choose a method that works for you and practice, practice, practice.

    Reply
    • Rich R
      Rich R says:

      Agree. XW practice is the key along with not being afraid to use full abrupt control inputs to stay ahead of the airplane. As well as “sticking” the landing, holding it on for takeoff until enough airspeed to lift off aggressively helps minimize skating sideways during either operation.

      Reply
    • Adamos Vasiliou
      Adamos Vasiliou says:

      Nice place to practice flying.
      I fly Beechcraft C23 and yesterday by the time I returned from Ocean city to W29 a wind shear was in effect. Landed with 30 degrees of flaps and 1/2 of gust factor. Wind was 15kt gust 25. Scary situation.

      Reply
  2. Rich R
    Rich R says:

    A lot of words for landings. Pick what works for you to maintain centerline, from however far out you’re comfortable…if you want to sideslip for a mile, no one’s opinion but your own matters if you are consistent and safe. No airline pilots here looking for tips, so what works for them has no instructional value here and just adds confusion, they also have much stricter roll limits due to nacelle clearance issues absent in GA airplanes.

    For near direct xw takeoffs pick the runway that gives you a right to left xw. This allows the xw to help your normal right rudder input vs add to left turning tendency under power (if you are flying an airplane with opposite engine rotation, typically non-US origin, then it would be a left to right xw desired).

    If you must takeoff in the direction that results in a left to right xw (requires more, not less right rudder), then from brake release add power in only as your full rudder authority allows you to maintain directional control..

    Reply
    • RFR
      RFR says:

      I like how this comment added consideration for left vs right cross wins component, especially for a single engine prop aircraft. Not anticipating the effects of this on takeoff and also a touch and go can lead to some scary skidding. Another consideration is ground interference, which especially at an unfamiliar airport could increase risk.

      Reply
  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    Everybody is going to have a certain comfort level with different things. I’m no Ace, or CFI, or 20,000 hr pilot, but it seems like being comfortable with the approach and landing are probably the top indicator for success. If I crab and somebody else slips….but we both have a stable approach and safe landing, why does there have to be a debate?

    Reply
    • Fred
      Fred says:

      I Agree Mike that there doesn’t have to be a debate and both approaches are acceptable, but they are not both stable approaches. If someone is slipping they are in cross control, which, by definition, is not stabilized.

      Reply
      • Doug T
        Doug T says:

        Per FAA safety document:
        “A pilot is flying a stabilized approach when he or she establishes and maintains a constant angle glidepath towards a predetermined point on the landing runway.”
        Do you have another reference with a different description?

        Reply
  4. Douglas F Tomlinson
    Douglas F Tomlinson says:

    Brian, I think you left out important facts in your “dissection” of both methods and stated your favored method was best, based on your position as an “ace” pilot whose career was flying large commercial aircraft. In large commercial aircraft the last seconds conversion to slip control positions is appropriate for passenger comfort and to avoid scraping nacelles (as one respondent suggested). But physics makes it easier for large aircraft. Your airspeed is higher and you mass and inertia are higher. So the wind will have less ability to instantly start moving you across the runway. The second you touch down or slightly before, you do shift to cross control positions. I find it much better for me in a light high wing airplane to already be crossed controlled (side slipped) on final but well before touch down. First, I know I am maintaining centerline so the crosswind is not exceeding the aircraft capability. Second, though tilted my sight picture over the nose is much closer to a no wind landing. And third, I am not adding another close to ground critically timed maneuver to flare and roundout. I find this to be a more stable approach.

    Reply
    • Greg C
      Greg C says:

      Plus the satisfaction of landing on the upwind main first, then purposely placing the downwind main on the runway with full aileron deflecting being added as you place the nose wheel down looking down the runway is almost ecstasy.

      Reply
    • David Evans
      David Evans says:

      I’ve been trained in both crab and cross controlled. I prefer cross controlled and upwind wheel contact. I fly tail draggers and my flying instructor had me “walk” the aircraft back to center line, all the while balanced on one wheel. He did this to (a) teach me cross control and (b) teach me precise control between rudder and aileron whilst on the ground. This has made me way more comfortable with xwind landings. I understand the crab technique and then last minute yaw and roll corrections, however during those last actions you are actually not stabilised so what was a stable approach turns last minute unstable.

      Reply
    • Curtis
      Curtis says:

      Agreed. I like to crab on final to a certain point. I feel the plane flies easier with less input but give yourself plenty of time to get into a “stabile” side slip.
      A note on takeoff: I was taught to position the nose wheel of the plane to the side of the centerline of the upwind side. This way, not only are you giving yourself an additional margin of error if your are pushed but quite often the center of the runway is crowned or the highest point, if you position to one side, typically the upwind wing will already be slightly lowered. You definitely see the difference if you are on the opposite side of the line. This may be common sense to most but just my two cents.

      Reply
  5. Barry Arnold
    Barry Arnold says:

    I was once forced (due to thunder storms all round and a C130 blocking the only into wind runway (he had gone through the surface and was bogged) to land a bonanza well above the demonstrated XW component. I decided to use the concept of inertia as covered by Doug and approached crabbing at 105 knots flaps up, held the centreline and cross controlled to straighten up just before the wheels touched, much rudder and aileron held it straight long enough to make a wide turn onto the crossing runway (the bit beyond the C130) and the rest was easy. The army guys on the base offered me a shelter and I just beat the hail.

    Reply
  6. Greg C
    Greg C says:

    The only plane I have ever took off in or landed in with the plane in the crab rolling on the runway is the B-52. The pilot not flying running the checklist, computes the crosswind crab to place the main landing gear in with a knob between the pilots, which is then confirmed by the pilot flying, allows the plane to remain in the crab from start of takeoff or through the entire landing. Try landing with a windshield post in the way as you land. You look like a pilot taxing a conventional geared aircraft. The reason for this elaborate means of take off and landing is due to the 185 ft wing span and the wing being lower than the fuselage if you employed the other way. It caught my instructor off guard the first time I reverted to my T-37 wing low landing method when I rolled out on final at Castle AFB, CA.

    Reply
  7. Gil
    Gil says:

    Oh boy, another long winded article on an tired topic. Look you can’t land an airplane in a crab. It doesn’t work. Unless the airplane is designed to do so. So, the discussion isn’t about sideslip or not, the discussion is when to sideslip. It’s a pointless waste of time to wax on and on about this topic. Put the wing down and push the rudder when you’re comfortable with the situation and your experience level. A student should be in the sideslip earlier and a pilot experienced in a particular airplane and situation may delay the sideslip. But at some point, you’re going to have to get the wing down to stop lateral drift and push the rudder so the airplane is pointing in the direction it’s going.

    Reply
    • John LeBlanc
      John LeBlanc says:

      Agreed. Unless you are flying a B-52 or an airliner with Swept wings, landing in a crab is sloppy, even if is is easily forgiven in many of the tricycle geared trainers. Most swept wing aircraft have a very strong rolling force when yawed, which is the main reason why they kick the crab out at the last second. And as this commenter said, the question on most aircraft is the when you slip the aircraft. When learning this, at some point in your training it is helpful to start early on the approach, to become accustomed to increasing or reducing the bank angle as necessary for the changing winds, while doing the what is required on the rudders to maintain runway alignment with no crab. Later on you have the practice to through the side slip in at the end.

      Reply
  8. Greg Fowler
    Greg Fowler says:

    I use the yoke or control stick to maintain runway alignment, and keep the aircraft in trim with the pedals (crabbing) until about 50 feet AGL. Then I use the pedals to align the aircraft centerline with the runway and lower the upwind wing into the wind to maintain runway alignment (slipping). Alignment is always with left or right stick.

    Reply
  9. Larry Smith
    Larry Smith says:

    Brian does a good job of explaining it. Do it just like the pros. If you can’t maneuver from a crab to a slip as you flare, then practice a bit more. And you can transition to the slip a bit higher.

    Most have done it this way weather we’re flying our Cessna 150 or our Boeing 747.

    Reply
  10. C Wilson
    C Wilson says:

    I disagree that a sideslip approach is not stabilized. I have used both techniques. With a strong crosswind, I am confident of my ability to safely land when I can maintain center line at 500 feet AGL using only a side slip. It almost certain that the crosswind component at ground level will be less. In strong crosswinds, a no flaps landing allows for a faster approach speed which means the relative wind is going to better aligned to the direction of travel. With nervous passengers, a crab may be more comfortable than an extreme side slip (especially on a long final). I will revert to the side slip on short final. I always explain the maneuver ahead of time to passengers.

    Reply
  11. Roger R.
    Roger R. says:

    Having learned to fly at and being based at an airport with eternal gusty, burbly crosswinds, I heartily concur. The intensity of crosswind almost always decreases with altitude, especially in hilly terrain, so switching to a centerline-maintaining slip from a crab at a late moment is straightforward and simple, and does not require a protracted spell of potentially uncomfortable cross controlled flight that seems unnecessarily fussy. To each their own, though.

    Reply
  12. Rex Myers
    Rex Myers says:

    As a retired airline pilot I concur with the advice in this article. I was petrified of cross winfpd landing even after I got my Private. My Commercial Instructor taught me proper techniques and made it into a game to see just how strong a crosswind I could handle. I lost my fear and began to look forward to the challenge the wind could mete out.

    Reply
  13. Rob Stetser
    Rob Stetser says:

    Someone commented that you can’t land an airplane in a crab. Not necessarily so. I recall landing DC-9s in a crab, and the DC-10 as well. (The engine ground clearance did not allow much room for a wing-down slip near the runway surface.). This technique worked especially well on a wet runway, but could be used in any condition. Following main gear touchdown, gentle rudder pressure brought the cockpit back over the centerline in time for nose gear contact. In the late 1980s, we landed this way when crosswinds at London Gatwick exceeded our max crosswind limit by a significant margin, at the tail end of an un-forecast hurricane passage that saw most inbounds from the U.S. diverting to European alternates. In an aircraft with a short wheelbase, however, this would not be very successful.

    Reply
    • Rodney Cahow
      Rodney Cahow says:

      Rob, yes agreed, some do land crosswind without cross controlled. Help me, but I believe it was Eastern or American that allowed this because the manufacture constructed the landing gear of these airplanes to withstand the immense side loads imposed on the gear system on touchdown in a cross wind. I retired on the the CRJ900 and during heavy cross winds we could only drop the up wind wing so much before the wing tips would scrap the ground. So our XW speed kept us restricted. But we could not land in a crab.

      Reply
  14. mike
    mike says:

    While the demonstrated crosswind component in the POH like you said isn’t a limitation I would think twice about exceeding it. I could see an insurance company denying a claim for exceeding it, they seem to be experts in finding ways to deny claims, even if they do pay out, good luck getting insurance next time.

    Reply
  15. Rick A
    Rick A says:

    Try using a slip in an Ercoupe with no rudder pedals.

    Crosswind landings are always in a crab, even to touchdown if required and the trailing link gear will straighten you right out.

    Reply
  16. Ed
    Ed says:

    I find the side slip to landing more reliable for students to learn and use, at least at first. It has the benefit of keeping everything the same during the approach. Once the cross wind corrections are established early on final approach, minimal changes are required to hold the aircraft in alignment with centerline, allowing the pilot to focus on a stable approach, and a good flare for landing. The crab technique, requires a sudden change in aircraft orientation just before touchdown. This can destabilize the aircraft during a critical phase. If performed to early in the flare, the pilot must re-establish a cross wind correction to maintain zero drift for touchdown. Tricycle gear aircraft can accept a healthy amount of side load/horizontal drift, so the technique need not be spot on, conventionally geared aircraft require landing with no drift, centerlines of aircraft and runway in alignment, trying to figure that out just before touchdown is a bit challenging,

    Reply
  17. Will B
    Will B says:

    Earlier stated comment saying that it’s all a matter of WHEN you cross control holds true, except for those aircraft designed to take the side-loads of landing in a crab (Ercoupe, B52 already mentioned, add C-195XWG, U-2, etc.). Cross controlling all the way down final is great for teaching the technique to students, lousy for pax. Holding a crab until the flare and then “kicking it out” is easiest on your pax, but impossible for a student to easily learn. Both techniques require cross controlling, but the latter method allows for a more wings level touchdown IF performed perfectly.
    Everyone agrees that XW takeoff requires additional speed and a rapid rotation to “pop off” the runway, right? So why advocate a wings level method for cross wind landing which would have the same risk of skipping sideways off the runway if not done perfectly?

    GA propeller aircraft should arrive (and depart) wing down, let a J-3 instructor say this is wrong.

    On arrival, put in the slip when you are comfortable and adjust for the increased drag. On departure, a little extra speed before rotation and leave the runway with the wing down to minimize sideways drift. Transition to the crab early to climb in a minimum drag configuration.

    Jets are very different animals (you don’t see them taxiing with controls deflected for winds). Most jets have limits on how much wing down (also varies with how much nose up because of wing sweep) before something scrapes the runway. Those pilots must blend 3 techniques, crab, slip, and side-load and also be cognizant of pitch angle vs roll angle to know how close they are to ending their careers. Let them do the complex maneuvers, I’m landing on one wheel with my wing down.

    Reply
  18. John D
    John D says:

    I normally use a crab technique down final until a couple hundred feet above touchdown. I then lower the wing into the wind and apply rudder to hold the fuselage aligned with the runway. If I have to use more than 3/4 rudder to hold my alignment I go around and look for another place to land. This gives me a bit “extra” rudder available in my Cruisair should gusts occur and allows for always being aligned at touchdown. I used this technique in the USAF flying their “ultimate tail dragger”…. the U-2.

    Reply

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