Mastering Crosswinds

By Thomas P. Turner, Master CFI, CFII, MEI, Mastery Flight Training, Inc.

October 2018

If you want to get good at crosswinds, get your tailwheel endorsement. At least that’s what everyone says. Yet, although tricycle gear airplanes have far too many Loss of Directional Control on the Runway – LODC-R – crashes, proportionately tailwheel types have even more—simply being a tailwheel pilot is not the solution to crosswind control. No matter what you fly, let’s reconsider what it takes to master crosswind landings.

Know the wind. Most tablet-based flight planning software will tell you the crosswind component when you look at runway information. If you don’t use this kind of

software, or your tablet can’t access updated surface wind information in flight, you can estimate using a technique I call the one-third, two-thirds, 100% rule. If the difference between runway heading and the surface wind is within 30 degrees, assume the crosswind component to be 1/3rd of the reported wind speed. If the difference is between 30 and 45 degrees, estimate the crosswind to be 2/3rd the wind speed. If the difference between runway heading and wind direction is more than 45 degrees, assume the crosswind component to be equal to the reported wind speed. This technique sometimes overestimates the crosswind component, but it is an easy way to prepare for the worst—or decide to use a different runway.

You must also anticipate how the winds will affect your airplane. Don’t say “I have a seven-knot crosswind,” think about it like this:

I have a seven-knot crosswind from the left. That is roughly half the maximum demonstrated crosswind for this airplane, and close to the most crosswind I’ve flown in the last month. Because of my airplane’s left-turning tendencies, the crosswind from the left will have a greater effect than if it was from the right, so I’ll have to apply more control input to counter it.

Pilot training emphasizes computing the crosswind component for takeoff, but many instructors do not stress computing the crosswind component for landing as well. Yet far more LODC-R events happen during landing. Evaluate the crosswind before entering the pattern. Brief the crosswind aspect of the landing—and if the crosswind component is near or beyond your limits use a different runway with less of a crosswind component, if one is available, or divert to an airport with more favorable winds.

To counter the crosswind, you must know the wind and what it will do to your airplane—for takeoff and for landing.

Use the controls. Knowing the strength and direction of crosswinds is only good if you apply the controls correctly to compensate for those winds. Two techniques will help you master crosswinds:

Taxi controls: You probably remember the control inputs for taxiing in winds— “climb into the wind, dive away from the wind.” This mnemonic helps you visualize that, when taxiing into a crosswind, you should have the stick back and the aileron control deflected toward the direction of the wind…as if you are climbing into the wind. This helps keep the upwind wing down and the wheels firmly on the ground.

Taking off is the process of taxiing faster and faster until you are flying, and landing is the process of slowing from landing speed through fast taxi to normal taxing speed. In a crosswind takeoff, begin “climbing into the wind” with the aileron fully deflected, gradually reducing control deflection as the airplane accelerates and airflow makes the controls more effective. In a crosswind landing, begin with the control deflection necessary for crosswind control at touchdown, and gradually increase those inputs as the airplane decelerates and the controls lose effectiveness at slower speed.

Falling leaf: The airplane’s rudder is the primary control for maintaining direction during the takeoff and landing rolls. A maneuver some instructors use to make rudder your instinctive correction response is called the “falling leaf.” A falling leaf is a sustained power-off stall. If a wing begins to drop you “pick it up” with rudder alone (moving aileron often aggravates a stall). This will usually induce a wing drop in the other direction, so you pick up that wing with rudder as well. In a sustained stall you can “walk” the airplane back and forth with short applications of rudder. The intent of this maneuver, whether in its usual context as an introductory aerobatic exercise or as a means of training directional control, is to prompt instinctive use of rudder to correct for left/right deviations during takeoff or landing. Don’t fly the falling leaf without getting some training first. Ask around for an instructor who is practiced and confident teaching the falling leaf maneuver.

If you think in terms of transitions from taxi to takeoff and from landing to taxi and move the controls appropriately and reinforce prompt and instinctive use of rudder as the primary directional control on the ground, you’ll be better prepared for crosswinds.

Make precision your SOP. Many LODC-R mishaps happen when crosswinds are relatively light. It’s not that the winds exceed the capability of the airplane, it’s that the pilot is not focused on crosswind control. To keep your skills honed and your attention sharp, make flying with precision your Standard Operating Procedure (SOP):

As described above, use the proper crosswind taxi control technique even when the winds are light. There is no crosswind that doesn’t require at least some crosswind control. If you make observing the strength and relative direction of the wind and applying the proper inputs SOP, it will be natural for you to do so without much thought when the conditions require.

Practice taxiing, taking off and landing on the centerlines. Keep in the habit of correcting even minor deviations from centered, knowing that it’s easier to make small corrections to fix small deviations than it is to make big corrections to cover big directional mistakes.

Check that you are on speed, on glidepath, and are aligned with and tracking the runway centerline as you cross the runway threshold for landing. If you have not met all these criteria, go around before you touch down. Don’t try to fix a speed or alignment problem in the flare or once you are on the runway—that’s too late.

Know your crosswind limitations, both the aircraft’s and yours personally that result from recent practice and experience. Choose not to fly, pick a different runway, and if you’re in the air, divert to another airport if needed for a crosswind well within your current limitations.

Fly the airplane from start up to shut down. Don’t relax or freeze up on your control inputs during takeoff or landing.

Getting your tailwheel endorsement is a good way to practice control inputs that will make you better at handling crosswinds. But you don’t have to fly a tailwheel airplane to get better at crosswind control, and even tailwheel pilots need to constantly work at retaining and improving their crosswind skills. Know the winds, use your controls properly, and make precision flying your SOP, and you’ll better master your airplane in crosswinds.

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Holder of an ATP certificate with instructor, CFII and MEI ratings and a master’s Degree in aviation safety, 2015 Inductee into the Flight Instructor Hall of Fame, 2010 National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year, and 2008 FAA Central Region CFI of the Year. Three-time Master CFI Thomas P. Turner has been Lead Instructor for Bonanza pilot training program at the Beechcraft factory; production test pilot for engine modifications; aviation insurance underwriter; corporate pilot and safety expert; Captain in the United States Air Force; and contract course developer for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He now directs the education and safety arm of a 9000+ member pilots’ organization and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Flight Instructors. With over 4600 hours logged, including more than 2700 as an instructor, Tom writes, lectures and instructs extensively from his home at THE AIR CAPITAL--Wichita, Kansas. Subscribe to Tom’s free FLYING LESSONS Weekly e-newsletter at http://mastery-flight-training.com/.


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