Crosswind Approach and Landing

Many runways or landing areas are such that landings must be made while the wind is blowing across rather than parallel to the landing direction. All pilots must be prepared to cope with these situations when they arise. The same basic principles and factors involved in a normal approach and landing apply to a crosswind approach and landing; therefore, only the additional procedures required for correcting for wind drift are discussed here.

Crosswind landings are a little more difficult to perform than crosswind takeoffs, mainly due to different problems involved in maintaining accurate control of the airplane while its speed is decreasing rather than increasing as on takeoff.

There are two usual methods of accomplishing a crosswind approach and landing—the crab method and the wing-low (sideslip) method. Although the crab method may be easier for the pilot to maintain during final approach, it requires a high degree of judgment and timing in removing the crab immediately prior to touchdown. The wing-low method is recommended in most cases, although a combination of both methods may be used.

Crosswind Final Approach

The crab method is executed by establishing a heading (crab) toward the wind with the wings level so that the airplane’s ground track remains aligned with the centerline of the runway. [Figure 1] This crab angle is maintained until just prior to touchdown, when the longitudinal axis of the airplane must be aligned with the runway to avoid sideward contact of the wheels with the runway. If a long final approach is being flown, one option is to use the crab method until just before the round out is started and then smoothly change to the wing-low method for the remainder of the landing.

Figure 1. Crabbed approach

The wing-low (sideslip) method compensates for a crosswind from any angle, but more important, it keeps the airplane’s ground track and longitudinal axis aligned with the runway centerline throughout the final approach, round out, touchdown, and after-landing roll. This prevents the airplane from touching down in a sideward motion and imposing damaging side loads on the landing gear.

To use the wing-low method, align the airplane’s heading with the centerline of the runway, note the rate and direction of drift, and promptly apply drift correction by lowering the upwind wing. [Figure 2] The amount the wing must be lowered depends on the rate of drift. When the wing is lowered, the airplane tends to turn in that direction. To compensate for the turn, it is necessary to simultaneously apply sufficient opposite rudder pressure to keep the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with the runway. In other words, the drift is controlled with aileron and the heading with rudder. The airplane is now side slipping into the wind just enough that both the resultant flightpath and the ground track are aligned with the runway. If the crosswind diminishes, this crosswind correction is reduced accordingly, or the airplane begins slipping away from the desired approach path. [Figure 3]

Figure 2. Sideslip approach

Figure 3. Crosswind approach and landing

To correct for strong crosswind, the slip into the wind is increased by lowering the upwind wing a considerable amount. As a consequence, this results in a greater tendency of the airplane to turn. Since turning is not desired, considerable opposite rudder must be applied to keep the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with the runway. In some airplanes, there may not be sufficient rudder travel available to compensate for the strong turning tendency caused by the steep bank. If the required bank is such that full opposite rudder does not prevent a turn, the wind is too strong to safely land the airplane on that particular runway with those wind conditions. Since the airplane’s capability is exceeded, it is imperative that the landing be made on a more favorable runway either at that airport or at an alternate airport.

Flaps are used during most approaches since they tend to have a stabilizing effect on the airplane. The degree to which flaps are extended vary with the airplane’s handling characteristics, as well as the wind velocity.

Crosswind Round Out (Flare)

Generally, the round out is made like a normal landing approach, but the application of a crosswind correction is continued as necessary to prevent drifting.

Since the airspeed decreases as the round out progresses, the flight controls gradually become less effective. As a result, the crosswind correction being held becomes inadequate. When using the wing-low method, it is necessary to gradually increase the deflection of the rudder and ailerons to maintain the proper amount of drift correction.

Do not level the wings and keep the upwind wing down throughout the round out. If the wings are leveled, the airplane begins drifting and the touchdown occurs while drifting. Remember, the primary objective is to land the airplane without subjecting it to any side loads that result from touching down while drifting.

Crosswind Touchdown

If the crab method of drift correction is used throughout the final approach and round out, the crab must be removed the instant before touchdown by applying rudder to align the airplane’s longitudinal axis with its direction of movement. This requires timely and accurate action. Failure to accomplish this results in severe side loads being imposed on the landing gear.

If the wing-low method is used, the crosswind correction (aileron into the wind and opposite rudder) is maintained throughout the round out, and the touchdown made on the upwind main wheel. During gusty or high wind conditions, prompt adjustments must be made in the crosswind correction to assure that the airplane does not drift as the airplane touches down. As the forward momentum decreases after initial contact, the weight of the airplane causes the downwind main wheel to gradually settle onto the runway.

In those airplanes having nose-wheel steering interconnected with the rudder, the nose wheel is not aligned with the runway as the wheels touch down because opposite rudder is being held in the crosswind correction. To prevent swerving in the direction the nose wheel is offset, the corrective rudder pressure must be promptly relaxed just as the nose wheel touches down.

Crosswind After-Landing Roll

Particularly during the after-landing roll, special attention must be given to maintaining directional control by the use of rudder or nose-wheel steering, while keeping the upwind wing from rising by the use of aileron. When an airplane is airborne, it moves with the air mass in which it is flying regardless of the airplane’s heading and speed. When an airplane is on the ground, it is unable to move with the air mass (crosswind) because of the resistance created by ground friction on the wheels.

Characteristically, an airplane has a greater profile or side area behind the main landing gear than forward of the gear. With the main wheels acting as a pivot point and the greater surface area exposed to the crosswind behind that pivot point, the airplane tends to turn or weathervane into the wind.

Wind acting on an airplane during crosswind landings is the result of two factors. One is the natural wind, which acts in the direction the air mass is traveling, while the other is induced by the forward movement of the airplane and acts parallel to the direction of movement. Consequently, a crosswind has a headwind component acting along the airplane’s ground track and a crosswind component acting 90° to its track. The resultant or relative wind is somewhere between the two components. As the airplane’s forward speed decreases during the after landing roll, the headwind component decreases and the relative wind has more of a crosswind component. The greater the crosswind component, the more difficult it is to prevent weathervaning.

Maintaining control on the ground is a critical part of the after-landing roll because of the weathervaning effect of the wind on the airplane. Additionally, tire side load from runway contact while drifting frequently generates roll-overs in tricycle-geared airplanes. The basic factors involved are cornering angle and side load.

Cornering angle is the angular difference between the heading of a tire and its path. Whenever a load bearing tire’s path and heading diverge, a side load is created. It is accompanied by tire distortion. Although side load differs in varying tires and air pressures, it is completely independent of speed, and through a considerable range, is directly proportional to the cornering angle and the weight supported by the tire. As little as 10° of cornering angle creates a side load equal to half the supported weight; after 20°, the side load does not increase with increasing cornering angle. For each high-wing, tricycle-geared airplane, there is a cornering angle at which roll-over is inevitable. The roll-over axis is the line linking the nose and main wheels. At lesser angles, the roll-over may be avoided by use of ailerons, rudder, or steerable nose wheel but not brakes.

While the airplane is decelerating during the after-landing roll, more and more aileron is applied to keep the upwind wing from rising. Since the airplane is slowing down, there is less airflow around the ailerons and they become less effective. At the same time, the relative wind becomes more of a crosswind and exerting a greater lifting force on the upwind wing. When the airplane is coming to a stop, the aileron control must be held fully toward the wind.

Maximum Safe Crosswind Velocities

Takeoffs and landings in certain crosswind conditions are inadvisable or even dangerous. [Figure 4] If the crosswind is great enough to warrant an extreme drift correction, a hazardous landing condition may result. Therefore, the takeoff and landing capabilities with respect to the reported surface wind conditions and the available landing directions must be considered.

Figure 4. Crosswind chart

Before an airplane is type certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it must be flight tested and meet certain requirements. Among these is the demonstration of being satisfactorily controllable with no exceptional degree of skill or alertness on the part of the pilot in 90° crosswinds up to a velocity equal to 0.2 VSO. This means a windspeed of two-tenths of the airplane’s stalling speed with power off and landing gear/flaps down. Regulations require that the demonstrated crosswind velocity be included on a placard in airplanes certificated after May 3, 1962.

The headwind component and the crosswind component for a given situation is determined by reference to a crosswind component chart. [Figure 5] It is imperative that pilots determine the maximum crosswind component of each airplane they fly and avoid operations in wind conditions that exceed the capability of the airplane.

Figure 5. Crosswind component chart

Common errors in the performance of crosswind approaches and landings are:
  • Attempting to land in crosswinds that exceed the airplane’s maximum demonstrated crosswind component
  • Inadequate compensation for wind drift on the turn from base leg to final approach, resulting in undershooting or overshooting
  • Inadequate compensation for wind drift on final approach
  • Unstable approach
  • Failure to compensate for increased drag during sideslip resulting in excessive sink rate and/or too low an airspeed
  • Touchdown while drifting
  • Excessive airspeed on touchdown
  • Failure to apply appropriate flight control inputs during rollout
  • Failure to maintain direction control on rollout
  • Excessive braking
  • Loss of aircraft control