How to Know if the Crosswind is too Strong

There are two ways to know if a crosswind is too strong. One is to land and see if you skid off the side of the runway or ground loop. The other is to cross control the airplane before landing to see if you can align the airplane with the runway. I prefer the second technique.

When you use your rudder to align the airplane with the runway and the ailerons to move the airplane laterally over the runway, you are cross controlling the airplane. This is a technique not used often in flight except in landings, where it should always be used.

Some pilots advocate flying wings level in a crosswind and kicking the rudder pedal vigorously the instant before touchdown to get the airplane pointed in the right direction. I have even seen this technique described in how-to-fly books. But frankly, this is one of those ideas that sound good if you say them fast.

With this technique, you just don’t know if you can get the nose pointed down the runway until you land, nor do you know if the crosswind will blow you off the runway before you’re on the surface and under control. So if your life insurance is paid up and you don’t have an aviation exclusion clause, you might try the old kick-and-hope trick.

Sometimes passengers find cross controlling disconcerting. Somehow they always find wing strikes, driving off the runway or ground loops very disconcerting.

All of us like the floor to be directly beneath us and the seat to feel level. Cross controlling to align the wheels with their direction of travel requires that the upwind wing go down and that the pilot press – sometimes vigorously – on the downwind rudder pedal. Suddenly the floor is no longer level and the seat sits at an angle. This is all very upsetting to the passengers. What to do?

I recommend practicing entering the cross controlled state just as you start to raise the nose to land. This is the optimal technique and only requires slightly more skill than the procedure I describe a little further on.

The wing loses lift when it is cross controlled raising the airplane’s stall speed slightly. If the airplane cannot be cross controlled enough to get the airplane properly aligned, applying power immediately. Returning to a wings-level, coordinated flying condition will lower the stall speed again and get the airplane climbing. This would not be a good time to botch a go-around.

This technique minimizes the passengers’ exposure to cross controlled flight. Nevertheless, it is better to have a disconcerted passenger than a bent airplane. So if you are not the complete master of the cross control at the last minute technique, cross control while you are still in your pre-landing glide.

If you cross control when you are a hundred feet above the surface, you have enough time to see if the airplane can be aligned with the runway before you have to start concentrating on the landing itself. If not, then you have plenty of time to smoothly transition back to wings level and execute an un-hurried go-around. This technique is the easiest and therefore the safest. But it is the most disconcerting to the uninitiated. So let your passengers know before you do it, that this is a necessary and safe procedure.

An important point here is that you should keep cross controlled all the way through the landing and during the roll out.

A lot has been said and written over the years about crosswind landings. It all boils down to having your wheels pointed in the same direction you are traveling before you touch down and knowing if you can while you have enough time, altitude and airspeed to easily make a safe go-around.

3 Comments

  1. Thomas Yuhas on November 5, 2018 at 15:12

    Doug,

    Thank you for the procedure to land safely with a crosswind.
    You mention to land cross controlled even with no crosswind component.
    Could you elaborate on that concept? How do you land cross controlled with no cross wind?

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge,
    Tom Yuhas

    • Doug on November 5, 2018 at 16:00

      Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for asking.

      The concept it to always use crosswind landing techniques. If there is no crosswind component to the wind, you will be flying with your wings level and pointed straight down the runway. So you won’t be cross controlled at all. By using crosswind techniques, you use your rudder pedals to keep you aligned with the runway, your ailerons to stay centered over it, and your elevator to control first your airspeed, then your rate of descent, and finally your height above the runway. You don’t need to decide if you need to cross control; it just happens naturally.

  2. Nasrullah on December 29, 2018 at 02:19

    That is very good way that you showed I new pilot from rotrywing to fixwing and have still problem in crosscontrolling.

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