Don’t panic, it’s just a crosswind!

One of my favorite things to watch are the videos of aircraft coming in for a landing when the wind is blowing across the runway. 90% of commercial aircraft are coming down the slope and you can see how much they are struggling to keep the aircraft under control. It seems like they are fighting the gust and turbulence all the way down to the time where it is time to use the most important flight control in this instance; the almighty rudder!

The rudder (yaw axis) is the least used control surface when flying a multi-engine prop or any jet aircraft. You need it to turn without slipping. We use aileron to turn but in some light twins as well in single-engine propeller aircraft, just banking alone will produce a slip. The nose of the aircraft will still be pointing slightly straight and by using some rudder will bring the nose around in the direction of the turn. Hence the expression, balance and coordinated turn.

You cannot fly a single engine prop aircraft without it. I cannot fly extreme aerobatics without it either. But when we graduate to the big jets, we tend not to use it very often. The rudder is extremely important when you have an engine failure especially after rotation (Vr). It is vital that you keep that ball centered (if flying an older aircraft) or the beta target/trapezoid centered if flying a newer aircraft. If the aircraft is not balanced and all surfaces are not trimmed, then you will be in an uncoordinated flight which at low speed could be dangerous.

The rudder is also used all the time when applying crosswind technique during the landing phase. The rudder is also used during crosswind take off but not as much as the landing phase. You simply cannot land an aircraft without it. You will be totally un-stabilized if you do not. Some lucky pilots will land using minimum cross controlling, but it is not pretty nor comfortable. Large commercial jets can land with crab (drift) on, they were designed that way. However, there is a limit of how much (drift) you can land with.

Crosswind landing is a coordinated maneuver which requires some cross controlling using aileron, rudder and pitch. Power will have to be reduced to idle somewhere in the flair. Remember that the rudder has a secondary effect besides yaw. The aircraft will also roll in the same direction as the yaw when the rudder is applied. Hence the cross controlling.

When coming down the glideslope, or performing a visual approach in a strong crosswind, the aircraft will always weathercock into the wind. It is a natural state when flying. The aircraft will not be pointing at the runway, it will be coming down sideways. You will be looking at the runway from the side and not from the front. The key here is not to panic and not to fight the controls. You will need minor heading adjustment to stay on the center line. Many pilots tend to stir the pot, as they say, or over control all the down for no reason at all. It is almost a nervous twitch. If the aircraft is trimmed, the aircraft will ride the waves and gust without the use of force.  Only minor adjustments will be required. It is like formation flying with the wind. If you do it right, you will not have to work hard. Above all, make sure the aircraft is trimmed.

Maintain your descent as per normal and be prepared to land with very little flair. The longer the flair (floaters), the harder it will be to control the aircraft and maintain centerline. The idea here is to land firmly and not float. You want to stop or reduce the descent rate to a gentle but un-hesitated kiss/smack on the runway. The tricky part is you will need to remove the crab and align the nose of the aircraft on the centerline while you arrest your descent to land. Use the rudder to bring the nose around to the runway centerline and simultaneously, use opposite aileron to counter the secondary effect of the rudder. Additionally, you will need to use into wind aileron to prevent any secondary drift. You will need to do this in a positive manner as to minimize the time the aircraft is above the runway. You want to plant the aircraft on the runway as soon as the nose is aligned with the runway.

You will have one shot only if the wind is strong, for instance over 30 knots at 90 degrees off heading. So, you need to do it right. Remember, once you are inside the ground effect zone of your aircraft type (wingspan will determine the height of an aircraft ground effect zone/layer), you must execute the crosswind correction. Once the aircraft touches down, you need to increase the into wind aileron to prevent the aircraft from drifting (the aircraft might skip and drift across if insufficient aileron is applied). Once on terra firma, it is a simple exercise of maintaining directional control keeping the centerline and slowing down as per SOP. You might need to use differential braking and full rudder deflection to keep the aircraft centered.

That’s it! Job done! Check out the video below of some great crosswind landings!

There are so many videos out there that you can watch and see what people are doing. Most of them hardly use rudder and always have to go around. You can learn from watching other peoples’ mistakes.

It is so important and practically vital to practice in the simulator. I always set the maximum crosswind when I am in the simulator. This way, I always have a max crosswind for my takeoffs and landings. I even keep the same setting when I practice single engine approaches.

Once you have mastered this technique, you will always be able to land safely and effectively as long as the wind does not exceed the aircraft limitations.

Till next time, be safe and happy landings!

Captain Michel Treskin