Landing. It’s the phase when the majority of aviation accidents occur. And one-third of all accidents in the landing phase occur in gusty or very windy conditions. It’s not surprising why crosswind landings can be very intimidating.
But learning how to master crosswind landings is an essential skill for every pilot. Here are 3 simple steps to help you nail your crosswind landings and get better every time!
1. Crab and Slip
Crabbing involves turning the nose into the wind so that some component of the aircraft's thrust is counteracting the crosswind, allowing the aircraft's ground track to align with the runway.
Slipping involves banking the aircraft so that some portion of the wing's lift is counteracting the crosswind. The opposite rudder is applied to prevent the aircraft from turning and maintain the ground track parallel to the runway.
Here is where we find one of the biggest false dichotomies in all of aviation. Pilots commonly fall victim to the misconception that crabbing and slipping are two separate crosswind landing techniques, and you must pick one to use when landing.
If you go online there are dozens of people debating which is better – to crab or to slip? This is incredibly misleading and couldn’t be further from the truth. With some notable exceptions, such as certain aircraft that are incapable of a slip, a proper crosswind landing should involve elements of both techniques.
Start with a crab into the wind so your ground track is appropriate for final approach. Adjust the angle accordingly until you’re just above the runway – about 20 feet depending on your aircraft – and transition into a sideslip to get right on centerline.
The transition should be smooth, simultaneously bringing the nose around to align with the runway while banking into the wind to counteract the crosswind component.
Keep in mind that due to surface friction and the Coriolis effect, the wind will change as you descend.
Aviation textbooks and study guides will describe it all in clunky terms like “downwind aileron” but really it’s very simple: your ailerons keep you over the runway, and your rudder aligns the fuselage with centerline. Your rudder and ailerons will always be opposite of each other when transitioning from crab to slip.
If you’re not on centerline, simply fly back towards centerline then straighten your fuselage with your rudder. Repeat after me: get over the runway, then straighten out with opposite rudder!
When landing in a slip, it’s ok to touch down one wheel at a time – when facing a crosswind from your right main may touch down first, and vice versa.
2. Keep Your Speed Up!
This one is highly dependent on the airplane you’re landing, but in general, it’s very helpful to carry more speed than you typically would for a landing. Keeping your speed up and using less flaps or even no flaps can help keep your approach more stabilized in gusty conditions.
Students who train at flight schools who teach them to “always always always” use full flaps can be seen being blown around like a kite during gusty landings.
Remember to increase aileron inputs as airspeed slows! Control surfaces become less effective as you slow down.
3. Finish the Landing
When you touch down, you’re still not done! Keep your crosswind correction angle even after you’re on the ground to maintain complete control over the aircraft when slowing down and taxiing off the runway.
A Few More Tips and Tricks for Mastering Crosswind Landings
Don’t be afraid to go around and try again! We can’t stress this enough. If you don’t like it or you aren’t stabilized, GO AROUND! Plan for the wind, don’t react to the wind. Don’t fight or over-control the airplane.
For a standard pattern, you’ll want to keep crosswind correction technique in mind for each leg and continue to make the appropriate power and control inputs.
If you’re in the downwind and not crabbing into the wind, you could get blown too close or away from the runway, which can mess up your turn to final.
In tricky landing conditions, you want to set yourself up for the best possible approach!
The best way to master crosswind landings is to practice what we’ll call the depth perception triangle: Keep looking at three things throughout your landing: (1) the end of the runway, (2) the end of your cowling, and (3) out your side window.
Doing this allows you to master reading your airplane’s attitude and behavior in crosswind landings as it responds to both your control inputs and the crosswind. It’s something you’ll have to consciously force yourself to do until it eventually becomes second nature, but it will make crosswind landings much easier for you once you master it.