Aviation Safety Corner
GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I would like to continue our discussion on, "Cross Your Fingers."
Crosswinds plague even experienced pilots. The secrets to success: Consistent patterns, proper procedure, and a
modicum of skill. This is Part II of IV.
Let's begin our discussion with, "Wind Effects." There are a number of ways that wind affects an airplane. Chief among them is that an airplane on the ground will try to turn into the wind like a weathervane regardless of whether it has a nosewheel or tailwheel. The tendency to weathervane is increased in taildraggers, however.
To counter weathervaning tendencies, most pilots know the adage of climbing into the wind and diving away from the wind. Some pilots get into trouble during taxi at the transition point of a turn where a headwind turns into a tailwind.
Once on the runway, of course, things get simpler. Crosswind management requires the pilot to understand how to compensate for them on takeoff, landing and go-arounds. At the very least it means understanding your airplane's maximum demonstrated crosswind component, but it also means applying that knowledge by adjusting flaps, approach speeds and control inputs to keep the airplane lined up.
It's not a secret, but many pilots are not sure how it applies to their own airplane. One 200-hour private pilot, with 150 hours in his Bellanca 7ECA decided to try his skill against a crosswind on a 2,500-foot runway in California. He reported to FAA inspectors that during a touch-and-go landing he lost directional control of the aircraft, veered off the runway and nosed over after encountering a soft, muddy surface.
ATC had transmitted two wind advisories to the pilot prior to landing indicating winds were 70 degrees off the active runway heading at 15 knots. The controllers reported that the aircraft touched down about mid-field, then veered off the left side of the runway into a grassy area.
Following this, the aircraft swung to the right, crossed over the runway and nosed over in a marshy area on the right side of the runway. The pilot's injuries were mostly to his pilot pride, but also involved some expensive reports.
The NTSB found the accident's cause was the result of the pilot's inadequate compensation for the existing crosswind conditions, and his resultant loss of directional control.
Now, Let's discuss, "Crosswind Technique." Crosswind landings really aren't any different from any other kind of landings except by degree. The problem is, many pilots have trouble with landings. I've been in the right seat for hundreds of poor-to-bad landings and salvaged more than that in the last seconds of play.
Bad landings are usually the result of the pilot's failure to control one or more of a few key things. The main ones are lack of visual pattern reference points, not making the best use of flaps, not holding the correct airspeeds, poor pitch and power control, and incorrect pilot reaction to wind and turbulence.
In addition some other areas where things start to go bad stem from failure to use checklists, being distracted from focusing on the landing, poor communications, not looking for other airplanes, and if things aren't looking right not being ready to go around.
The landing process, at least the ability to make a consistent series of good landings, requires that the pilot constantly review basics. Here are a few that apply to most light planes: A normal landing isn't really much more complicated than flying slowly, in a straight-and-level attitude down the centerline of the runway. The landing flare starts from about 10 to 20 feet above the runway.
When the wheels are level and about two feet above the surface, the power is reduced and a constant elevator backpressure is applied to maintain position. The aircraft will generally smoothly settle to touch down. Naturally, it takes some experience to learn just how much elevator pressure is needed to hold off the final stall and yet still induce the airplane to settle onto the runway surface without a noticeable bump.
Now, In Conclusion, Remember that this basic error accounts for most of the bizarre crosswind landings seen at every airport.
Don't miss next month's Aviation Safety Corner, when we'll discuss, "The Crossind Pattern." And "The Slip." This will be Part III of IV.
Larry G. Harmon
FAA Aviation Safety Counselor