Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

May 2003

Aviation Safety Corner

GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I would like to discuss, "Cross Your Fingers." Crosswinds plague even experienced pilots. The secrets to success: Consistent patterns, proper procedure, and a modicum of skill. This is Part I of IV.

Let's begin our discussion with, "Stick & Rudder." Most pilots, whether they will admit it or not, have basic, nagging worries about crosswind landings.

There is no cheap, clean, easy way out of it. If you have decided to be the pilot of an airplane, there will be ill winds, blowing you no good, while you try to stay aligned with the landing runway.

These are demons to be exorcised, not only while you are trying to stay on the runway, but even more so after a bounce or a porpoise. It's a challenge that is not to be avoided, rather a technique that can be learned and practiced. Anyone who can solo an airplane can certainly be capable of guiding an airplane through controlled and safe landings, regardless of which direction the wind decides to blow from.

There are some flight instructors who are able to get crosswind techniques over students, right from the start of training. There are also flight instructors, waiting to help those pilots who have let their crosswind skills get a bit rusty. The records are full of cases where the pilot has exceeded his personal crosswind landing safety limits and ran into unfortunate results.

About a third of all aviation accidents happen during the landing phase. While there are a few mechanically related cases such as when the landing won't extend no matter what the pilot does, generally the main problem is the pilot. It's clear when rusty skills; distraction or just poor decision making leads to a lousy landing.

A fairly typical example involves a Cessna 182Q landing at Palo Alto, CA., during an instructional flight. The pilot said the airplane was rolling out at the end of the instructional flight when she lost control of the airplane during a strong gust of wind.

The gust picked up the left wing and turned the airplane to the right. According to the flight instructor, "The airplane veered off the runway and was substantially damaged when a wing contacted the ground. The wing was 50 degrees off the center of the runway and was considerably different than that which was reported on the ATIS."

The flight instructor further explained: "During the landing roll-out, a gust of wind, possibly a dust devil, caught the left wing and began lifting it up. The airplane veered to the right and exited the runway, despite the fact that the left aileron was fully deflected to the left."

The NTSB found that the probable cause was the inadequate compensation for wind conditions by the private pilot, and failure of the flight instructor to ensure that directional control of the aircraft was maintained. The gusty crosswind condition was a related factor.

There are dozens of these crosswind accidents every year, and they are expensive. These accidents also point to the fact that pilots in general need to have better understanding of crosswinds and more practice in preventive maneuvers.

The art of the crosswind landing is one of the trickiest skills to learn in flying. Not only are the control nuances among the most difficult, but developing the judgment is challenging as well.

It's easy for a pilot to exceed his personal safety limits when pushed by ego or enthusiastic friends. The end result is an airplane grinding up its landing gear; fuselage or wingtip as it slides off the runway. Once control is lost, getting the airplane upside down isn't too hard to do, either.

While nosewheel airplanes are more pilot-friendly on the ground than tailwheel airplanes, loss of control on the runway remains the major cause of airplane accidents.

Now, In Conclusion, Remember, Use your wind correction angle in the pattern or during your instrument approach to gauge how strong your crosswind is likely to be. Then, Fly a consistent traffic pattern to help you gauge where the wind is pushing you. Learn the proper technique and stay sharp on it.

Don't miss next month's Aviation Safety Corner, when we'll discuss, "Wind Effects", and "Crosswind Technique." This will be Part II of IV.

Larry G. Harmon
FAA Aviation Safety Counselor