Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

September 2003

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 modicum of skill. This is Part III of IV.

Let’s begin our discussion with, “The Crosswind Pattern.” The only way to really get proficient in the art of excellent, consistent landings is to try to find a way to duplicate your best landings. You’ll need to make a personal mental snapshot record of what you’ve been doing.

The first thing to review is what kind of ground track you normally make. There are pilots who seldom have any particular ground track in mind when they enter traffic. That usually means they never knew what kind of landing they were likely to get, either.

For a normal landing, the downwind leg should be consistent distance out from the runway. Just how far out you want to be is a matter of some debate. Most Instructors usually teach that on the downwind leg you want to add about a third of your runway side wingspan as open space in the visual picture between you and the landing runway. Some pilots like one-half mile out, others use the point where some part of the wing intersects the runway.

Once you have decided on the distance for your airplane, use it consistently. You need to get in the habit of creating a similar visual picture each time rather than getting in the habit of using ground reference points that fit your home airport traffic pattern. A chicken house here, a crossroad there may work at home, but when you get to another airport you’re up the creek.

The downwind leg for a crosswind landing will tell a lot about what kind of an approach and landing you’ll be dealing with. And the whole process will be easier if you have been consistent in the past about where you put your downwind for every landing. The wind that is blowing you toward or away from the runway tells you immediately where the crosswind is coming from and how strong it is.

The ATIS, controller’s advisories and windsock are all useful, but nothing provides clearer feedback about the winds than the crab you need to stay on course. But lest this makes it sound too easy, remember that winds on downwind and short final can sometimes differ considerably, due to terrain, trees or buildings. This will be readily apparent on final approach.

The rest of any good crosswind landing approach is airspeed management and a precise descent. Simple, right?
At the instant the wheels (or wheel) are planted on the runway, the airplane must be pointed very close to its direction of travel.

Airplanes don’t do as well on the ground as they do in the air, and side loads on landing gear structures can result in serious damage or complete collapse.

There are several methods that have been used by pilots since the earliest days of flight to get all of the crosswind drift neutralized before touchdown. These are the crab, the slip and a combination of both of them.

The crab involves adopting a level flight attitude that ensures the main direction of travel is down the runway, even though the nose is pointed to one side of it. Downwind, base leg and final approach phases, should all be flown with the airplane aimed to the windward side of the selected ground track.

While it sounds elementary, adopt a spot at the airport where you can watch traffic and you’ll see that most pilots do not fly the downwind, base and final with the wind correction angle in. This basic error accounts for most of the bizarre crosswind landings seen at every airport.

Usually the only negative outcome is a bit of embarrassment, but sometimes-real danger lurks.
If the wind is blowing the airplane’s downwind leg toward the runway, the pilot can turn base only to realize he’s already on the extended centerline. By the time the pilot can turn final, it’s an overshoot situation. A bad one.
You don’t even want to think that you could make it to runway centerline alignment by rolling into a 60-degree bank at approach speed and holding altitude, yet pilots continue to try it. Stall/Spin is what gets attached to the accident investigation. The answer, of course, is to go around and look over the drift situation more closely next time.

Now, In Conclusion, Remember that the winds at the runway may be different, due to terrain or buildings. 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, “The Slip.”And “The Combination.” This will be Part IV of IV.

Larry G. Harmon
FAA Aviation Safety Counselor