A Crosswind Operations Guide

By Alan Negrin, CFI, MEI

Using proper crosswind technique for takeoff and landing is important in any airplane. I don’t think any pilot would disagree with this basic statement.  And while proper alignment with the runway is important in any airplane, it is even more so for the tail dragger pilot.

“The main reason for this is that, in the presence of a crosswind, the taildragger now becomes an entirely different animal, and what is more important, is that it becomes a tiger with even a slight crosswind. This is completely at variance with the trike.” – Harvey S. Plourde’s “The Compleat Taildragger Pilot” (sic)

Tricycle geared airplanes tend to be more forgiving in crosswinds and even though one might not experience a loss of control landing in a crosswind of five to eight knots without proper control inputs, the side loads can still be hard on the landing gear and every effort should be made to land with perfect runway alignment.

However any amount of crosswind must be compensated for in a tail dragger at touchdown and takeoff or you may find yourself in a ground loop or heading for the runway lights and beyond.

CROSSWIND TAKEOFF

Every pilot learns crosswind take offs and landings as part of their initial training and must demonstrate proper technique during the practical exam for a private pilot certificate, but I am going to provide a brief review here anyway.

Quoting from Plourde’s book again, we see that the principals for handling crosswind takeoffs are similar for trike and tail dragger alike.

“The compensations for crosswind during takeoff are as simple as they are necessary. They can be summarized into the following steps:

1. Keep the windward wing down with aileron to keep the wind from getting under it and lifting it. This will require use of opposite rudder to keep the airplane tracking straight.

2. Keep the airplane straight on the takeoff run with the rudder. Additional rudder will be needed to overcome the weather-cocking caused by the crosswind.

3. Make the departure from the ground a positive one by initially raising the tail slightly more than for a normal takeoff so that the airplane can accelerate to a higher speed than normal before lift-off. (only applies to tail draggers)

4. Once the departure from the ground is attained, relax rudder pressure to let the airplane turn into the wind to a proper crab angle and then level the wings.

Step 1 above is by far the most important of the series, and is the one usually forgotten. “

CROSSWIND LANDINGS

There is an article in the EAA “Sport Aviation Magazine”, November 2010, written by a Bob O’Quinn titled “Dealing with Crosswinds”.  His opening statement:

“Inadequate crosswind skills are one of the primary pilot deficiencies observed most often during pilot certificate check rides, according to a panel of designated pilot examiners at the flight instructor refresher clinic last year at Rantoul, Illinois. “

I agree with this statement and lack of proper crosswind technique is the biggest thing I have noticed when flying with pilots in a demo flight or transition training scenario. Granted, these pilots are usually new to the Glastar or Sportsman and not familiar with a totally different site picture and feel of anything else they’ve been flying.

There are two main methods of handling crosswind landings and a third that combines using both of them.  The side slip or wing low method and the crab are the two main methods for landing in a crosswind, and a combination of the two whereby the pilot first sets up for a crab and then shifts to the wing low method on short final.

SIDESLIP OR WING LOW METHOD

The wing low method is a side slip whereby the pilot lowers the upwind wing and then compensates for the turning tendency toward the wind with opposite rudder. Proper control input allows the pilot to maintain alignment with the runway center line and usually only needs slight corrections along the descent path to touch down.

I like this method for a couple reasons.

1.     If I can get established and maintain a good alignment as soon as I turn to final, then I know I will usually be able to hold it all the way to touchdown.

2.     If I can’t hold it on track with full control deflections, then I know have some time to make a decision to either use another runway that may be better aligned with the wind or go somewhere else.

CRAB METHOD

Initially the crab may seem easier, especially just after turning final. The airplane is allowed to weathervane into the wind and then once again the pilot holds alignment with the center line using the rudder. The tricky part comes just before touchdown when you have to add more rudder to get the alignment perfect with the center line and the upwind wing has to be lowered to prevent side drift, or you risk landing with severe side loads on your landing gear which can result in damage and or loss of control.

This is all going on during the landing flare and it is a lot to handle, even for the most proficient pilots, especially if the wind is really gusty and variable in direction.

If you are on a very long final or if the wind is very strong and your groundspeed is low, using the crab method initially and then converting to the side slip on short final is probably a safer way to execute the crosswind landing.

Fortunately for us Glastar and Sportsman pilots, our airplanes have tremendous ability to handle very strong crosswinds and severe wind correction angles.

And with any other skill you acquire or hone when flying your Glastar or Sportsman, my recommendation is practice and you will find that you will be a far safer and more proficient pilot.

Alan Negrin is CFI,MEI and former factory demo, flight test and transition training pilot. He owns a Sportsman tail dragger and provides transition training for Glasair, GlaStar and Sportsman owners, including those who are about to commit first flight and those who have purchased flying aircraft.

He can be reached at alan@glasairtraining.com or 425-466-8472

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