AOPA Access

March 1, 1998

As winter departs, can the gusty winds of spring be far behind? Before you crank the engine after a winter layoff, consider your own readiness. Legally, you'll need a flight review and a currently valid medical certificate - and three takeoffs and landings within the past 90 days if passengers are going with you. Beyond that, an hour or two of dual instruction can do wonders.

'Best' crosswind technique

Crosswind skills are among the first to go if you haven't flown recently. For takeoffs, line up on the runway and check the windsock one last time. Position the aileron control fully into the wind. As takeoff speed is increased, reduce the aileron input as necessary. Increase takeoff speed if winds are strong or gusty.

Just after takeoff, let the aircraft crab into the wind; runway centerline should be maintained unless ATC advises otherwise. One final note: If the wind is blowing directly across the runway, plan to take off with a right crosswind. This will help to offset or even eliminate the effect of left-turning tendencies created by the torque of the engine and propeller.

For landings, the wing-low and the crab-kick methods both work, but the wing-low method allows the pilot to stabilize the proper landing attitude while on final. The crab-kick approach requires a crab to near touchdown, then lowering the upwind wing and "kicking" the opposite rudder. And don't ever just let go of the controls after touchdown. To avoid embarrassment, remember: Fly it 'til you tie it!

Life after the private

Rather than just regaining proficiency this spring, why not improve your skills? No, not the old instrument rating or commercial ticket, but something fresh and exciting. For instance:

  • Tailwheel flying. The Decathlon dance, the Scout shuffle, and the Cub cha-cha are all good steps to understanding why there are two pedals on the floor.
  • Aerobatics. As I tell my students, aerobatic training eliminates the unknown: There are no unusual attitudes, as they are all normal. One important note: Nearly all of all my aerobatic students got sick or queasy on their first flight, and for some it persisted into later flights. Very few of my students ever dropped out, however.
  • Emergency maneuver course. If upside down is not your idea of fun, try an emergency maneuver recovery course (wake turbulence upset, for example).

What should I do if I have an accident?

One of AOPA's premier services is help for members caught in an FAA enforcement action, and we handled more than 400 such calls during the last quarter of 1997 alone. Every spring, requests for help increase as pilots try to shake off the winter rust. Crosswind landing accidents are common. The nonaccident enforcement cases we see most often involve buzzing; violating Class B, C, or D airspace; ATC-reported altitude deviations (plus or minus 300 feet from your assigned altitude); and not reporting DUI/DWI incidents, required by FAR 61.15.

Most often, a well-meaning member calls the FAA first after an accident or suspected incident. But once you call the FAA, the agency has no option but to investigate. Call us at AOPA instead. Although we can't offer legal advice, knowing your options is invaluable. For instance, did you know that sometimes even a classic gear-up landing does not require NTSB notification? If you're a member of AOPA, we can also refer you to an aviation attorney.

FAA investigation procedures start with a letter of investigation, mailed to the pilot. The FAA then determines whether any of the following would be appropriate: administrative action (remedial training), reexamination (44709 checkride, formerly the 609 ride), certificate action (certificate suspension or revocation), or civil penalty (monetary fine). The AOPA booklet Pilots Guide to FAA Enforcement Procedures is available free to members on AOPA Online ( or in printed copy for $5.

In virtually all cases, you should submit the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System form within 10 days. It's an aviation "get out of jail free card," available on the AOPA Web site ( or in the 1998 edition of AOPA's Airport Directory (page 1-39).

Craig Brown, 32, joined AOPA Aviation Services in August 1997 after 10 years as a full-time flight instructor. He has 8,500 hours, 450 of them upside down. Brown says that he prefers teaching aerobatics.

One of AOPA's premier member benefits is the team of dedicated pilots and instructors who interact one-on-one with members. Together, they own nine aircraft and have more than 47,500 hours accumulated over 248 years in aviation. Any member can reach the specialists by calling 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672), or through AOPA's World Wide Web site (

AOPA Aviation Information Resources

AOPA Pilot Information Center for expert help and advice for pilots, from pilots, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).

AOPA Online on the World Wide Web ( offers many of the information publications of AOPA and the Air Safety Foundation.

AOPA and Air Safety Foundation booklets are available, some free, some for a nominal shipping and handling charge, by calling 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).