Proficient Pilot

The kickout method

November 1, 2001

Barry Schiff has been flying for 49 years. He retired as a captain from TWA in 1998.

The first jet airplane I flew was a TWA Boeing 707-100, an ancient model that was pure turbojet (not turbofan) with water injection to boost takeoff performance. We called it the Water Wagon.

Just looking at the airplane made me wonder how it was possible to make crosswind landings without dragging a pylon-mounted engine pod on the runway. (In reality, the first thing that would scrape the ground would be the aft, inboard corner of a wing flap.) Pilots probably have wondered the same about the Boeing 737. Its pods are so close to the ground that the bottoms of its nacelles are flattened on later models to increase ground clearance.

My curiosity was satisfied when I sat in a cockpit jump seat on a 707 flight to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1964. The captain had established a considerable crab angle while on final approach to compensate for the 29-knot left crosswind component, the maximum allowable for that airplane. We crossed the runway threshold while still crabbing, and I began to wonder when the captain would transition the airplane into a wing-low slip, the time-honored method of making a crosswind landing. But he held the Water Wagon in a crab even as he pulled the throttles back and began to flare. "Omigod," I thought. "We're going to land sideways and shear the tires from their wheels." I looked at the copilot, and he didn't appear concerned.

Just as the tires on both sides of the airplane were about to touch, the captain applied right rudder to straighten the airplane and simultaneously cranked the control wheel hard to the left. The airplane banked into the crosswind, and the left main landing-gear wheels kissed the concrete.

I had just witnessed a masterfully executed crosswind landing utilizing what I was to learn is called the kickout method.

Although it might seem at first blush that this method involves simply delaying the transition from crab to slip until the last second, there is much more to it than that. Instead of waiting to slip and then landing, this technique involves a transition to a slip that is interrupted by a landing. In other words, the airplane is so close to the ground while still crabbing that it is the act of lowering the wing that forces the upwind tires to touch down firmly and positively. It is the act of banking that causes touchdown. The goal is to plant the upwind gear on the ground and thus eliminate the need to enter the steeply banked slip that would otherwise be required to prevent drift.

In this manner, the pilot doesn't have to sit and wait for the aircraft to plop down while hovering in a flare above the runway in a steep, uncomfortable slip. By lowering the upwind wing while the aircraft is only inches above the runway, the upwind tire is forced down to make firm contact with the ground.

It is a simple matter to determine when the aircraft has been banked sufficiently; just listen or feel for ground contact. Simultaneous with the application of upwind aileron, it is necessary to kick the aircraft out of the crab with firm and opposite downwind rudder so that the wheels are aligned with the runway at the instant of touchdown.

Once the upwind tire is forced onto the ground, aileron pressure should be increased to keep it there. Rudder pressure continues to be applied as necessary to maintain runway heading.

The final step is the same as always. Allow the downwind tire to touch, followed by the nosewheel or tailwheel.

After I had learned to make this kind of a crosswind landing in the big jets, I had wondered if the same technique could be used in light airplanes. To my delight, I discovered that this somewhat unorthodox method of landing crosswind is equally useful in general aviation aircraft, even if they don't have engine pods slung under their wings.

I was heading home in a Piper Cherokee 140 on a day when the wind was gusting across Runway 3 at 30-plus kt. An attempt at a conventional crosswind landing failed because I could not slip steeply enough on short final to offset drift. I was about to divert to a nearby airport when I decided to try the kickout method for the first time in a general aviation airplane.

I held a tremendous crab angle on final and was grateful that there was no such thing as a maximum-allowable crab angle. There is, of course, a definite limit to the degree of slip that can be maintained in any given airplane.

I held the crab until only inches above the runway and checked the descent with a touch of back-pressure. When the tires were only seconds from scrubbing, I simultaneously kicked out of the crab and lowered the left wing. The left tire plunked onto the runway. The simple act of banking forced the landing. Because of the brutality of that crosswind, I pushed the aircraft over onto all three legs and braked to a stop.

The kickout method isn't for everyone. But for those who want to try something new and effective, wait for a day when the windsock points across the runway, hire a proficient instructor to ride shotgun, and give it a try. You'll probably have the airport to yourself (and the tower controllers thinking that there is a lunatic loose in the traffic pattern).

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