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March 25, 2013
It may be a bit sadistic, but one of my favorite spectator sports involves driving to the local airport on a windy day, parking near the runway, and watching inexperienced pilots enter into combat with a blustery crosswind. It is like watching a slapstick comedy. A dancing windsock plays in the background, and the occasional crunch and screech of the tires adds dramatic sound effects.
I cannot be critical at such times because I and most other pilots were similarly frustrated when learning to make crosswind landings.
If someone you are mentoring is having difficulty with crosswind landings, you can do him or her a big favor by admitting that you had a similar problem when learning to fly. This can go a long way towards allaying what might be a growing lack of confidence.
During your student days you undoubtedly saw this sign in your flight school: "No student solo today." The most common reason for such a sign is wind, particularly crosswinds.
There are three reasons crosswind landings can be so challenging.
First, it requires cross-controlling the ailerons and rudder, something that students are taught to avoid from hour one. I clearly remember my instructor barking about my not coordinating the controls and keeping the ball centered. And then, when I finally learned to do as I was told, he introduced me to the crosswind landings. Not only did this require ignoring what I had just been taught, but I had to do this while attempting to land. As I recall, it was somewhat like having to reverse directions while rubbing your tummy with one hand and patting your head with the other.
As you know, cross-controlling is required to prevent the airplane from drifting across the runway and to ensure that its heading is the same as its track during touchdown. If track and heading do not coincide, the aircraft obviously will land sideways.
In principle, it is very simple: Bank into the wind sufficiently to prevent drift, and apply whatever opposite rudder is required to stay lined up with the runway. In practice, such a slipping maneuver is not always that easy.
The second reason it can be difficult learning to cope with a crosswind is that crosswinds might not occur with sufficient regularity in some regions during certain seasons. When this happens, there is little opportunity to practice crosswind operations. Sadly, some students become private pilots without developing any crosswind proficiency.
The third reason has to do with the brief time during which a student has to practice the maneuver. During an actual crosswind landing, the time spent cross-controlling and compensating for drift is only 10 seconds or so. The student barely has time to establish the slip before the aircraft is ready to land. This inhibits the learning process because the student has insufficient time to observe the effect of the crossed controls.
At some time during your student's training, the instructor may actually continue with a scheduled lesson when winds are blowing 30 degrees or more off the runway heading. That day will seem frustrating for the student as they attempt to keep the aircraft from drifting off the centerline. It will also be some of the most valuable flight time of their pilot training.
Their instructor will offer a variety of techniques to help them overcome the wind and to land safely and routinely. They'll also learn to crab the aircraft into the wind and to slip into the wind to maintain position over the runway.
If the person you are mentoring is having trouble with crosswind landings, you might want to consider having a chat with his or her instructor and tactfully suggesting a technique that I learned many years ago, a technique that has made it easier for most of my students to cope with a crosswind.
On a windy day, the instructor locates a long, straight road that is oriented perpendicular to the prevailing wind. The CFI then has the student to fly along the road at, say, 500 feet agl while maintaining slightly above normal approach speed. The flaps should be partially extended to increase over-the-nose visibility. The student is then told to maintain the same heading as the road so that he can observe the drift caused by the crosswind.
After a few minutes of this, the instructor introduces the student to cross–controlling. She lines up the aircraft with the road and demonstrates how varying the bank angle causes the aircraft to drift right and left of the road. She also demonstrates how opposite rudder keeps the aircraft heading parallel to the road. Such an exercise allows the student to concentrate on the maneuver without being distracted by having to simultaneously plan an approach and landing. As a result, he or she learns to visualize and understand the concept in surprisingly little time. Such uninterrupted practice enables the student to develop significant proficiency in coping with a crosswind, a skill that might otherwise require hours of bouncing around a traffic pattern.
Windy days can be good days - for dual instruction - during training. Encourage your student not to avoid any opportunities that will help him or her master the wind.
Remind your student that crosswind landings get better only with practice, particularly dual–instruction practice. The more time spent in practice, the sooner a crosswind technique will magically fall into place.
Perhaps most importantly, be sure to share stories of crosswind experiences that you and other pilots have had - your student needs to know that almost everyone finds crosswind operations challenging. That's why you're a mentor!
Next month: Full Flaps? Not Always
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