Windy Flight Operations

Windy Day

Table of Contents

Importance to Members

Overview

Technical Information

Additional Resources

From the AOPA Archives

Table of Contents

Importance to Members

Every pilot loves a tailwind! But, strong crosswinds on landing are another story. Wind is a factor in a large percentage of takeoff and landing accidents and as pilots we need to constantly be vigilant of its direction and speed in relation to the runway. In flight, wind will blow us off course unless we correct for its effect.  This subject report provides helpful information on dealing with the effects of wind in all phases of flight. There are many helpful articles from experienced pilots offering their own tips and techniques.

As always, feel free to call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA with questions.

Overview

Wind SockThis subject report has been divided into sections that follow the order of a typical flight. First are tips for proper windy-day taxiing technique. Following is a section on making windy-day takeoffs with proper aileron deflection. Next is cruise flight on a windy day – what to expect, and how to correct your heading for the desired ground track. Finally the report addresses one of flying’s biggest challenges– the crosswind landing. Crosswind landing techniques are discussed for both the crab approach with a transition to a slip, and slipping the whole way down. The report discusses a variety of techniques and tips such as using partial flaps to minimize the surface area of the wing making it more difficult for the wind to toss you. Navigation through the report is made simple with the table of contents. Just click on the header that correlates with what you’d like to read.

Technical Information

Taxiing Technique

Taxiing in a crosswind requires additional control inputs to keep the airplane's tires well planted and, in a strong crosswind, to prevent a wing or the tail of the airplane from being lifted by the wind.  It can be confusing remembering which way the ailerons should be positioned during a crosswind taxi, but this memory aid may help: When you hold the yoke, your thumb points up; when the wind is coming from in front and to one side (a quartering headwind), point your thumbs into the wind. When the wind is coming from behind, point your thumb away from the wind. So, for instance, if the wind is coming from the left rear ( quartering tailwind), deflect the yoke to the right (thumb points right and away from the wind).

To remember the elevator inputs during a crosswind taxi, remember that when taxiing downwind (in the same direction as the wind is blowing), the elevator should be down. When taxiing upwind, the elevator should be neutral (for tricycle gear airplanes) or up (for tailwheel airplanes). Watch the movement of wind socks, flags, grass, etc., as you taxi, and change control inputs appropriately as your taxi direction changes.

Takeoff Technique

The goal is to become airborne with maximum control effectiveness, requiring that you hold the airplane on the ground until you have achieved a few extras knots of airspeed (also allowing for a gust factor). A straight ground run, gradually easing crosswind-control input as the ailerons gain effect will allow you to focus on timing the liftoff. Liftoff should be a few knots higher than your typical liftoff speed, and control inputs should be made abruptly, as to “snap” the plane from the runway.
Next task, find the crab angle that keeps the centerline directly below. The airplane will do most of the work here by weathervaning into the wind as soon as you break ground. Stay relaxed and avoid over controlling as you fine-tune the drift-correction angle.

Cruise and Wind Correction Angle

When it comes to calculating wind correction angle, groundspeed, and a number of other aviation problems; the E-6B is a pilot’s best friend. Originally called the “Dalton Aerial Dead-Reckoning Slide Rule, Model B”, the E-6B was designed by aviator Philip Dalton 1933. Since that date the E-6B has been in constant production and has been released in digital calculator-like styles.

Another important note to make when planning for the cruise leg is to get a current weather briefing. If you get winds aloft at three and six thousand you might find that one altitude would provide you with a tailwind, and a subsequently shorter flight time. Additionally you may note a large deviation in wind direction and velocity at different altitudes – a tell tale sign of wind shear.

Crosswind Landing Techniques

POHWhen it comes to crosswind landings, it is all about technique. There are two methods of executing the landing. Both require that you fly the final approach with a crab into the wind to maintain centerline alignment. In the first method, you maintain the crab into the flare, and at the last moment, you use the rudder to kick the airplane straight. The hope here is that you are aligned with the centerline and minimize drift. It requires perfect timing, and does not leave much margin for error.

The second method is to slip the airplane as you flare. As you flare, you add aileron into the wind and use the rudder to maintain runway alignment. You want to carry a few knots of extra speed to maintain full control authority. Done right, this will result in a landing on one of the main wheels, and a sharp pilot can keep it on one wheel for a few seconds until the airplane settles on the other main and the nose.

Doing your crosswind landings this way takes more finesse and control, but it is a more controlled landing, and it greatly reduces the risk of drifting off the runway. It also reduces the side load on the landing gear.

A common mistake with all landings, but especially with crosswind landings, is for the pilot to stop flying the airplane just because it is on the ground. On crosswind landings especially, it is critical that you continue to make control inputs and stay situationaly aware of what is going on. Once the airplane is on the ground, you need to properly position the ailerons and elevator for ground operation, and braking should be done slowly and evenly until the airplane has slowed to taxi speed. It is easy to forget that rudder continues to act as a weathervane, and if the wind is blowing at any appreciable speed, the wings will produce lift.

Additionally, it is good practice to make your final approach long, and powered. This means extending your downwind leg, and postponing your initial descent. The long final will give you a chance to get a feel for how the wind is affecting you, as well as time to get comfortable with the approach. The purpose of making a powered approach (one where you are constantly increasing and/or decreasing power) is to have more control over your position on the glide slope. The use of power will also make it easier to “catch” the aircraft if you enter a downdraft, microburst, or wind shear. Always remember – Attitude controls airspeed, power controls altitude.

Additional Crosswind Landing Tips

  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: Confidence in crosswind landings will come only through repetition. Take advantage of a windy day and go up with your CFI to get as comfortable with crosswinds as you are with headwinds.
  • KEEP YOUR SPEED UP: Carry a few extra knots on final to ensure that you maintain full control authority throughout the landing.
  • DON'T STOP FLYING THE AIRPLANE: Once you are on the ground, you need to continue to fly the airplane until you have parked the airplane. Utilize proper flight control inputs on the ground to prevent a loss of control.
  • GET LINED UP EARLY: You may have heard the old aviation adage "A great landing starts 10 miles out." What that really means is that a great landing usually follows a great approach.
  • USE PARTIAL FLAPS: In a crosswind or gusty situation, full-flap landings can be more trouble than they're worth. This is because fully extended flaps present a larger surface area for that crosswind to affect, blowing you around. Flaps catch the wind just like a kite. Remember however – when using partial or no flap use a higher approach speed, and expect a longer landing roll (for exact figures please reference your POH).
  • STAY ON THE CENTERLINE: Don't let the airplane drift. If you cannot maintain centerline alignment, immediately go around.
  • LEARN TO BE AMBIDEXTROUS: Don't get used to doing crosswind landings with the wind coming from just one side. If you can safely practice making landings with the wind coming from left as well as right (or vice versa), then do so.
  • KNOW WHERE YOUR FEET ARE: As an instructor, I've seen a lot of pilots who intend to step on the rudder and instead find a brake. In flight, this is no big deal, but on the ground, a locked brake may be what causes you to leave the runway
  • KNOW YOUR MAX CROSSWIND COMPONENT: Know this BEFORE you take-off. If your intended airport for landing exceeds your max crosswind component either pick a new airport, or pick a different day.

Additional Resources

Wind Techinques: Tips for Handling Blustery Breezes

Tackling Taxiing

Technique: Windy Day Departures—Don’t Get Blown Away

Looking Down: Ground Track in the Pattern

Wind Triangle Computers: Whiz-Wheel Wizardry

Flying Seasons: Slipping, Crabbing, and Bouncing
You must be attempting a crosswind landing

Crosswind tutorial
Crab it or slip it, but don't avoid it! Four steps to better crosswind landings

From the AOPA Archives

Crosswind Landings
Watch this video simulation of crab vs. slip from AOPA Live

Never Again Online
Almost gone with the wind
AOPA Pilot, January 2007

Tango with the wind
Lessons from an unruly gust
AOPA Flight Training, April 2006

Sock it to me!
What windsocks do and don't tell you
AOPA Flight Training, April 2006

The Weather Never Sleeps: The winds of March
A bumper crop of gusts and wind shear
AOPA Flight Training, March 2006

The Weather Never Sleeps: Pressure situation
Tight isobars mean strong winds
AOPA Flight Training, December 2005

Wx Watch: Windwise
Scoping out surface winds
AOPA Pilot, April 2005

Instructor Report
ASF Safety Spotlight: Caught in the wind
AOPA Flight Training, April 2005

Insights: Dancing with winds
Rock and roll in an airplane
AOPA Flight Training, June 2004

Extreme Crosswinds
A search for the windiest airport in the nation leads to Maui
AOPA Pilot, November 2003

Practicing Crosswind Landings
AOPA ePilot Flight Training Edition, December, 2001

Proficient Pilot: The Kickout Method
AOPA Pilot, November 2001

Stay Focused: Plan the takeoff — and take off according to the plan
AOPA Pilot, June 2001

Keeping Fear in Check: It's What You Know That Counts
AOPA Flight Training, August 2000

Instructor Report: Charting the Wind, Crosswind Tools and Training
AOPA Flight Training, July 2000

Out of the Pattern: The Breezy Bop
AOPA Flight Training, March 1999

Instructor Report: Way Too Windy, Learn Your Limitations
AOPA Flight Training, July 1999

Wx Watch, Ill Winds: Riding waves, shears, rotors, bumps, and jumps
AOPA Pilot, March 1999

Flying Smart: Crosswind Landings
AOPA Flight Training, December 1997

Landing Proficiency, Getting Down Safely and in Style
AOPA Pilot, March 1997

Defeating the Crosswind: Getting Crabby About Slips
AOPA Pilot, August 1996

Windy Days: How Much Is Too Much?
AOPA Pilot, December 1996

Flying Smart: Which Way Is the Wind Blowing?
AOPA Flight Training, August 1996

Training Topics: Legal Briefing
AOPA Flight Training, March 1995

ASF Safety Pilot, July 1993
Blowing in the Wind
AOPA Pilot , July 1993

Instructor Tips: Controlling Crosswinds
AOPA Flight Training, June 1993

The Crosswind Trap
AOPA Flight Training, April 1991