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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
When 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.
Watch this video simulation of crab vs. slip from AOPA Live
Never Again Online
Almost gone with the wind
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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
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
A search for the windiest airport in the nation leads to Maui
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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