Most aircraft accidents occur during the takeoff and landing phase of the flight. Collisions with obstacles during climb out, runway overruns on landing occur every now and then. In this section of the site we will take a look at the various factors contributing to the performance of the aircraft in this part of the flight. Hopefully we help the pilot ensuring safe operation during these phases as the rules require that of the pilot in command.
The effect wind has on our aircraft is something we can influence to some extend. We can choose runways with the greatest headwind component (when the airport has more than one) and use the wind on our tails when flying to our destination. Wind speed and direction sometimes varies with altitude so that can be used too just like balloons do.
Some pilots see it as a challenge when the wind changes to a good crosswind, and it is. Doing it right takes hours of practice combined with a good explanation of how it is done properly, so continue reading here.
An easy way to calculate the crosswinds for takeoff, landing and enroute is using the standard crosswind chart (see image) or just can use the calculator below during preflight. There are a number of apps available which simulate the well known E6B calculator for your smart phone or tablet device.
Handling a crosswind during landing can be quite the task, especially for new pilots. Basically there are two methods for approaching or taking off of a runway with a crosswind: Crab into the wind and the Wing down/slip method. We will explain both methods.
During flight it is extremely important to keep the aircraft coordinated. Use the slip and skid ball for that. Keep in mind that you must use ailerons and rudder at the same time and moving in the same direction: stick/ yoke left or right -> rudder left or right.
Mechanical turbulence, caused by buildings on the airport combined with reasonable high winds can introduce a challenge for the lesser experienced pilot during crosswind situations. Remember to control the aircraft with light hands and feet, be loose on the controls and always react instantly to any upsets of the aircraft before it deviates from the flight path.
There are only three situations when there is no crosswind at all: with no wind and with an exact head or tailwind. Then and only then, the crosswind will be no factor. But as you can see most of the time there will be some crosswind.
During takeoff and landing, crosswinds can sometimes be difficult to handle and during flight training the new pilot must learn this the right way and be comfortable with them.
I prefer the crab method, it's a whole lot easier to do but more a bit more difficult to master. You start by just flying to the runway with the nose lined up into the wind as always and the wings level. If this can not be done you now know its time to divert to a more favorable runway/airport.
In this situation the aircraft does not slip (important when fuel levels are getting low), all available stick/yoke control for counteracting turbulence is available and you and the passengers do not lean sideways. Everybody sits comfortable in the aircraft.
The difficult part is during the landing touchdown: you must line the aircraft longitudinal axes up with the runway using the rudder and bank into the wind (in that specific order) and thus compensating for the crosswind moments before touchdown, while the speed reduces. At this point the aircraft changes to the wingdown situation and at almost the same time touchdown is accomplished. Remember to keep the stick/yoke into the wind during roll out and taxi.
Maintain some power during touchdown as the wingdown method introduces more drag, especially so in higher wind conditions.
The wing down/slip method requires the pilot to fly the aircraft lined up with the runway and banked into the wind when turning on final, at this point the aircraft slips and consequently stall speed is higher. Some find this the easy way. But if turbulence is encountered, stick or yoke control could possibly be not enough to counter it and a stable approach can not be maintained.
When this happens you will be blown away from the center line and might have to abort the landing. You and the passengers lean toward the low side (this could not be comfortable for them) and so does the fuel in the tanks. Especially a problem if the fuel level in the tank is low, where the fuel is likely to be pushed away from the tank outlet thereby possibly starving the engine. With full tanks the fuel could be forced out of the vents draining overboard.
The landing procedure is the same as with the crab method.
One more reason for NOT using the wingdown method is that the aircraft is slipping and stall speed is increased. Guess what happens if you enter a stall (due to turbulence) in a slipping aircraft... An immediate spin to the low wing is the result!! Now try to recover from that at 400 ft AGL or lower on final approach to the runway.
Crosswinds reduce your headwind component (only when the crosswind is more or less from up front). Basically if the crosswind is 30 degrees off the runway heading it reduces the headwind by 15%. At 45 degrees it will be 30% less headwind (at 90 degrees none at all!). Something to keep in mind when heading for short runways.
This is the same procedure as with a landing, but only in reverse. The procedure is to line-up with the runway and keep the stick/yoke fully into the wind. Slowly add full power while keeping the aircraft aligned on the centerline with the rudder. Hold the aircraft on the runway somewhat longer than normal and lift-off.
The aircraft will lift-off with the downwind wing higher than the upwind wing in a wing down attitude. When the wheels are off the runway reposition into the wings level crab attitude and climb out keeping the aircraft aligned with the runway centerline. Remember that winds increase and veers some degrees when climbing so you need to compensate for that effect too.