Acknowledgements: FLYING LESSONS by Thomas P. Turner, Mastery Flight Training, Inc. & Flight Instructor Hall of Fame inductee
“We’ve focussed a lot of words and effort in FLYING LESSONS over the years on maintaining directional control on landing. Although it doesn’t have the appeal (if that’s the right word) of thunderstorms or ice or low clouds and fog when discussing aviation weather hazards, the wind, especially wind during take-off and landing, is the single largest weather hazard to non-transport-category airplanes, according to the accident record.
Most pilot training texts home in on the stick-and-rudder skills needed to maintain runway alignment in a crosswind. That’s absolutely essential, and crosswind control should be at the centre of all your recurrent training and Flight Reviews. But the industry is (often) remiss in (failing to) present the single biggest factor in the success of a crosswind landing - the decision whether or not to try it in the first place!
Typical primary pilot training pays some lip service to the decision about accepting a landing but addresses the issue primarily on the basis of airplane certification criteria. I recall making my students memorise the maximum demonstrated crosswind component for Cessna 152s, 172, Bellanca Super Vikings, Beech Bonanzas and Barons. And then, instructors (may) tell their students (that) this is not a limitation, but merely a maximum demonstrated speed. The implication is that a “good” pilot can handle much more.
The FAA’s Crosswind Danger chart depicts a crosswind “Danger Zone” that suggests that there’s nothing to worry about if the direct crosswind component is as little as 15 knots. Although that may be true from a certification standpoint, accident history paints a different picture.
Most LODC-R (Loss of Directional Control – on Runway) landing events I read about in accident reports occur with reported surface winds reported below 10 knots. Clearly the emphasis on certification-defined maximum demonstrated crosswind components is not doing everything that can be done to teach pilots to evaluate the wisdom of attempting a crosswind landing.
So,why do we lose directional control in such relatively low surface winds? I suspect (that):
· We’re not as current in crosswind landings as we think we are.
· It doesn’t take much change for a crosswind to swing and include a tailwind component, which is even more destabilising to many airplanes.
· Some pilots may be too rushed or too lazy to fly to a landing into the wind when their route of flight is nearly straight in to a more convenient, if not wind-aligned, runway.
· Others may not be assertive or confident enough to change runways when ATC assigns a runway (which) the pilot would not (have) chosen on his/her own, or when a preceding pilot uses a runway inappropriate for the winds. I see this contribute to runway excursions and ground-loops every year at Oshkosh, when pilots are unwilling to question landings even with strong, quartering tailwinds because “that’s the direction they’re landing.”
· Flight instructors are (perhaps) not emphasising good crosswind technique (enough), including proper control use, and “flying” the airplane all the wayto the completion of the landing roll.
· Many pilots may not bother to consider the effect of wind as part of their arrival briefing.
How can we address these possibilities? By:
· Realistic self-evaluation
· Renewed emphasis on proper technique in flight instruction for pilots at all levels
· Estimation of the crosswind as part of your arrival self-brief & prediction of the crosswind component to expect, given the difference between the heading of the runway you’re considering using and the reported wind (or your best estimate based on observing ground details).
· Comparison of the result with your level of crosswind currency in the airplane you’re flying. If you’re at or near (the limit of) your realistic comfort zone, start to look for other options. Make certain you give yourself enough fuel to divert to an airport with less wind, or wind more aligned with the runway, while preserving a safe fuel reserve.
Take-offs are optional. Landings are not. However, landing at any one location or on any specific runway is optional. Make a conscious decision to accept or reject a crosswind landing by figuring the crosswind component before accepting an approach or entering the traffic circuit”.