Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Crosswind Landing

Crosswind landings can be tricky. When I was learning to fly, the day came for my first solo cross country trip (a journey and landing to an airport more than 55 miles from your starting point). My instructor (Mike) and I had talked about it for several days and we picked out an airport with good navigation aids. I had the trip all planned out. When I arrived at the airport, Mike and I talked about the weather and the flight. It was kind of windy and the forecast was for a fairly stiff crosswind at my destination. Mike suggested planning an alternate destination that was only about 10 miles away where the wind would be blowing right down the runway in case I couldn't land at the first airport. It was a wise thing as I tried 3 approaches to land at the first airport and realized the crosswind was too much for me to touch down. I went to the alternate, landed, and completed the return flight without any trouble.

When landing you want the axis of the fuselage lined up with the runway to minimize the stress on the landing gear and the likelihood of veering out of control when you touch down. But if you set up an approach that way when the wind is blowing across the runway, it also blows the plane sideways away from the runway. So to stay lined up with the runway in a crosswind, you point the nose into the wind (a crab) just a bit to compensate for the drift and keep the plane moving along the extended runway centerline. There is a good diagram of that approach here. However, that means the fuselage isn't lined up with the runway. One method to land from that approach involves using the rudder and ailerons to remove the crab and align the plane with the runway just before touching down. That way the plane's landing gear isn't stressed and the configuration needed for this is done at a low altitude. It's tricky and doing it well takes some practice.

The other day we saw this video of an airbus trying to land in a crosswind. Luckily the pilot did a go around at the last minute. It's a tough landing even for the commercial pilot!


Patrick said...

That is exactly why I prefer to drive!

Erika said...

that was an interesting post and very well explained. I cant believe that big thing was blowing around that easily! i would have freaked out if I were on that one!