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Crosswind Landings

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Crosswind Landings

By: Brad Whitsitt (

Did you know… crosswinds are the number one cause of weather related
General Aviation accidents every year?  The NTSB counted 2684 GA accidents
that were weather related from 1995 through 2001.  25% were due to
crosswinds.  In fact, the top two, Crosswinds and Gusts make up 45% of
weather related accidents.  In comparison, Low Ceilings account for 7% and
Icing just 2% of weather related accidents.

Crosswind accidents are almost never fatal, so they do not get much press.
But, accidents are still traumatic and cost millions in the industry.  Some
in the industry believe that there are many more crosswind accidents than
are reported.  We all know stories of pilots who make trips through grass,
mud, lights, storm drains, fences, etc.  Many of us have made the trip
ourselves after a crosswind landing.  We have all watched crosswind
landings and wondered how some pilots ever make it.

Why are there so many crosswind accidents?  Here are some facts.

Low experience – Many GA pilots have very little crosswind experience.
Think about it.  If you can fly, you are not going to hurt yourself in the
pattern.  Even on final approach, as long as you can maintain speed and not
hit a tree all is well.  But, at the ground, when the aircraft must now
work with the Earth to land in a crosswind, there is a 5 second window to
do the right things.

Look in your own logbook and count the times that you landed with a + 10
knot crosswind component.  Now, multiply that by 5.  This is the number of
seconds of real crosswind experience you have in your flying career!

How can anyone be good any anything when they have only 2 minutes of
experience?  Most new private pilots are very lucky if they have 90 seconds
of experience.

Low Currency – We all know that the FAA requires 3 takeoffs and landings
every 90 days.  But, there is no required currency for the more difficult
crosswind landing.  For many pilots, it has been a year since they had to
land in a crosswind component over 10 knots.

Limited Testing – Most checkrides occur on good weather days.  It is very
unlikely that pilots must demonstrate landing in a +10 knot crosswind
component.  We all know how to talk about crosswinds on our checkride but
can we do it.

Even when checking out in a new aircraft at the local FBO, how many do that
on a windy day.  We probably don’t have to demonstrate crosswind skill to
them either.  During flight reviews, we are likely to do that on a good
weather day too.

My point is that pilots can go a long way through the ratings and not know
how to master crosswinds.
Hard to Practice – Even if you decide that you are going to get good at
crosswinds, you must find the right weather.  The wind must be strong but
not too strong and other conditions can’t interfere like rain, snow, and
clouds.  If you are going to practice on your own, the outcome must be
successful.  You need to practice beyond your comfort zone in order to
learn.  But, you can’t have an accident.  Wow!  What a challenge.

You can get an instructor.  But, then you must schedule a time and you
can’t schedule the conditions.  Even if you want to practice, it can be
hard to match your schedule, the instructor’s schedule and the weather’s

If you get the right weather, look how long it takes to go around the
airport to get 5 seconds of practice on each landing.  Can you land 10
times in an hour?  With an instructor, you can easily spend $150 to get 50
seconds of experience assuming other traffic does not interfere.

Instruction is Weak – Many flight instructors are not that good at
crosswinds themselves.  Many instructors destined for the airlines may have
only 300 hours when they start instructing.  How much crosswind experience
do they have?  3 minutes?  How much crosswind experience do they have from
the right seat?  1 minute?  As a Chief Flight Instructor, I have heard some
very poor crosswind technique offered to students by instructors.
Instruction in the industry is weak.  How many pilots continue to employ
improper technique because they learned it from their instructor?

There is also little incentive for an instructor to risk their tickets to
help entry level pilots get good at crosswinds.  The prevailing idea is to
give a student pilot the basics and let them figure out the rest on their
own ticket.

I was told by an FAA examiner in Chicago that he fails 60% of private pilot
applicants because they have no idea how to handle an airplane in a
crosswind.  He has ways of testing that when it is calm.  Many examiners
are not looking as hard at this issue.  But, he would agree that
instruction in this area is weak.

As I continue to work on crosswind instruction, there are my pilots who
have been flying for 500 hours, let’s say, who do not know exactly what
they are trying to do in a crosswind.  For example, if you believe that you
need to “plant” the airplane at the highest possible speed in a crosswind,
you may do this every time even though it does not work very well.  It is
surprising how many wrong concepts are used all the time.

You Should Know by Now – It is very hard for some pilots to admit that they
really need help after they have flown for 5 years and still have not tamed
the crosswind landing.  I just want to encourage you a little.  How can you
do something for only 2 minutes with weak instruction and no testing, that
you last tried a year ago, and expect to be good at it?  Get some help and
really dive into getting good at it.  It sure can be fun and greatly adds
to your safety factor.

Xwind, LLC has created a motion based simulator that places a pilot in a
gusty crosswind forever with no risk.  As a pilot, you can sit there in a
cockpit that rolls, yaws, and moves laterally with no flat computer screens
and you can achieve excellence in crosswind skill instead of just getting
by.  You will see results in the airplane the very next time you fly.

Become a professional!  Check out the training centers at: and
multiply your crosswind experience by 100!

Brad Whitsitt is an Electrical Engineer and Flight Instructor with over
4000 flight hours.  Brad is also the president of Xwind, LLC, a company
dedicated to crosswind landing skill excellence.

Written by Clark

January 3, 2008 at 7:45 pm

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