A Great Day for crosswind landing practice
You couldn’t have asked for better conditions to practice crosswind landings. Sunny, with great visibility, scattered clouds at 3500 feet, but a strong and steady southerly wind of 18 gusting 25. Fortunate indeed, because I’d arranged for Tony, one of the instructors at Lyneham, to help me sort out my crosswind landing technique. The club have a rule that requires instructors to sign off members for landing in crosswinds above 7 knots. I’d had an hour of circuits before, but the crosswind wasn’t strong enough and/or my technique wasn’t good enough to be signed off then.
There would have been no problem on 18/36, with the wind pretty much straight down the runway, but we asked for and were granted circuits on 24. Another light aircraft was already in the standard circuit and was asked to do these at 500 feet, so that we could both operate. However, they were just coming to the end of their sortie and left the circuit just before we were about to start.
Relaxing the Death Grip
With aerolon on almost full left lock and plenty of right rudder, we hurtled along the runway and took off. Quickly turned into a crabbing/sideways motion as we climbed out. I wasn’t relaxed at all, and Tony did his best to put me at ease, commenting on my “death grip” on the controls. Even in strong crosswind, the aircraft should be trimmed such that a thumb and forefinger on the yoke is enough to control it.
Strong Turbulence on short final
We did a reasonable circuit and lined up crabbing down the approach on finals pretty much on the centerline. As we got down to about 200 feet on short final we hit a lot of turbulence kicked up as the wind passed over the main hangars to the windward side of the threshold. We bounced around quite a lot and I was making some pretty heavy control adjustments which made things worse – we weaved from side to side more than necessary.
Once through that, we continued down towards the touchdown for a flare and landing – plenty of right rudder to align the aircraft while trying to keep on track using the aerolon.
Aiming for a later touchdown
After a couple of touch and goes like this, Tony then suggested aiming further down the runway so we would pass overhead the turbulence – tried this and found it much easier. The runway length at Lyneham means we only use 20% of it anyway, so landing long isn’t a problem, even for a touch and go.
Bear in mind that we were close to the published crosswind limits of the aircraft – 17 knots – although pilots have successfully landed in stronger conditions, so this should be about at difficult as it gets.
Crab or Combination
We tried both the crab approach (kicking out the rudder at the last minute before touchdown) and the combination method (using cross controls in short final). I was expecting to prefer the combination method, because it sets you up well in advance of touchdown and there’s potentially less to go wrong. But the crab method if done well can be extremely smooth. I think I will try the combination method normally and just reduce the time I changeover as I gain more practice.
After about 5 or 6 circuits, the tower suggested we try some right hand circuits “for a bit of variety”, so we tried that. No real difference except the base leg – now into wind – was longer and gave more time to descend and reduce speed. Something to bear in mind if there is a choice.
A strange sensation
The wing-down technique, where you land the into-wind rear/main wheel first, still seemed a pretty strange/odd configuration. I’d been taught and practiced normal wings level landings so much, that when touching down with the aircraft “tipped over” to the left it seemed an unusual picture. It’s also pretty quick transition, with the other main wheel touching down quickly thereafter and then lightly pushing the nose down ensuring the rudder is centered. This was good practice to do with an instructor to give you confidence that this is how its supposed to be done.
Finally got the hang of it
By the last couple of landings, I’d stopped using the “death grip” and had trimmed the aircraft for the approach so that I could hold it lightly in one hand with the other on the power lever. I’m not going to say these were perfect landings by any means, but was much more confident about the technique.
Setting Personal Minimums
After the debrief, Tony said he’d sign me off for crosswind landings so that I’m not restricted on days like today in future. He also suggested and discussed some personal limits I could use – these can be increased as I gain more practice and confidence. While it’s nice to have the crosswind signoff done, what’s more important is the greater confidence that I now have grasped the technique enough to be able to practice and perfect it on future flights.