You’re picking up ATIS on your way in to land. The winds are 23 knots, 40 degrees off runway heading. And your passengers are expecting a landing they can walk away from.
Crosswind landings can be one of the most stressful things for pilots, especially if you haven’t practiced them in awhile. And whether you’re a new pilot just learning to fly them, or a 20 year pilot who hasn’t gotten a lot of practice recently, a little review can go a long way.
When it comes to crosswind landings, there are a couple methods you can use: crab, and wing-low. And there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Flying The Crab Method
With the crab technique, you fly final approach crabbing into the wind to prevent drifting left or right of centerline. You maintain the crab all the way to your flare, and just before touchdown, you step on the rudder to align your nose with the runway, and use ailerons to prevent drifting with the wind.
The crab technique can be an easy way to maintain centerline on final approach, but it requires quite a bit of judgement and timing to “kick out” the crab just before touchdown. This is the same technique that jets use to land. But there’s a big difference between a 737 and a single-engine piston, and that’s inertia. If a 737 isn’t perfectly aligned with the runway on touchdown, it straightens itself out as the wheels touch down, and it keeps rolling smoothly down the runway. But if your 172 isn’t aligned with the runway at touchdown, you’re going to jump and bounce across the pavement until you are aligned with it. So unless you’re out practicing your crab-to-landing a lot, it can be a tough method to perfect in a light plane.
Flying The Wing-Low Method
In most cases in light aircraft, the wing low method is an easier way to accomplish a smooth touchdown in a crosswind landing. To fly the wing-low method, you use your rudder to line your nose up with the runway, and ailerons to correct for left/right drift all the way from final approach to touchdown. Essentially, you’re slipping the plane through the crosswind in order to keep yourself lined up with the runway from final to touchdown…