24 January 2012

"Crab into kick" crosswind landing technique

The airplane approaches the runway at a "crabbed" angle, to offset the wind -- then at practically the last instant before touchdown the pilot uses the rudder to "kick" the plane into alignment with the runway, so when the wheels make contact they are pointed straight ahead.
Discussion and an additional video in James Fallows' Atlantic column.


  1. I remember witnessing this from the first passenger seat of a small jet, when the curtain (yea, curtain) to the cockpit was open. Interesting to see a large jet do it!

  2. Hairy landing, impressively executed!

  3. Beautiful. As a relatively frequent flyer, I hate these. As a spectator and fan of pilots with amazing skills, it's truly beautiful to watch from this perspective.

  4. I used to have to do a similar crab move when I was taking flying lessons because there was a huge tree right at the end of the runway that we had to go around in order to land. Of course I was only flying a Piper J-3 which is close to, but not quite the same thing, as driving a big jet.

  5. It's not always quite so elegantly done...

    The comments on the second are interesting.

  6. Amazing. Like watching seagulls land.

  7. Some nice crosswind landings there!

    Pilots are taught this technique not long after starting with with a 2 or 4 seat, single engine aeroplane. It takes good coordination of your hands and feet ("stick and rudder"), and IME is very satisfying when well executed.

    Here's some technical info:
    The crosswind pushes the tail and spins the plane around like a weathercock. If left in that state, the plane will continue to fly off-course unless you correct for it. Dip your wing into the wind. Crabbing into the wind stops you getting blown off the runway or even into the flightpath of an adjacent runway. As the video shows, your heading can be at quite an angle, yet you're still tracking the runway. Just before touch-down, roll the wings horizontal, and then apply a lot of pressure to the rudder to kick the tail onto the line. If you don't get this last part right, the aeroplane can land with a poor heading and fishtail -- glad to say I've never done that.
    If at any time you deem an approach unsafe, you can always perform a go-around: full throttle, climb hard, and do a circuit of the field for another shot at things.

    Romney's comparison with seagulls landing is apt, since you also perform a bit of a "flare" just before touchdown (for any landing). This raising of the nose near the end acts as a brake to decrease your forward velocity; in a brisk headwind, it can feel like you're just hanging/floating there. The flare also provides some extra lift, and helps to settle your wheels onto the tarmac gently. Love it. :)


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