The Straight and Narrow - Cross-Wind Landings
Nobody’s going to argue that landing directly into the wind is the best way to go, but we’re not always that lucky. Got a long, narrow path between obstacles? Unless you’re super-duper lucky and the wind direction seems to have been designed entirely for your landing pleasure, you’ve got yourself a crosswind landing, my friend.
If you jump at a busy DZ with a super-strict canopy pattern, you’ve undoubtedly honed your crosswind skills. Great--but that’s not the only place that crosswind landings rear their skinny heads. For instance: you’ll find them lurking at an overpopulated boogie, where the landing area is a human forest with a clear patch at the very edge…or a forehead-slapper of an off landing, where your only choice is a road...or pretty much every beach landing, ever.
The importance of your landing direction should override the wind direction in a number of circumstances. Here’s how to make it work.
1. Stop bellyaching and get used to it, already.
Ask any airplane pilot: landing with the wind at an angle to the runway is, like, totally normal. Ask any beach-dropzone bum or coastal-soaring pilot, and they’ll definitely elaborate on the benefits of landing smoothly with the wind pushing in hard from the side.
Let go of the worry. Your ram-air wing is perfectly capable of flying with the nose pointed at an angle to the runway. That maneuver even has a name: “crabbing.” (The difference between the direction the nose is pointing and the pilot’s path--“ground track”--is called the “crab angle,” which always kinda makes me think of melted butter and tongs.)
2. Get lined up.
If you’ve got a long, narrow path in front of you, guess what? You’ve got yourself a landing strip. Start humming ‘The Danger Zone’ into your helmet and get ready, Goose.
Your biggest task when you line up a landing is to snag yourself as much of a headwind as possible while keeping away from the obstacles you’re certainly avoiding. Anything up to a 90-degree crosswind will work. (Your task: to avoid any kind of tailwind, if at all possible.)
If you have a choice, use the longest runway you can find to increase your margin for error.
3. Get creative.
As you come in on that final, you’re going to be doing something of a dance with whatever wind is pushing at you from the side. You can be assured that this wind is going to be pushing you toward something you do not want to fly into. It may be pushing you unevenly. And it may be pushing you pretty damn hard.
Your approach, therefore, is necessarily going to be a little less cut-and-dry than your typical downwind/base/final box. You’ll most certainly notice that your downwind leg is not actually, like, downwind and you’re not getting the distance you’re used to. What’s usually your base leg is likely to be the actual downwind, so stay vigilant and don’t let it shove you into an obstacle.
4. Hold your focus.
As you tuck into your final approach, glue your eyes on the middle of the far end of the runway. Nail them there. Staple them there. Weld them there. Do not start looking at the obstacles to either side, or you are very likely to get suddenly intimate with them.
5. Let it do its thing.
From there, you have one single job: to keep the wing/canopy level while you fly in a straight line.
Not so bad, right? Calmly make the necessary inputs without overcorrecting. Let the nose point in whatever direction it needs to point.
Warning: this bit of the flight might seem pretty wiggly. Don’t let that motion distract you from maintaining your heading. Any inputs required to keep that straight-line heading will simply increase your crab angle and point your nose into the wind, slowing you down.
6. Come to a full and complete stop.
To flare in a crosswind, make a slight adjustment to your normal procedure: use moderate emphasis on the upwind brake to get into a wind-facing position. (Please note that “moderate emphasis” does not mean “full-on, panicked toggle punch.”)
7. High-five somebody.
If it’s a beach landing and you managed to drop your canopy in the saltwater, go ahead and high-five the side of your own face--but no matter what, slap that palm to something. You deserve it.
- Bit too much filler to advice ratio - personal preference only
- #4. Holding your focus -- If you ONLY look way down the 'runway' you might not notice drift that will put you into those obstacles beside you. Terrible advice. You do want to stay aware of obstacles to the side when there's a crosswind. People over-emphasize "never look at obstacles". B.S.! - If I'm swooping close to an obstacle (or just backing a car out of a driveway), I have to glance at the obstacle to check that I'm not going to hit it. But yes don't get fixated on an obstacle.
- In #5 there's a fundamental confusion over heading (direction the canopy points) and track (over the ground). It is impossible to both let the nose point where it needs to while maintaining the heading the same. (Tho' you clearly understood it in #1)
"Any inputs required to keep that straight-line heading will simply increase your crab angle and point your nose into the wind, slowing you down." --> Well, not ANY inputs, as you could angle either left or right, more into or out of wind depending on how the wind changes (gusts, turbulence, wind shadow). But yes the tendency is to crab more as one slows down. And one is slowing mainly because one is flaring at some point, not because a small heading adjustment will greatly increase the headwind component.
As far as flying in a straight line while flaring in a crosswind, a major point glossed over is that to maintain the straight line while slowing down, the amount of crab (and/or bank in a flare) will need to increase.
- #6 - The 'wind facing position' thing is unclear, although I know what you're getting at. As one slows one would need to turn more into wind. Possibly, depending on canopy traffic, some deviation from the straight line would be acceptable at the end, curving into the wind more, as one can get into a messy position of trying to run it out at an angle to one's body while crabbing across the ground. That's where a slide can be handy if one can do it.
- Good points in #1 (pilots are used to crosswinds) and #3 (your standard downwind and crosswind legs will have drifts you aren't used to, because the legs are no longer actually downwind and crosswind)
While describing crosswind landings is particularly tricky, this article misses a lot.
Once again, cute little sayings overshadow an important issue. I find myself losing focus on the topic and my mind wanders to a silly Top Gun reference or Crab Shack joke. If you want to be taken seriously, write that way. I keep reading your stuff, hoping there will be a good one, but...
I would argue that landing directly into wind *is* the best way to go.
I think you meant to say "Nobody's going to argue that landing directly into the wind *isn't* the best way to go".
More articles in this category:
- How To Land A Parachute In A Tree - by Annette O'Neil (Posted: 2016-10-25)
- The Straight and Narrow - Cross-Wind Landings - by Annette O'Neil (Posted: 2016-06-20)
- On-Point Off-Landings: A Primer - by Annette O'Neil (Posted: 2016-02-09)
- How To Land Where No One Has Landed Before (The Star Trek Trick) - by Annette O'Neil (Posted: 2015-08-18)
- Landing Pattern – Landing Approach Simulation - by Alexander Shyrokov (Posted: 2009-10-01)
- Another Look at No-Wind Landings - by Scott Miller (Posted: 2007-10-16)
- Surviving the No Wind Landing - by Brian Germain (Posted: 2007-09-05)
- Wings Level - by Skratch Garrison (Posted: 2003-10-26)