As you get closer to the ground, shift your focus from your touchdown point to the horizon and continue to make corrections to align the longitudinal axis of the airplane with the centerline of the runway. If you have full rudder deflection and are still unable to align the airplane, you should go around and try the landing again or head to an airport with more favorable wind conditions. If you attempt a landing without being properly aligned, you will side-load the landing gear and risk damaging the airplane or having an accident.
With strong winds, it is quite likely that you’ll touch down on one wheel — the upwind wheel — if you’re using the sideslip technique. But landing on one wheel shouldn’t alarm you. As long as your power is idle and your speed slow, the second wheel will soon follow. And the need to apply wind correction doesn’t stop just because the wheels have touched the ground. Referencing common pilot errors, Stewart said: “As soon as [the pilots] touch down, although they’ve had that sideslip going, they now relax the ailerons back to neutral and they forget that they have to continue to deflect them more and more.” So once you’re on the ground, get your ailerons into the wind and keep working the rudders to maintain a straight track down the runway until you’ve slowed the airplane sufficiently to safely taxi to your parking spot.
Crosswind landing technique with a taildragger is identical, but the repercussions of a side-loaded landing are greater. Once the wheels are on the ground, you need to make very quick, timely corrections with the rudder pedals, while keeping the ailerons into the wind, to maintain a straight ground track. If you don’t, there is a great chance that the airplane will groundloop. In a groundloop, the tailwheel quickly swings around the center of gravity of the airplane, and in the worst-case scenario this could lead to a cartwheel.
Practice Makes Perfect
Crosswind conditions do increase risk, so if you are uncomfortable with crosswind landings, I highly recommend going out with an experienced instructor who can teach you how it’s done right. If the wind direction is straight down the runway at your home base, hope that there is an airport nearby that has crossing runways. At an airport with multiple runways, you always have the option of practicing crosswind techniques no matter which direction the wind is blowing.
To practice the sideslip technique, have your instructor guide you through a low approach, preferably over a long runway, where you track above the centerline at 20 to 30 feet agl. This will get you used to applying the necessary aileron and rudder input. Play around with different control inputs and allow the airplane to drift side to side. This type of practice is helpful even if you don’t have a crosswind to learn what the outside picture looks like when the longitudinal axis is properly aligned with the centerline of the runway — knowledge critical to a successful crosswind landing.
After practicing crosswind techniques, you should have an idea of what your personal limits are and use them to make a go/no-go decision. I limit most of my students to a 7-knot crosswind component, but this figure will vary greatly with your level of experience. And while I landed safely in San Felipe, I would never intentionally get myself in a 25-knot crosswind in a taildragger.
If you arrive at an airport with stronger than expected crosswinds, don’t get discouraged unless the winds are truly extreme. Attempt a crosswind approach and, if you run out of rudder authority or don’t feel comfortable attempting the landing, go around and land somewhere else. The day you get stuck with no options, as I did in Mexico, you’ll be thankful for every time you’ve challenged yourself with crosswind practice.
Watch our video on how to perfect crosswind landings here.