Crosswind Takeoff

While it is usually preferable to take off directly into the wind whenever possible or practical, there are many instances when circumstances or judgment indicate otherwise. Therefore, the pilot must be familiar with the principles and techniques involved in crosswind takeoffs, as well as those for normal takeoffs. A crosswind affects the airplane during takeoff much as it does during taxiing. With this in mind, the pilot should be aware that the technique used for crosswind correction during takeoffs closely parallels the crosswind correction techniques used for taxiing.

 

Takeoff Roll

The technique used during the initial takeoff roll in a crosswind is generally the same as the technique used in a normal takeoff roll, except that the pilot must apply aileron pressure into the crosswind. This raises the aileron on the upwind wing, imposing a downward force on the wing to counteract the lifting force of the crosswind; and thus preventing the wing from rising. The pilot must remember that since the ailerons and rudder are deflected, drag will increase; therefore, less initial takeoff performance should be expected until the airplane is wings-level in coordinated flight in the climb.

While taxiing into takeoff position, it is essential that the pilot check the windsock and other wind direction indicators for the presence of a crosswind. If a crosswind is present, the pilot should apply full aileron pressure into the wind while beginning the takeoff roll. The pilot should maintain this control position, as the airplane accelerates, until the ailerons become effective in maneuvering the airplane about its longitudinal axis. As the ailerons become effective, the pilot will feel an increase in pressure on the aileron control.

While holding aileron pressure into the wind, the pilot should use the rudder to maintain a straight takeoff path. [Figure 5-4] Since the airplane tends to weathervane into the wind while on the ground, the pilot will typically apply downwind rudder pressure. When the pilot increases power for takeoff, the resulting P-factor causes the airplane to yaw to the left. While this yaw may be sufficient to counteract the airplane’s tendency to weathervane into the wind in a crosswind to the right, it may aggravate this tendency in a crosswind to the left. In any case, the pilot should apply rudder pressure in the appropriate direction to keep the airplane rolling straight down the runway.

Figure 5-4. Crosswind roll and takeoff climb.

Figure 5-4. Crosswind roll and takeoff climb. [click image to enlarge]

As the forward speed of the airplane increases, the pilot should only apply enough aileron pressure to keep the airplane laterally aligned with the runway centerline. The rudders keep the airplane pointed parallel with the runway centerline, while the ailerons keep the airplane laterally aligned with the centerline. The crosswind component effect will not completely vanish; therefore, the pilot must maintain some aileron pressure throughout the takeoff roll to keep the crosswind from raising the upwind wing. If the upwind wing rises, the amount of wing surface exposed to the crosswind will increase, which may cause the airplane to “skip.” [Figure 5-5]

Figure 5-5. Crosswind effect.

Figure 5-5. Crosswind effect.

This “skipping” is usually indicated by a series of very small bounces caused by the airplane attempting to fly and then settling back onto the runway. During these bounces, the crosswind also tends to move the airplane sideways, and these bounces develop into side-skipping. This side-skipping imposes severe side stresses on the landing gear and may result in structural failure.

During a crosswind takeoff roll, it is important that the pilot hold sufficient aileron pressure into the wind not only to keep the upwind wing from rising but to hold that wing down so that the airplane sideslips into the wind enough to counteract drift immediately after lift-off.

 

Lift-Off

As the nose-wheel raises off of the runway, the pilot should hold aileron pressure into the wind. This may cause the downwind wing to rise and the downwind main wheel to lift off the runway first, with the remainder of the takeoff roll being made on that one main wheel. This is acceptable and is preferable to side-skipping.

If a significant crosswind exists, the pilot should hold the main wheels on the ground slightly longer than in a normal takeoff so that a smooth but very definite lift-off can be made. This allows the airplane to leave the ground under more positive control and helps it remain airborne while the pilot establishes the proper amount of wind correction. More importantly, this procedure avoids imposing excessive side-loads on the landing gear and prevents possible damage that would result from the airplane settling back to the runway while drifting.

As both main wheels leave the runway, the airplane begins to drift sideways with the wind as ground friction is no longer a factor in preventing lateral movement. To minimize this lateral movement and to keep the upwind wing from rising, the pilot must establish and maintain the proper amount of crosswind correction prior to lift-off by applying aileron pressure into the wind. The pilot must also apply rudder pressure, as needed, to prevent weathervaning.

Initial Climb

If a proper crosswind correction is applied, the aircraft will maintain alignment with the runway while accelerating to takeoff speed and then maintain that alignment once airborne. As takeoff acceleration occurs, the efficiency of the up-aileron will increase with aircraft speed causing the upwind wing to produce greater downward force and, as a result, counteract the effect of the crosswind. The yoke, having been initially turned into the wind, can be relaxed to the extent necessary to keep the aircraft aligned with the runway. As the aircraft becomes flyable and airborne, the wing that is upwind will have a tendency to be lower relative the other wing requiring simultaneous rudder input to maintain runway alignment. This will initially result in the aircraft to sideslip. However, as the aircraft establishes its climb, the nose should be turned into the wind to offset the crosswind, wings brought to level, and rudder input adjusted to maintain runway alignment (crabbing). [Figure 5-6]

Figure 5-6. Crosswind climb flightpath.

Figure 5-6. Crosswind climb flightpath.

Firm and positive use of the rudder may be required to keep the airplane pointed down the runway or parallel to the centerline. Unlike landing, the runway alignment (staying over the runway and its extended centerline) is paramount to keeping the aircraft parallel to the centerline. The pilot must then apply rudder pressure firmly and aggressively to keep the airplane headed straight down the runway. However, because the force of a crosswind may vary markedly within a few hundred feet of the ground, the pilot should check the ground track frequently and adjust the wind correction angle, as necessary. The remainder of the climb technique is the same used for normal takeoffs and climbs.

The most common errors made while performing crosswind takeoffs include the following:

  • Failure to review AFM/POH performance and charts prior to takeoff.
  • Failure to adequately clear the area prior to taxiing onto the active runway.
  • Using less than full aileron pressure into the wind initially on the takeoff roll.
  • Mechanical use of aileron control rather than judging lateral position of airplane on runway from visual clues and applying sufficient aileron to keep airplane centered laterally on runway.
  • Side-skipping due to improper aileron application.
  • Inadequate rudder control to maintain airplane parallel to centerline and pointed straight ahead in alignment with visual references.
  • Excessive aileron input in the latter stage of the takeoff roll resulting in a steep bank into the wind at lift-off.
  • Inadequate drift correction after lift-off.