From Where the Wind Blows ....

by Sam Swift

No, not the novel by James Patterson. We are discussing today one of the fickle middle fingers of atmospheric conditions known as the crosswind. Oh my, not the crosswind! I can't fly today then. I'll just clean the plane a little, straighten up the hangar, rearrange the lounge chairs, and maybe grab a cup o' Joe down at the FBO. Chances are, if you are out flying your plane this time of year, in most parts of the country you are dealing with the occasional winter wind. Surprisingly, they aren't always aligned with your runway. Oh my! Remember how good you used to be with the crosswind? What happened? You had those skills, where did they go? Most pilots associate their crosswind fears on landing, but often forgotten or ignored are the issues presented on a takeoff with a howling wind, and these should be far more concerning.


OK, quick answer without thinking ... on a takeoff, from what direction is the most undesirable crosswind? Left? Right? Doesn't matter? Hopefully, if you've been flying tailwheel aircraft for any length of time you're tailwheel instructor should have hammered it in, but if not then hopefully experience should have taught you that a crosswind from the LEFT is the most undesirable. The bigger the engine, the worse it gets. The stronger the wind, the worse it gets. No steerable tailwheel, the worse it gets. Narrow runway? Don't screw up! People watching? Don't screw up! As my friend and World Record holder, Bruce Bohannon, always reminds others, "An audience will get you hurt."

My Swift, N3760K, is a good example of one that has poor [left] crosswind performance. I have the Continental IO-360 (210hp) and a full-castering (non-steerable) tailwheel. With a direct 12 knot crosswind from the left, if I slam the power to it on takeoff (I know, not recommended) it will head to the weeds and try to depart the runway. At that point, the only way to correct it is to drag a little right brake until the rudder is effective, or reduce power. Obviously, that's poor pilot technique in that example, but you get the drift (pun intended). A better solution would have been a slow application of power until the rudder becomes effective, bring the tail up (slowly), increase airspeed and fly off. Sounds simple, right? If your Swift has a steerable tailwheel (heaven!) you can keep the plane straight with rudder-pedal steering until the rudder has sufficient airflow to keep the plane straight, then smoothly bring the tail up. Remember gyroscopic precession? If not, you soon will if you suddenly "push" the nose over for takeoff and the plane yaws to the left.

All of the four major turning tendencies (torque, P-factor, spiraling slipstream, and gyroscopic precession) are the ones everyone knows, but don't forget to add the left crosswind to the list. On a takeoff all of the "four" tendencies require right rudder to compensate, but if you add a stiff left crosswind (or gust) you could find yourself in a position where you don't have sufficient rudder to remain aligned. The unpopular solution if there is a stiff left crosswind is to simply takeoff in the other direction. Put that left crosswind on the right side. You'll probably find that a stout RIGHT crosswind will nearly eliminate the need to compensate for the other four left turning tendencies. The result is a nice, straight takeoff. Even in a stock Swift with lower horsepower, the slight additional takeoff distance shouldn't be a problem. You might even make up for some of the loss with the straighter run! If at a towered airport (Class B, C, or D) you can always invoke the "Operational Necessity" card and they will comply.


The landing regime cannot be forgotten. While not as much of a "left versus right" issue since the power is low, a crosswind on landing can be nerve-wracking, right? We've all learned that flying slow isn't really the best solution to arm-wrestle a crosswind. As a review, "most" of us wheel land our Swifts regardless of the wind, and this is certainly the desirable way to land in a crosswind. The additional airspeed provided gives up better opportunity to have airflow over the control surfaces that will enable us to align the plane with the centerline. Flying a slow, 3-pt attitude simply won't afford you the crosswind-ability that a wheel-landing will. This isn't a Pitts. It's like Bob Hoover said to the P-51 guys at Oshkosh several years ago, (paraphrasing) "Yes, a Mustang can be 3-pointed, but in the war those doing it were 20 years old and flying/landing several times per day. Wheel land your Mustang and take care of it.' Like the P-51, the Swift is terribly unforgiving of a bad 3-point landing.

Flying a slightly faster approach (add half the wind speed to your "normal" approach speed), align the plane with the runway with aileron into the wind, and downwind rudder to keep the nose pointed down the runway. Touch down on the upwind tire and ease off the power. A sudden "chopping" of the power can cause airflow loss and loss of directional control. Be smooth. Get your technique down before you go into the short strips.

For those with the ability to stop your flaps somewhere between UP and FULL, you can also use a reduced flap setting for landing. With our Swifts, we are not blessed with unlimited airframes from which to rob parts, or a great storehouse of new parts inventory when we bend up our planes. The onus is ours to be good stewards of our machines, to pass on to others the gift of Swift flying and preserve these machines as long as safely possible. As airframes get wrecked, it gets harder and harder. Please stay safe, strive to maintain and improve your proficiency.