Crabbing: The Crosswind Landing

Have you ever heard of crabbing? No not the act of trying to catch crabs, but the art of the crosswind landing? It’s an amazing feat that every pilot has to learn how to do at some point or another—and earns a rank among the trickiest landings out there. Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like. (You can ignore the sensational tone of the of the video title. Crabbing is nothing out of the ordinary for most pilots.)

A crosswind landing is needed when the winds do not align with the runway. For example, when the winds are blowing west to east on a runway that goes north to south. As you can imagine, getting buffeted from the sides by winds requires a little change in tack.

Enter: Crabbing.

For starters, the pilot needs to get a bit of extra speed to cut through the wind. Using a crosswind component chart, pilots can calculate how much speed they need to add per knot of wind blowing their way. After a pilot has a solid idea of the right amount of thrust, they make small changes here and there to compensate for changes in the wind.

crosswind-component-chart

Crosswind Component Chart via SWAviator.com

As the pilot gets closer and closer to the runway, things get trickier. The crosswinds push the plane away from the runway, requiring the pilot to steer into the wind to offset the drift. That’s why the planes in the above video look so odd as they’re landing. They’re poised to work around the wind.

From there, it’s a matter of adjusting the ailerons and the rudder, to finely adjust the plane’s roll and yaw, respectively. Then, one set of landing gears will make contact with the ground first, followed shortly by the other one, resulting in a jarring sensation as if the plane is landing wrong. Of course, it’s all part of the plan.

Today’s technology and pilot expertise means that crosswind landings happen less often, and when they do they’re safer than ever. So the next time you see a plane land at an angle, no reason to panic—that plane is just crabbing.

For some more crosswind landings, I recommend taking a look at this video. (Notice how the title just mentions crosswind landings and spares us any of the dramatic “near-crash verbiage”.)

Thanks for reading.

BELAL EL-ATARI