I'm Glad I'm Not Flying That

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One of the occupational hazards of being a video editor is becoming an inevitable victim of the genius of YouTube code writers. They have absolutely figured out the art of click bait and if youíre able to resist falling into the black hole of wasting hours watching pointless videos one day, you wonít the next. The other day when I finished loading an AVweb report, this link popped up in the sidebar.† †

There are a dozen others like it, but this series of extreme crosswind takeoffs and landings was shot entirely at Birmingham, England last winter. Evidently, BHX had a record year for storms and winds because the very able photographer who shot these, identified as flugsnug, got lots of interesting examples of the genre: airliner makes harrowing landing.†Included in this is what may be the most spectacular example of edge-of-control crosswind skidding Iíve ever seen.

Scroll the video to about 7:40 and sit back and enjoy the action. Iím not sure what that airplane is. Could it be an MD-80 or -90? An S-80? I canít tell. Upon observing what happens after touchdown, Iím not so much impressed with the piloting skillóor lack thereof, if thatís the caseóbut with how well the structures guys did their work to design landing gear that can survive that kind of abuse. Perhaps the entire weight of the aircraft isnít on the mains when it slides left from right of the centerline to far left of the centerline, but the weight is somewhere. Maybe on the nosegear. (Itís not all sliding; the long lens distorts the motion, so part of itómaybe even mostómay be a forward lunge to the downwind side. Still impressive, though.)

Iíve experienced minor excursions/slides like this in light aircraft and theyíre quite sickening because there arenít any control inputs you can use to immediately correct the problem. Too bad airplanes arenít equipped with thrusters, like ships have. Of course, airliners are almost designed to make ugly crosswind landings. Because of low-slug engines, they canít sideslip into the wind, as we do in light aircraft. Thereís a high likelihood of scraping an engine nacelle or catching a wingtip. I think thatís probably true of aircraft with rear-mounted engines, too.

So the operative crosswind technique is what some light aircraft pilots use, which is to hold the centerline with a crab into the flare, then align the airplane at the last minute with rudder. (Or just let the gear and tires do itÖ) In a strong crosswind, this still sideloads the gear, because once that crab comes out, the sidewise driftóor least the momentóstarts. See an example of that at 3:50. Note, too, how the nosegear just slams down into full compression. Ouch. More kudos to the engineers; condolences to the maintainers.

Scroll the video back to 2:03 and youíll see how takeoffs in extreme crosswinds are just as hard on the airframe. As the airplane is accelerating, you can see it trying to weathervane and the only thing preventing that is tire friction and a dab of rudder. Look at the sliding and drift as the airplane gets light on the wheels and rotates. Airliners donít have the option of starting the takeoff roll at the far downwind corner the runway and taking off diagonally down the runway. That technique can at least remove some of the crosswind component and reduce the weathervaning and tendency to skid sideways. Even 15 degrees of component relief can help.

I think many of us believe that a squeaker in a crosswind is the mark of true piloting skill. Iím not so sure; I think it might just as well be luck. In an extreme crosswind, the safest thingóother than landing somewhere else where the wind is down the runwayóis to get the tires planted with the least amount of drama. The friction they provide on the runway surface imparts far more control than the control surfaces ever will. The touchdown doesnít have to be pretty; just controlled.

As an aside, Iíve seen runways with some grade and undulations, but nothing quite like Birmingham. Look at the long shot at 10:10. That pavement has more dips than the Cyclone at Coney Island.†If the first hill doesnít launch you, donít worry, there are four more.

Now that youíve burned 11 minutes watching this, take some comfort in knowing that the world as a whole has wasted nearly 120 man years looking at what the videographer, in typical Brit understatement, calls ďcrosswind difficulties.Ē

Well, hell, it beats a cat video.

Join the conversation.
Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (20)

Wow, some real cage-rattlers there. It's impressive how tough the landing gear is plus, as far as I
could tell, no tires were blown. There was a lot of wing bending going on also, those airplanes are really well built.

Posted by: Joe Sikora | June 1, 2014 1:31 PM    Report this comment

Good theme. Crosswind landings difficulties compounded by aircraft configuration. Some of the pilots needed a better understanding of crabbing and side slips. Always a challenge under steady conditions but more so under dangerously strong quarterly and gusting winds.

In some cases I noticed rapid rudder input perhaps reaching maximum load factors on the vertical stabilizer. I am aware of the limiting rudder loads and have made case presentations especially on the Airbus design. AA587 comes to mind and just recently the FAA issued a fix some eleven years after the AA587 terrible accident. Here's the story; www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2012/11/19/...rudder/1707421/

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 1, 2014 2:12 PM    Report this comment

Aw hell, crosswind builds character.

Posted by: Matthew Lee | June 1, 2014 2:58 PM    Report this comment

I've gainfully used a number of hours this way too :-). Some of those don't look like stabilised approaches... There is another guy called cargospotter with a few great videos.

One night I got sucked into the YouTube vortex and ended up watching nuclear explosions. The most popular comment on one such video was, "here I am again, lost on YouTube."

Speaking of YouTube comments ... (Written language warning)


Posted by: John Hogan | June 1, 2014 8:38 PM    Report this comment

The jet at 7:40 was an Embraer RJ.

Don't project your own GA expertise on to other forms of operation. The Boeing recommended technique in strong crosswinds is to land in a crab. Depending upon the model, this holds true in the mid twenty knot Xwind component or above. The reasons should be obvious to anyone but Berto, so someone please clue him in.

The gear is designed to take the loads, it has to be if scraping the upwind engine on the ground is to be avoided. Rats, guess Berto has been clued.

Max demonstrated crosswind on many Boeing aircraft is 40 knots, try it sometime, but do let us know so we can break out our video gear and have some snarky comments waiting.

Posted by: Max Buffet | June 2, 2014 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Many of my professional pilot friends have watched this video, and everyone of us is of the opinion that the video shows a remarkable lack of skill on the part of the pilots. Few, if any, employ any reasonable crosswind technique from what we can see. We focused on the control inputs, watching the control surfaces in looking for what we expected to see. Overall, my friends and I all feel as if we were watching pilots who were simply spectators as opposed to being in any real control of the aircraft.

Our qualifications to make such an observation? Each and every one of us has well over 10,000 hours as PIC in jet aircraft with multiple type ratings in same (Boeing, Airbus, etc.). There are those who will inevitably disagree with our assessment, but there it is. Side loads on landing are NOT acceptable to any operator or professional pilot. Landing in a crab or slip with the resultant side load causes undue structural stress on the landing gear and airframe and scrubbing the tires, which severely limits the life of those components and reduces subsequent safety limits, possibly causing an accident later on. On top of all that, there is a financial cost for it all, and such activity adds to the already considerable expense of operating those aircraft. You don't have to be an accounting genius to see what the cumulative effect of poor pilot skills have on the bottom line.

Posted by: Keith McLellan | June 2, 2014 9:31 AM    Report this comment

"The Boeing recommended technique in strong crosswinds is to land in a crab."

"Side loads on landing are NOT acceptable to any operator or professional pilot. "

Who to believe? I've seen countless videos and in-person landings of big (A320/B737 and up) jets of multiple carriers landing in strong crosswinds, and pretty much all of them land in a crab. Without lowering the upwind wing, there's always going to be a side load of some sort, and not being able to lower the wing to avoid hitting the engine nacelle on the ground, I don't see how you could avoid sideloading in any significant wind. But, perhaps I'm missing something.

In any case, it's amazing the amount of abuse modern commercial aircraft have been engineered to handle.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | June 2, 2014 10:18 AM    Report this comment

What's with all the head and hand motions going on in the cockpit from 0:31 to 0:50?
Disco dancing?

Posted by: A Richie | June 2, 2014 10:24 AM    Report this comment

Keith and his buddies aren't airline pilots flying Boeing jets, or they haven't read the flight crew training manual. Because pilots tend to be insecure (constantly condescending at everyone else is inferior), they are their own worst enemy.

Read carefully and note what is recommended at what crosswind velocity.

Posted by: Max Buffet | June 2, 2014 10:53 AM    Report this comment

The video reminds me of films of the Martin XB-26H, which was modified with tandem landing gear to test its effectiveness on their upcoming XB-48 jet bomber. The plane was named "Middle River Stump Jumper" and was put through all sorts of abusive take-offs and landings, I saw the films years ago on the old "Great Planes" TV program. I could not find it on YouTube, but the footage was pretty memorable and shows how long engineers have been working on toughening up landing gear. Incidentally, the XB-26H and XB-48 landing gear had the same arrangement as the Boeing B-47, which worked fine, and the AV-8 Harrier (also fine). When the Hawker P.1127 (Harrier ancestor) was built, ignorant detractors boasted that its landing gear arrangement would not work.

Posted by: Harold Moritz | June 2, 2014 10:58 AM    Report this comment


*** Sideslip only (zero crab) landings are not recommended with crosswind components in excess of 28 knots. This recommendation ensures adequate ground clearance and is based on maintaining adequate control margin.


*** Sideslip only (zero crab) landings are not recommended with crosswind components in excess of 25 knots. This recommendation ensures adequate ground clearance and is based on maintaining adequate control margin.

767-300 - 767-400

*** Sideslip only (zero crab) landings are not recommended with crosswind components in excess of 26 knots. This recommendation ensures adequate ground clearance and is based on maintaining adequate control margin.

Crosswind Landing Techniques

Three methods of performing crosswind landings are presented. They are the de-crab technique (with removal of crab in flare), touchdown in a crab, and the sideslip technique. Whenever a crab is maintained during a crosswind approach, offset the flight deck on the upwind side of centerline so that the main gear touches down in the center of the runway.

De-Crab During Flare

The objective of this technique is to maintain wings level throughout the approach, flare, and touchdown. On final approach, a crab angle is established with wings level to maintain the desired track. Just prior to touchdown while flaring the airplane, downwind rudder is applied to eliminate the crab and align the airplane with the runway centerline.

As rudder is applied, the upwind wing sweeps forward developing roll. Hold wings level with simultaneous application of aileron control into the wind. The touchdown is made with cross controls and both gear touching down simultaneously. Throughout the touchdown phase upwind aileron application is utilized to keep the wings level.

Touchdown In Crab

The airplane can land using crab only (zero sideslip) up to the landing crosswind guideline speeds. (See the landing crosswind guidelines table, this chapter).

On dry runways, upon touchdown the airplane tracks toward the upwind edge of the runway while de-crabbing to align with the runway. Immediate upwind aileron is needed to ensure the wings remain level while rudder is needed to track the runway centerline. The greater the amount of crab at touchdown, the larger the lateral deviation from the point of touchdown. For this reason, touchdown in a crab only condition is not recommended when landing on a dry runway in strong crosswinds.

On very slippery runways, landing the airplane using crab only reduces drift toward the downwind side at touchdown, permits rapid operation of spoilers and autobrakes because all main gears touchdown simultaneously, and may reduce pilot workload since the airplane does not have to be de-crabbed before touchdown. However, proper rudder and upwind aileron must be applied after touchdown to ensure directional control is maintained.

Posted by: Max Buffet | June 2, 2014 11:16 AM    Report this comment


Landing Crosswind Guidelines

The crosswind guidelines were derived through flight test data, engineering analysis, and flight simulator evaluations. These crosswind guidelines are based on steady wind (no gust) conditions and include all engines operating and engine inoperative. Gust effects were evaluated and tend to increase pilot workload without significantly affecting the recommended guidelines.

Sideslip only (zero crab) landings are not recommended with crosswind components in excess of 17 knots at flaps 15, 20 knots at flaps 30, or 23 knots at flaps 40. This recommendation ensures adequate ground clearance and is based on maintaining adequate control margin.

Note: Reduce sideslip only (zero crab) landing crosswinds by 2 knots for airplanes with winglets.

Posted by: Max Buffet | June 2, 2014 12:49 PM    Report this comment

If you all think those landings test the structural integrity of an airplane you should have had the chance to watch the flying circus everyday at Kai Tap airport in Hong Kong....the old airport. Nothing, no nothing, could survive some of those landings anywhere near as well as the B-747...any model. I had the privilege and enjoyment of flying into there for three years in the 400. It was the best, or worst, airshow I have ever witnessed. I've seen both the number 1 and number 4 engines on the same airplane hit the runway, start afire, and still be able to stop on the runway with no pax injuries and no further damage to the airplane. It's something one never forgets. Remember, it's probably the first time some of these pilots have ever turned the Auto Pilot off for a landing. The 50 degree turn at 500 feet to line up with the runway was excitement in the making. If you were a pilot who could fly the airplane manually...it was hoot...kinda like the River Approach into Reagan in Washington. I do miss the good old days.

Posted by: James Trosky | June 2, 2014 1:33 PM    Report this comment

I'm with those who say a lack of ability or skill is evident.
Used to operate in and out of Heathrow a lot. Certain airlines have an Autoland policy. Then when the conditions exceed Autoland limits, the pilots are making their first actual landing in months. Scary and hilarious to watch the results. Being close to the runway waiting for takeoff was often uncomfortable.
We used wing down on the DC9 which would handle horrendous crosswinds.The 727 would run out of rudder well before the (much lower) published crosswind limit was reached.
Wing down worked on the DC8 pre CFM engines. Some worried about pod strikes. A review of three years data on a fleet of 39 DC8's showed that pod strikes only happened when landing in a crab. The aircraft would swing, rock over and the downwind pod (not the upwind pod) would get dinged.
It is not that difficult to kick the aircraft straight at the last minute and land with zero side load. You just have to be skilled; something you will not be unless you land the aircraft all the time.
26000 hours from first generation jets to latest 777, Currently landing a medium turboprop on very narrow runways; try thirty feet.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | June 2, 2014 1:47 PM    Report this comment

What airline has a mandatory autoland policy?

This is the same tired argument seen all over aviation forums. Only the poster knows how to fly (who never demonstrated his crosswind skills in the conditions in the sample video), everyone else is an unskilled buffoon, especially if they didn't start flying in biplanes before WWII.

Some of the jets listed will hit the engine nacelle in bank angles as low as eight degrees. Experience in some other jet doesn't necessarily translate. I also would submit that most airline pilots haven't actually landed in 40 knot crosswinds since Boeing and the airlines only recently adopted the higher limits.

Pilots are their own worse enemy precisely because they project their own circumstances onto situations that don't apply. Different limits, different procedures, different equipment ought to result in a certain level of reticence.

Posted by: Max Buffet | June 2, 2014 3:28 PM    Report this comment

The aircraft in question at 7:40 is an ERJ-145EP of British Midland Regional.

Posted by: Robert Wilmoth | June 2, 2014 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for that aircraft ident, Robert. I couldn't place it from the angle it was shot.

And by the way, I'm not implying lack of skill here. That's for others to judge. I am merely observing what a beating the gear and tires take.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 3, 2014 2:40 AM    Report this comment

My old primary flight instructor was especially sensitive about his students landing with sideloads on the gear or using the brakes excessively. As the FBO's resident A&P and handyman, he said "You mess it up and then I have to fix it, so DON'T do that!" It was an extra incentive to learn proper technique.

A few years ago I got the chance to drive our Chevy Suburban up on the high banked turns of Charlotte Motor Speedway (they let you do that at the Christmas Festival). As I was getting up rather high on the turn and realizing I wasn't going quite fast enough, it dawned in me that the inside wheel bearings were taking some pretty heavy sideloads and then from out of nowhere I heard my old instructor barking at me again! Something about old dogs and old tricks...you never forget them.

Posted by: A Richie | June 3, 2014 8:42 AM    Report this comment

I think the guest blogger ran out of fuel. So...Bad landings, wind being a factor or not, applying recommended procedure or not, especially like the ones depicted in the referenced video, are costly and dangerous. When one tire is damaged both on the dual type assembly need be replaced. So say, in a B737, that the cost for two tires amount to $5,000 plus labor and downtime. Who's paying for this? Add the burden to the to the fare price? Or perhaps investing it in better pilot training including better decision making is a better option. I would think that really bad landings can bend or break something and add to the operating cost more than just the cost of a go-around, as an example. What we have here is a combination of negatives including the orientation of the runway at Birmingham (BHX) during the winter months. Someone should do something about this. There!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 3, 2014 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Idunno Paul, I'm more impressed with the structural design strength demonstrated around 9:00 - I've made a couple of ugly crosswind landings in light singles, but I don't think I ever had the gear touch pavement with the nose pointed 45-degrees off the centerline.

That poor airframe...

Posted by: Michael Graziano | June 4, 2014 4:17 PM    Report this comment

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