Day 37 - Lesson 18

Circuits in crosswind

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Saturday 27th February 2016

I went solo for the first time four weeks ago, since then my lesson has been cancelled every weekend because of poor weather. Today it’s finally good enough to go flying again, but there’s a strong crosswind, so the landings will be more difficult. The last time I did circuits with a crosswind was in lesson 13 last October where I was taught the “Crab Method of Crosswind Landing”, which is where the approach is flown with the aeroplane turned into wind and then “kicked straight” just before touching down.

Today I would be using runway 09 and flying right-hand circuits (you can read about runway numbers and circuit directions in my lesson 10 post). I taxied to the runway and was given permission to backtrack, this is where you go the wrong way along the runway before turning around so you have more runway to take off on.

As I am flying a small aeroplane and Bristol has such a long runway I only needed to backtrack part of the runway. Derek said that really we should always use all of the runway; but for expediency we don’t backtrack right to the end. If we had an engine failure on take off then we might be able to land back on the runway if we’d started from the end, but if we start half way down then there might not be enough runway left to land after an engine failure and we’d have to do a forced landing in a field somewhere. The most useless thing in aviation is runway behind you!


Derek reminds me that when taking off in a crosswind I should turn the aileron into wind, so I turn slightly left, apply full power and take off. As I climb to circuit height ATC ask me to “keep it tight” to allow for commercial traffic. My approach is okay, but the crosswind makes it hard to stay on the extended runway centre line. As I come in for the landing I reduce the throttle to idle, pull the nose up to start flaring and kick straight, landing fairly well. That was hard work, but I’m glad I did well.

On the second circuit I have to orbit at the end of the downwind leg while commercial traffic comes and goes. The wind is much stronger than at any other time I remember orbiting and it keeps blowing me off course, I have to continually correct my position by flying oblong orbits. Soon I’m given landing clearance and touch down with a landing Derek decrees as “not bad”. But I’m finding it incredibly difficult to account for the wind, flare, kick straight and land in such a short time frame.

On the third landing Derek suggests using just two stages of flap, rather than the full three I have been using, as it can be easier to control the aeroplane in a crosswind with less flap. It didn’t seem to help though and I forgot to kick straight and ended up landing at an angle.

The fourth approach was pretty ropey as I wasn’t flying along the extended runway centre line. The actual landing was awful. I let my speed reduce too much, I struggled to keep the wings level, rounded out too high and kicked straight while 10-15 feet above the runway, which meant the wind blew me off track. I tried to get back on the centre line, but didn’t feel in control of the plane and touched down hard. On reflection, I should have aborted the landing and performed a go around.

I struggled again to remain on the extended runway centre on the next approach and loose too much height, so Derek takes the controls to try and help me understand what it feels like to make gentle adjustments as we come in to land. The wind picks up right as Derek’s flaring but he corrects for this with tiny adjustments and touches down smoothly.

My sixth approach is much better and I remain on the centre line and manage my hight correctly. But it all starts to go wrong at the final stages of landing and I again round out too high, which takes me perilously close to stalling and I forget to kick straight again. Rather than gently pulling back as I come in to land I’m panicking, something Derek says most students struggle with. On the last landing he coaches me through the flare and I touch down a bit more gently than previous times, and in roughly the right direction.

Flying today has been really hard. It was only an hour in the air, but I felt thoroughly fatigued afterwards. I am hopeful for a better lesson tomorrow, and perhaps some time flying solo. But with the winds expected to be the same as today that could be a struggle.