Not everyone wants to know about how a plane flies in a crosswind, but if it adds to your fear of flying then it’s important to understand that it isn’t something that you need to worry about because dealing with crosswinds is very straightforward.


A wind is a wind, it blows from here to there.  There is no such wind that is a crosswind. There are lots of winds blowing in lots of directions but none can be called a crosswind of its own.  A wind BECOMES  a crosswind when it blows at an angle to the intended path of a plane. So if I fly from the North Pole to the South Pole and the wind is directly behind or in front of me then I suffer no crosswind at all. However under the same wind conditions, if I fly along the equator I will have the maximum crosswind affecting me. Furthermore the stronger the wind, the greater the crosswind.  


A slight wind from the pilot's right

A slight wind from the pilot’s right

In flight, going from here to there the wind directions change and so I adjust the way the plane points to ensure that the combination of the way the wind is blowing me and the direction in which I’m pointing send me in the direction I want to go. A very short flight will involve few adjustments and an intercontinental one will involve many. But it’s not a big deal because the automatic pilot does it all for me. It’s when I’m landing that it gets more complicated. Imagine a fast flowing river and a man in a rowing boat. The man in the boat offers to take you to the other side opposite where you embark. so you get in and he rows across the river. Unfortunately, he lets the current take him and you down the river and so when you reach the shore you’re a long way from where you wanted to be. Now depending upon how fast he rows, how wide the river and how fast the current is you’ll end up at a different point on the opposite bank. If he rows across a ten-mile wide river in ten seconds the current will hardly affect the point of disembarkation. If the river is 20 meters wide and he takes an hour to get across, you’ll be as far down the river as the speed of the river in miles per hour. So it all depends.

Landing in a crosswind

During the approach to land, I point the plane towards the wind sufficiently so the combination of my speed and the way I’m pointing and the effect of the wind drifting me sideways all add up to keep my flying in line with the runway. So from the cockpit, the runway looks as if it’s off to one side …it’s like a supermarket trolley with bad wheels … you point it in one direction and it goes in another. Next time just imagine it’s the wind doing that, then imagine it’s got wings then imagine you’re flying a plane and that’s it!  But of course when I put the plane on the runway “pointing sideways!” the wheels are pointing slightly across the direction of the runways. All I have to do as I touch down is move the nose along the direction of the runway and land. Simple. Except that some times we don’t do it like that sometimes we counteract the effect of the wind by flying with the wing down slightly as if to say to the wind I’m turning towards you … and all the time I do that the plane will fly straight towards the runway. (In reality, The wing being down means that the plane will slip sideways towards the downward wing, and will counter the wind.) So we touch down on one wheel with one wing down a little bit. And that’s the way the designer wants it done. From your point of view, it’ll be a bumpy landing (it isn’t, but that’s what you’ll feel), one bump, two bumps and then a third bump and then the reverse thrust noise.

  • First bump: that’s the wheel that’s supposed to touch down first.
  • Second bump: as the wheel on the other side contacts the runway.
  • Third bump: the nose wheel touching the ground.


Taking off in a crosswind

Taking off is more straightforward as we don’t have to do much until we get airborne … and then all we do is point into the wind enough to keep us traveling in line with the runway direction. If there’s a strong wind blowing the plane will act like a weather vane and try to turn into the wind so we counter that by using the rudder (the big thing sticking up at the back) to keep the plane in line with the runway. 

Funny that you never hear that a boat is subject to a cross-tide! It’s just accepted that the water in a river or in the sea isn’t always moving in the same direction that a boat wants to travel. So … if you have a fear of flying, this page about cross-winds should help you to realise that to the plane and to the pilots, it’s all very simple. Despite what you think or what you’ve been told!


Best wishes,

Captain Keith

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