Gusty Crosswinds at Skagit Regional

Skagit Regional Airport (KBVS) near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is a scenic gateway to the San Juan Islands and, in the early spring, a hub for sight-seeing flights over the area’s famous tulip fields.

On this day in early January 2023, however, the airport, which lies at the end of gap in the mountains to the east and near a bay that opens into Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, showed why it’s also a good destination when you want to practice crosswind landings.

Join me as I fly a VFR practice RNAV (GPS) approach to runway 11 with gusty winds out of the northeast.

Crosswind Takeoffs and Landings

Even with a brisk crosswind blowing across the runway, many pilots are reluctant (or neglect) to use all of the available flight controls during crosswind takeoffs and landings.

As the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook explains:

The technique used during the initial takeoff roll in a crosswind is generally the same as the technique used in a normal takeoff roll, except that the pilot must apply aileron pressure into the crosswind. This raises the aileron on the upwind wing, imposing a downward force on the wing to counteract the lifting force of the crosswind; and thus preventing the wing from rising…

While taxiing into takeoff position, it is essential that the pilot check the windsock and other wind direction indicators for the presence of a crosswind. If a crosswind is present, the pilot should apply full aileron pressure into the wind while beginning the takeoff roll. The pilot should maintain this control position, as the airplane accelerates, and until the ailerons become effective in maneuvering the airplane about its longitudinal axis. As the ailerons become effective, the pilot will feel an increase in pressure on the aileron control. (6-6)

Here’s a short video that shows this technique in action. During a recent coast-to-coast flight in my Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, I departed Portland, ME (KPWM) with a strong crosswind from the right.

The goal while landing, as described in the FAA Private Pilot ACS is to:

Touch down at a proper pitch attitude with minimum sink rate, no side drift, and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with the center of the runway. (Task IV. Takeoffs, Landings, and Go-Arounds)

When landing with a crosswind, you must also apply and hold aileron inputs into the wind while using rudder and elevator pressures to track the centerline, keep the aircraft aligned with the runway, and touch down in the proper pitch attitude.

Here are two short videos from the same trip that show this technique in action, first at Bradford, PA (KBFD) and then at Nashua, NH (KASH).

A Gusty Crosswind Landing at KBFD

I have been flying the A36 Bonanza on another coast-to-coast trek to work with the crew at Pilot Workshops. On such long xc flights, you often must deal with challenging conditions, and such was the case when I landed at Bradford, PA (KBFD) for fuel (video below). I had been flying directly into strong headwinds the entire day (unusual when traveling eastbound) as I tracked just north of a strong low-pressure system.

The gusty, shifting winds at KBFD were generally 30-40 degrees off any of the available runways, so with the help of the information in ForeFlight, I chose runway 14 and wrestled my way to the ground.

The wide, sturdy landing gear of the Bonanza handles crosswinds well (the max demonstrated xwind component is 17 knots).

A Busy, Blustery Day at Boeing Field

Even on a windy, bumpy Sunday afternoon, Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle can be a busy place.

I wanted to get some practice wrestling with crosswinds, so I took a short hop to nearby Bremerton, WA (KPWT) and then back to KBFI. Bremerton wasn’t busy. The wind there was 20-30 degrees off the runway heading and gusting to about 30 knots.

I was surprised on the return to KBFI, however, to find that the tower frequency was hopping. As you can hear in the first video above, one controller was working the two parallel runways on separate frequencies, herding a mix of VFR and IFR traffic, single-engine pistons and jets, helicopters and amphibs.

The wind at KBFI wasn’t quite as strong and it was more closely aligned with the runway, but Boeing Field lies in a valley, and the wind strength and direction often change dramatically as you descend to traffic pattern altitude and then to the runway.

Enjoy the ride. More flying videos at my YouTube channel: BruceAirFlying.