There is just something majestic about a plane on its final coming in for a landing, especially when it’s a good landing. I can spend hours watching the planes land, one after the other. Getting your RC model to land smoothly on the runway, by just getting the wheels to kiss the ground and welcoming the plane home, is one of the most rewarding things an RC pilot can achieve with their model.
Unfortunately for some, landings are one of the most challenging and stressful parts of the flying experience, couple that with a bit of a cross-wind, and things could get ugly real fast. Wind for many RC pilots is an archenemy destined to destroy all RC flying models. – That’s maybe a bit dramatic but, you get the picture. The point is, if we could have it our way, the wind would be switched off every time we go flying, which we, unfortunately, cannot do, for now at least. So, what can we do, not fly when its windy outside? The problem with that is, you’ll probably fly very little, and most of us don’t get a lot of time to fly in the first place. Another problem with that kind of thinking is, what happens when the wind starts picking up into a crosswind while you’ve got your plane already in the air? So, what then? Well we can use the wind to guide our models home, and of course, every airframe has its limits and no hurricane will guide your plane home either. First, we have to understand the problem with a crosswind. It might sound obvious, it’s a cross-wind, not a straight one, so it will blow you off course, or will it? Wind always has a direction, and what most of us do when coming in for a landing in a cross-wind is, we try to land the plane with an approach adjusted for a head-wind (see figure 1). This causes a crab-like landing, where the nose of the plane will face more into the wind, while we guide the plane on a straight path towards the runway with the rudder control. This can be a very tricky and frustrating maneuver to get right. Some pilots get so frustrated or nervous that they will force the plane to land, which most of the time ends badly.
Trying to keep your plane in-line with the runway while controlling height, glide slope, and throttle can be very overwhelming. Many pilots have mastered this “crabbing” technique, and kudos to them but, for those of us that are not comfortable with this technique there is an alternative. First, a little on the surface introduction to weathervaning (see figure 2). Weather vanning is an effect on an airplane where the nose of the plane turns into the wind without any input from the pilot, this is one of the reasons why a head-wind over the runway is so desirable for landings, it keeps the plane straight in its flight path as you come in for a landing. It can also help to slow the plane down without losing too much lift, win-win. Unfortunately, those types of weather conditions are not always available on our days of flying, and some clubs don’t have a good cross-wind runway to land on, heck some clubs don’t even have a cross-wind runway at all. Hence this tip that I’ve picked up from a fellow RC pilot at our club.
We can use the direction of the wind together with the weather-vane effect to land in a cross-wind, and here’s how this can be achieved, although there might be other ways as well, I found this to work very well. If you have a crosswind blowing from the North (see figure 3.1) from where you are standing in relation to the runway in front of you, the wind blowing on your face, line up your approach a little behind the runway and fly the plane into the wind at a 45-degree angle, more or less, towards the runway, even if the wind blows at a 90-degree angle across the runway, this method will still be easier than trying to compensate that amount with your rudder control. Once your plane is close enough to the runway to land, you can adjust the nose of the plane in-line with the runway and land your plane.
Now, if you have a wind blowing from the South (see figure 3.2) from where you are standing in relation to the runway in front of you, the wind blowing on your back, start your approach a little bit in front of the runway and basically fly the plane nose-in towards the runway at a 45-degree angle, more or less. Just like before, once the plane is close enough to the runway, adjust the plane’s nose with the rudder to straighten the plane on the runway and land. By having the plane’s nose aimed more towards the wind, it will be easier to keep the plane flying straight towards the runway, because of the weather-vane effect.
This method also works well, because you are not trying to line up the plane with the runway on approach as you are coming in for a landing, you are just flying the plane towards the runway and only correcting the plane’s nose once the plane is, more or less, above the runway, which gives you fewer things that you need to correct while your plane is on approach to land. It might sound a little easier than what it would be in real life, and to some degree, yes. But now you are armed with more than one possible way of landing your plane and it’s always good to have a backup plan, as they say, taking off is optional, landing is mandatory and this method has helped out of very tricky situations in the past and I hope it can help you too.