Almost 20 years ago I helped a friend (who recently passed away from an unfortunate home accident) ferry a 1948 Stinson from Córdoba, Argentina, to Buenos Aires. We had to make several stops to refuel (while classifying them by how many dogs and cats came out to greet us), and at one of the fields the crosswind component was rather strong. I can handle just about anything thrown at me when flying a tricycle gear aircraft, and went through taildragger endorsement training in a Citabria, but it was a challenge to get this bird safely on the ground.

Thinking about that today, I thought it would be good to gather guidance from experienced taildragger drivers on what is the recommended procedure to safely land a taildragger in a crosswind.

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    $\begingroup$ Approach and touchdown should be similar. On the roll-out once rudder authority is less than side force a little more brake on the lee side might help. But it might be good to have a little patch of clear area on the windward side in case it gets turned. $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ Oh I got turned alright, but it was at the final destination. It was dark, the chart said they had runway lights, but said squat about not having enough money to buy bulbs. I darn near landed on a road next to the field. Good thing the little store at the end was open and lighted. Nothing either about a dirt runway turned to mud. 450 degree groundloop, no damage. "Another happy landing in South America!" :) $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's a good question. $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ That Stinson does have a huge fin doesn't it -- $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ Huge fin and large slab side aft CG. Definite side force imbalance issues here. Pilot should not feel bad. Rudder looks a little small too, may be a "slip turner" philosophy going on here. $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 22:23

3 Answers 3


My favoured technique in strong crosswinds, perfected in many hours of glider towing in Super Cubs, Citabrias and Pawnees, is to wheel it on tail high, wing down, and balance it like that until the speed drops enough to lower the tail, then put the tail down and plant it firmly with aft stick.

In those conditions it's desirable not to have the wing at high AOA when ground contact and especially tailwheel contact (traction) is marginal, as you get when you do a 3 point landing. By wheeling it on (wing down obviously), you get firm mainwheel contact right away, AOA is low so gusts won't pop you back into the air, and you still have air rudder authority. The technique keeps the transition from air rudder authority to tailwheel ground traction as short as possible.

Wheel landings seem difficult but are actually easier than 3 point once you learn the trick (For the trick to be revealed, send 10$ to my Paypal @...). Actually, the trick is simply that you PUSH when the main wheels are a foot or two in the air. You'll go plop and won't bounce or skip. In a crosswind, it's a little trickier because you have to push while holding a sideslip and you find yourself balanced on the one into-wind tire, with your feet and hands going a mile a minute. As you slow down the other main wheel will come down, then as soon as you slow enough to be able to plant the tailwheel without becoming airborne again, you plant the tail and full aft stick.

Also, be ready to use brake during the rollout in case rudder and tailwheel authority are both insufficient to stop a swing (this can happen on wet grass for example).

Takes some practice, but once you perfect this technique you will have much more confidence in strong X winds.

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    $\begingroup$ It's that "takes some practice" that gets me worried. 'Course, it calls for dual with a good instructor. :) $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ Best way is to find a glider club and join up to tow. Best skill honing activity you can possibly do for both landings and low speed handling in the air. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I feel another question coming... :) $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 15:07

I've seen impassioned arguments for both wheel landings and 3-point landings for taildraggers in crosswinds, depending to some extent on the specific type of aircraft involved. Most arguments favor a wheel landing, but others point out that you will have a vulnerable moment as you are decelerating and the tail is starting to lower to the ground, where your rudder authority will be poor, so it's better to keep just the aircraft in the air till it's ready to land in a 3-point attitude, and then "plant" the tail as firmly as you can.

One thing is sure, you don't want to allow ANY sideways drift at the moment of touchdown. At the moment of touchdown, the nose MUST be aligned with the direction of the runway and the aircraft MUST not be drifting sideways toward either edge of the runway. In light-to-moderate crosswinds this is best accomplished with a wing-down cross-controlled slip. In strong crosswinds a combination of wing-down slip plus some crab, with the crab "kicked out" just before touchdown, may be feasible and may be the most effective technique in some tailwheel aircraft according to some authors (source, Plourde, "The Compleat Taildragger Pilot".)

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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure I've heard the case for 3-point landings in x-winds being made by at least one Stearman (PT-17) pilot in particular $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2019 at 17:06

I don't agree with the poling forward recommended by John K above "...PUSH when the main wheels are a foot or two in the air."

One day when the lighting conditions are different or you just misjudge the height (and who has not done that) you will come a cropper. Maybe a few inches if you are a good stick and current with your 'eye in'.

As for wheel landings vs three pointers in strong crosswinds, I would go with wheelers every time unless precluded for some type specific reason. My father told me you did not wheel the Auster but he did not elaborate as to why.

Having said that, I have 100 hours or so in the Pitts S1 and have never wheeled it. My S2 instructor (the S1 is single seat) advised me that "until you have 300 hours in it, if it looks windy enough that you might have to wheel it on, just don't fly it".

He did demo one in the S2. We were going awfully fast.

This is what I recommend for the C185 which is the tailwheel type that I have the most time on.

The secrets are - Weight on both main wheels, ailerons into the wind and keeping it dead straight! The last two apply to takeoff as much as landing.

In a fully loaded C185 you need 75 kts for a good wheeler. You want to touch down tail high.

Fly it in with confidence, wings level and crabbing down the extended centreline. I forget if I used full flaps or 3/4. It was a long time ago.

With only just enough flare to avoid hitting hard, close the throttle, de-crab and lower the upwind wing enough to stop any drift all in one motion. Do not 'hold-off" - avoid any float.

The aircraft will touch down on the upwind wheel. Immediately 'press' the aeroplane firmly onto the ground, BOTH wheels. You cannot do this too quickly.

AFTER both wheels are firmly on the ground apply aileron into the wind, all of it in a 15-20 kt crosswind and keep it there.

Apply rudder and if necessary differential braking to keep dead straight. This is done by 'eye-foot' coordination as required but will usually be anti-weathercocking rudder and brake. eg With a left crosswind the aeroplane will want to turn (yaw) left into the wind. You may need all the right rudder and then some right brake as well to stop it. Show the aeroplane that YOU are the boss. Leave the into wind aileron in place.

At all costs avoid rolling along on one main wheel because the 185 will often run out of rudder and the brake you will then urgently need will not work because the wheel will be off the ground!

Let the tail come down with about neutral elevator. Certainly don’t push down elevator to delay this - forward stick will unlock the tailwheel in some types eg T6, Mustang and Winjeel.

After the tailwheel is on the ground apply back stick and continue to keep it dead straight. If the brakes are weak or nonexistent (like a stock Tiger Moth) you may need full rudder and blasts of power to prevent weathercocking.

The above technique, with variation will work for most tailwheel types. However none of the other types I have flown need as firm a 'press' onto the ground as a heavy C185; eg the T6, the Chipmunk, the Winjeel (look it up), the Tiger Moth and the C188 only need a 'check' forward after touchdown. Also some have more powerful ailerons than the 185 and you do not want to lift the downwind wheel off the ground. (or roll a Pitts into a ball!)

However it is vital that you use enough into wind aileron so that you never, ever, ever let the into wind wing lift.

In an aeroplane with powerful ailerons, be careful not to use too much if you use any on the takeoff roll and be ready to centralise instantly as you get airborne.


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