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Cross-Controlled Stalls: What You Need To Know

A cross-controlled stall close to the ground can happen if you overshoot your base-to-final turn. Here's how to prevent one from happening to you.

panhandler1956

Where's The Risk? Your Final Two Turns In The Traffic Pattern

Your risk for a cross-controlled stall is most likely to happen on your downwind-to-base and base-to-final turns.

It goes something like this: you overshoot the runway, and you start increasing your bank to get back on final. You realize that your bank is too steep, but you need to keep your airplane turning, so you decrease your bank and step on the rudder to keep your turn rate high.

The problem with a cross-controlled maneuver like this is that you're skidding your plane, and if you stall, it's very likely that you will enter an incipient spin.

If the spin fully develops this close to the ground, your chances for recovery are very low, regardless of pilot skill. There just isn't enough altitude to recover.

What Causes A Cross-Controlled Stall?

Cross-controlled stalls occur when the critical AOA is exceeded with aileron pressure applied in one direction and rudder pressure applied in the opposite direction. This causes uncoordinated flight. You'll see the ball on your turn coordinator swing to the outside of your turn and might get that "seat of your pants" feeling of falling to the side of your seat.

A skidding cross-controlled stall is most likely to occur during a poorly executed base-to-final turn when you overshoot the runway's centerline and try to correct back to centerline by increasing bank angle. While doing this, you'll be increasing back pressure on the elevator and applying rudder in the direction of the turn to bring the nose around for alignment with the runway centerline.

"The difference in lift between the inside and outside wing will increase, resulting in an unwanted increase in bank angle. At the same time, the nose of the airplane slices downward through the horizon" (FAA). Many pilots have the natural reaction to pull back on the elevator control, further increasing AOA towards your critical AOA.

Why CFIs Demonstrate Cross Controlled Stalls

A cross-controlled stall is a demonstration-only maneuver performed by a flight instructor for their students, with the exception of CFI applicants who may have to perform one on a practical test. The purpose of this maneuver is to show students the effects of uncoordinated flight on stall behavior while emphasizing the importance of maintaining coordinated flight during turns. Understanding how to recognize, prevent, and recover from a cross-coordinated stall is important for all pilots, especially at low altitudes during a base-to-final turn.

If you're a CFI planning to demonstrate a cross-controlled stall, here are some tips from the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook:

Before performing this stall, establish a safe altitude for entry and recovery in the event of a spin, and clear the area of other traffic while slowly retarding the throttle. The next step is to lower the landing gear (if equipped with retractable gear), close the throttle, and maintain altitude until the airspeed approaches the normal glide speed. To avoid the possibility of exceeding the airplane's limitations, do not extend the flaps. While the gliding attitude and airspeed are being established, the airplane should be retrimmed. Once the glide is stabilized, the airplane should be rolled into a medium-banked turn to simulate a final approach turn that overshoots the centerline of the runway.

During the turn, smoothly apply excessive rudder pressure in the direction of the turn but hold the bank constant by applying opposite aileron pressure. At the same time, increase back elevator pressure to keep the nose from lowering. All of these control pressures should be increased until the airplane stalls. When the stall occurs, recover by applying nose-down elevator pressure to reduce the AOA (angle of attack) until the stall warning has been eliminated, remove the excessive rudder input and level the wings, and apply power as needed to return to the desired flight path.


Boldmethod

Preventing + Recovering From Cross-Controlled Stalls

The best thing you can to do avoid a deadly stall like this is anticipate winds in the traffic pattern, so you maintain an appropriate distance from the runway.

On downwind, note the wind direction, and make sure you give yourself enough room for a base-to-final turn. If you overshoot the runway centerline, maintain a coordinated bank to get back on the extended centerline of the runway.

If you overshoot to the point where you don't think you can get back on centerline and restabilize your final approach, perform a go-around and try again.

Finally, if you encounter a cross-controlled stall close to the ground, your primary focus is preventing a spin. Reduce AOA until the stall warning has been eliminated. Coordinate with the rudder and level your wings as you fly out of the incipient stall.

What else do you want to learn about the aerodynamics of stalls? Give us your ideas in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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