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How do wind conditions affect flight?

Article published
4.5.2017 at 06:00
What kind of winds do pilots wish for? Can wind be dangerous during a flight? Read up on the facts.

Wind is one of the main elements that affect an aircraft’s flight. But how exactly do winds affect flying? Here are a few basic facts.

1. Headwind is preferred for takeoff and landing

Headwind is wind blowing towards the aircraft. Pilots prefer to land and take off in headwind because it increases the lift. In headwind, a lower ground speed and a shorter run is needed for the plane to become airborne. Landing into the wind has the same advantages: It uses less runway, and ground speed is lower at touchdown.

Crosswinds and tailwinds are more difficult, and therefore aircraft have maximum limits for both, depending on the plane, the airport and the conditions on the runway. If winds exceed those limits, the plane will not attempt takeoff or landing.

2. Winds are taken into consideration in flight planning

Flight planning is done based on weather conditions and winds are a major factor in picking the most suitable flight plan.

Tailwinds make travel faster and save fuel.

During flight, winds have an effect on the plane’s speed, so they must be taken into consideration if the aircraft wants to stay on schedule. For instance, tailwinds make travel faster and save fuel, while headwinds have the opposite effect.

3. Winds by themselves are rarely the cause of accidents

The most troublesome wind conditions for pilots are gusts of wind that change direction quickly. One of the most dangerous wind phenomena, in fact, is wind shear, where there is a sudden change in headwind or tailwind resulting in changes in the lift to the aircraft. Pilots are, however, especially trained on how to take corrective action to ensure safety in the presence of significant wind shear.

Though difficult wind conditions are mentioned as a factor in half of aviation accidents, strong winds alone do not cause accidents. Other risk factors are involved. The number of wind-related accidents has also declined over the years.

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People & Aviation