Where is the Wind?

Every month I’m like a child at Christmas anxiously awaiting my new copy of “Flight Training” magazine. http://flighttraining.aopa.org/magazine As soon as I open it I like to quickly scan cover to cover to see what highlights catch my eyes. Then I will start back over on page one intensely taking in every story.

Today as I was reading the latest issue I came across the story “Phantom Wind, correcting for what’s not there” by Joe Wilbur. He starts by telling a story of early in his flight career when he encountered the “Phantom Wind”. Joe and his instructor Paul were on their way back to the airport from a time of training and dialed in AWOS for the current conditions. Joe noted a seven knot crosswind and immediately mentally prepared which direction the ailerons and rudders would need to be held to stay aligned with the center line. On final he has everything in place the only problem……nothing is working. The plane was all over the place, eventually landing very hard, way off to the side , and partially sideways. After throttling back up they went around to try it again with the same results. Well even though that sounds like a lot of our first landings that was not Joes problem that day. The instructor Paul, sensing his frustration calmly said “ You need to stop correcting for wind that’s not there.” The AWOS was wrong.

As I read this article I drifted back to a time I myself landed with the same out come. One spring morning we departed RWY 19 and headed out to the south to practice a few maneuvers. It was late morning when we returned to do a few landings. My instructor wanted me to set up for a 0 flap landing. Everything seem to be PTS, so I thought. On final my Cessna just would not land. At this point even my instructor had not caught the fact that the wind had changed directions. I called a balked landing and went around. The second time around was much like the first but this time I treated it like an emergency landing and put her down. It wasn’t pretty but I did land it fairly quick. I taxied off the runway and it was at that point I saw the smoke stacks at a power plant in the distance and knew my problem. I called on the CTAF to change runways, taxied back on, went back through the pattern and this time it truly was PTS.

By acknowledging the AWOS is man made just like the aircraft we are in, we should always remember to not completely rely on any one source of information. We can get a world of knowledge just by the way our airplane is flying. Developing a strong situational awareness we can cross check wind just like we cross check gages. Know you surroundings, know your limitations.

Tommy Eldridge
Private Pilot Insider

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