Brian Riis recently wrote about situational awareness and provided many good suggestions. One of the items he mentioned was to be “wind aware”. I would like to offer some additional ideas to improve one’s wind awareness. I often fly with pilots who seem oblivious to the wind until it starts to give them a problem. Developing wind awareness will help you anticipate wind problems before they give you trouble.
As a glider pilot, I attempt to be constantly aware of the wind as it is often a fairly high percentage of my ground speed and can make the difference between landing at the airport or walking home. Power pilots have an advantage as they can overcome the wind with horsepower. But that does not lessen the need to anticipate what the wind is going to do to you. Anticipation can eliminate a lot of surprises.
Sure it’s great to get a briefing and listen to the AWOS or ATIS and recognize there will be some wind for your flight today. However it is also important to look at the wind sock as you take the active runway. Most runways have a wind sock near the active runway and that is the wind that is going to affect your take off regardless what the other sources say. Even a few knots of tailwind will greatly increase your landing or take off distance. On a marginal runway, that could be the difference between success and failure. Remember that an ATIS wind can be up to one hour old.
Enroute, having a good wind sense means monitoring the surface winds as you progress along your route by listening to the ATIS/AWOS. Why is this important? Because if your engine fails or for some other reason you have to get on the ground in a hurry, that is one step you will have out of the way.
As you approach your destination airport, you need to be observant of your progress over the ground noting apparent speed and drift, this tells you what that wind will be doing to you in the pattern. For example, the wind may be relatively calm on the ground, but there could be significant wind at pattern altitude. A tailwind on base leg usually results in a high fast final and has often been a factor in runway overruns. Understanding this early will allow you to adjust your pattern accordingly. Now, again look at the wind sock as you come down short final. That is the wind you will have to deal with on the landing.
Many now have GPS ground speed read-outs to use as another tool in the wind game. For example, if you have a ground speed that is higher than your indicated airspeed on final, you have a tailwind. That means you may either be landing with a tail wind or will be encountering some wind shear soon. Either way, good to know before it happens.
Developing a good wind awareness is just another way to stay ahead of your airplane rather than reacting after the fact.