October 19, 2012
The wind is blowing pretty hard as you head out to preflight your trainer for a local solo practice session. That’s evident from the most recent aviation routine weather report (METAR), and from the erratic behavior of the windsock. It’s also an unexpected development, as the terminal forecast hinted at no such condition.
Already, training has taught you to accept such surprises as normal. Now the task is to assess the current conditions and decide whether they still meet your standards for flying. If so, how will you adjust your technique?
Checking the newest METAR, you verify that the surface wind speed is within the limits authorized for your solo flights, and that the crosswind component is also acceptable.
The peak gusts being reported, on the other hand, have been nudging both limits. And there’s an additional factor: After the wind value, there is a letter V, followed by more numbers.
That small alphanumeric cluster contains some critical information about the wind: “If the winds are gusting, the letter ‘G’ follows the wind speed (G26). After the letter ‘G,’ the peak gust recorded is provided,” explains Chapter 12 of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. “If the wind varies more than 60 degrees and the wind speed is greater than six knots, a separate group of numbers, separated by a ‘V,’ will indicate the extremes of the wind directions.”
Taxiing out, it is imperative to position the controls appropriately for the wind conditions; remember to adjust the deflections each time you change direction, as when turning onto a taxiway or into the runup area. Running up into the wind, if possible, is good practice, especially under windy conditions.
Takeoff will call for specialized technique that gets you airborne with maximum control effectiveness, while giving the gusts the respect they deserve.
Remember that gusts and variable wind directions hint at generally turbulent conditions, so tighten your seatbelt and make extra certain that your seat is locked into its position. Keep tabs on the wind reports while airborne so that for landing you can adjust your approach airspeed for the current gust factor.
Stay alert! Pilots not ready to handle wind gusts frequently get into trouble.
How frequently? Here’s a rough measure: Using the word gust as a search term of National Transportation Safety Board accident summaries produced 3,013 “hits.”
A revised and updated version of Kas Thomas’ book, Fly the Engine, is back in print and available in hard copy or e-book from Aircraft Spruce. The book covers all phases of engine operation and discusses how to spot engine discrepancies on preflight; how to start a hot, cold, or flooded engine; and how to troubleshoot a rough runup, among many other topics. The hard-cover version is $32.55; the e-book version is $34.95. Order online or call 877/477-7423.
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Question: What flight time am I required to log per the federal aviation regulations?
Answer: Most pilots like to log every second they possibly can; however, after many thousands of hours you might come to a point when the only flight time you want to record is that which is required by the regulations. FAR 61.51 states that you must log in a reliable manner the aeronautical training and experience used to meet the requirements for a certificate or rating, or the recent flight experience requirements. Any other logged flight time is up to you, whether you put pen and ink to paper or finger to keyboard or touchscreen.
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