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Ask the editor: Whither the wind?

Question: How can I improve my recognition of wind direction as I am approaching an airport, before I can see the windsock?

The wind sock gives a clear indication of wind strength and direction, but it’s not your only source of wind information when approaching an airport.
The wind sock gives a clear indication of wind strength and direction, but it’s not your only source of wind information when approaching an airport.

Answer: As I’m approaching an airport for landing I take these steps to determine wind and the appropriate landing runway:

  1. I listen to the AWOS/ASOS/ATIS. Although these tools are helpful, they shouldn’t be one’s conclusive source of wind speed and direction as they can be wrong or misleading.
  2. I look up the weather at my destination airport and surrounding airports on my electronic flight bag. This is a great tool for situational awareness, but again is not 100-percent reliable.
  3. I overfly the airfield and look for the windsock. If you can’t find it (which can happen), you can make a call on the CTAF to ask if anyone on the ground at your destination can advise on wind speed, direction, and the active runway.
  4. If none of this helps, or I know I’m flying into an airport without a convenient windsock, I will look for large American flags at least 10 miles out as I approach the airport. These large flags are most commonly found at locations such as shopping malls, auto dealerships, office complexes, and municipal buildings. They are large enough to provide a good sense of wind direction, speed, and gust factor.
  5. I will also look for any smoke rising from the terrain to provide clues to wind direction. This can come from smokestacks, controlled burns, even dust trailing farm vehicles.
  6. Finally, I can get a pretty good sense of the wind in the traffic pattern. Is your groundspeed slower than normal on downwind? You may be setting up to land with a tailwind. Do you have to crab to stay aligned with the runway? That will provide a clue to the crosswind component. What happens on base leg? Does it take a long time to get to the turn to final or did you get blown through final? These are great clues to wind direction and speed. On final, again, are you crabbing one direction or another to remain aligned with the runway? That will tell you your crosswind component. Does it feel like your groundspeed is faster than normal? If so, you may have a tailwind component.
Alyssa J. Miller

Kollin Stagnito

Vice President of Publications/Editor
Vice President of Publications/Editor Kollin Stagnito is a commercial pilot, advanced and instrument ground instructor and a certificated remote pilot. He owns a 1947 Cessna 140.

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