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Effect of Wind on Navigation (Part One)

by Flight Learnings

in Navigation

The preceding discussion explained how to measure a true course on the aeronautical chart and how to make corrections for variation and deviation, but one important factor has not been considered—wind. As discussed in the study of the atmosphere, wind is a mass of air moving over the surface of the Earth in a definite direction. When the wind is blowing from the north at 25 knots, it simply means that air is moving southward over the Earth’s surface at the rate of 25 NM in 1 hour.

Under these conditions, any inert object free from contact with the Earth is carried 25 NM southward in 1 hour. This effect becomes apparent when such things as clouds, dust, and toy balloons are observed being blown along by the wind. Obviously, an aircraft flying within the moving mass of air is similarly affected. Even though the aircraft does not float freely with the wind, it moves through the air at the same time the air is moving over the ground, thus is affected by wind. Consequently, at the end of 1 hour of flight, the aircraft is in a position which results from a combination of the following two motions:

  • Movement of the air mass in reference to the ground
  • Forward movement of the aircraft through the air mass

Actually, these two motions are independent. It makes no difference whether the mass of air through which the aircraft is flying is moving or is stationary. A pilot flying in a 70- knot gale would be totally unaware of any wind (except for possible turbulence) unless the ground were observed. In reference to the ground, however, the aircraft would appear to fly faster with a tailwind or slower with a headwind, or to drift right or left with a crosswind.

As shown in Figure 15-13, an aircraft flying eastward at an airspeed of 120 knots in still air has a groundspeed (GS) exactly the same—120 knots. If the mass of air is moving eastward at 20 knots, the airspeed of the aircraft is not affected, but the progress of the aircraft over the ground is 120 plus 20, or a GS of 140 knots. On the other hand, if the mass of air is moving westward at 20 knots, the airspeed of the aircraft remains the same, but GS becomes 120 minus 20, or 100 knots.

Figure 15-13. Motion of the air affects the speed with which aircraft move over the Earth’s surface. Airspeed, the rate at which an aircraft moves through the air, is not affected by air motion.

Figure 15-13. Motion of the air affects the speed with which aircraft move over the Earth’s surface. Airspeed, the rate at which an aircraft moves through the air, is not affected by air motion.

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