Monday, September 22, 2008

Bush Pilot Tips (1st of 7): Wind

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett

One of the difficulties in bush flying is telling which way the wind is blowing. Wind is important to a bush pilot for many reasons.

A plane needs to land into the wind and take off into the wind. If a plane takes off with a tail wind it may not get the lift required to become airborne. Just recently a plane leaving Shannon’s pond tried to take off with a tail wind, a little over weight, and did not clear the trees at the end of the runway, luckily no one was killed.

There are only a few brave pilots who fly year round. Bush pilots normally own one plane and charter flights to remote villages, for example Van Air, Bay Air, and Shannon's Air. Steve is a pilot who flies year around for the larger Penair. He is one of the pilots who have been flying me around since I lost my engine.


In an emergency landing a bush pilot needs to quickly determine the direction of the wind in order to extend the glide length of the airplane. Most people do not realize that single engine airplanes can glide without power. The length of an un-powered airplane glide distance depends on how high the aircraft is when the engine fails and the wind. If the plane is flying into the wind the glide length will be longer and the pilot has more time to locate a safe place to land.

When flying in the Alaskan bush there are not many indications to tell the pilot which way the wind is blowing. Out in the middle of the tundra there are no flags on top of buildings, no dust, or plastic bags blowing down the highway. Some of the small villages do not have windsocks.

Views from the cockpit render little indication of wind direction while bush flying.


So just how does a bush pilot determine which way the wind is blowing? One of the easiest ways to tell wind direction is by looking at the water. There is only one catch, this only works when the Alaskan lakes are not frozen up.

The late Father James Kelly showed me how to read the wind on the water. He said there was normally a flat glassy space on one side of a lake. The other side had ripples going all the way to the edge.

Here are a few pictures of what the wind looks like to an Alaskan bush pilot flying around in the tundra.


Here the wind is blowing from the bottom of the picture to the top.


Notice the slick/glassy water on the bottom.


Two more good examples of wind direction.