Ian Twombly

Headwinds, headwinds, and more headwinds

May 25, 2010 by Ian J. Twombly, Associate Editor

Last weekend I flew my wife and our young son from our home base in Frederick, Maryland, to Cross City, Florida in an A-36 Bonanza. We left Friday after work and planned to take the day Monday to travel back. A weather system coming from the west meant an unplanned overnight on Friday in Savannah. It also meant headwinds the entire way down.

Monday morning was beautiful for our departure from Florida, and the weather briefer said so long as we stayed inland in the Carolinas, we’d be fine. “Great,” my wife said. “We’ll have a tailwind, right?” If only. I had hope after takeoff passing through 5,000 feet when the groundspeed read fairly close to true airspeed. But above 7,000 feet, where the ride was smoother, the headwind was an agonizing 20 knots. Over an hour or two, that’s no big deal. Over four hours, it was frustrating.

I had time over the long flight to consider how often I get headwinds, and I swear it’s more than 50 percent of the time. Now, I realize that’s like saying you get all the red lights, but in my case, I think it’s true. There are more flights than I care to remember when I had a headwind both coming and going. So from this flight on, I’m going to track it in my logbook.

But I’m thinking others must have done this. How’s your headwind/tailwind record? And for sake of consistency, I’m talking about where you’re flying to go somewhere, not just out to the practice area.

4 Responses to “Headwinds, headwinds, and more headwinds”

  1. freds Says:

    Turbo arrow trip from Seattle to Boston Maine. 10.6 hours eastbound at 19K, 21 hours for the return (counting cows in North Dakota and Montana).

  2. Finbar Sheehy Says:


    Your perception is correct. On average you should spend more time fighting headwinds than enjoying tailwinds, because the headwind legs take longer.

    If you fly at 100kt into a 20kt headwind for 100nm, it will take you 1.25 hours.
    Fly the 100nm back, with a 20kt tailwind, and it will take you 0.833 hours.

    Observe that:
    1) You are back where you started, but the winds didn’t average out. The round trip took 2.0833 hours, not 2.0000 hours – an extra 5 minutes of flight time over the no-wind condition. Headwinds hurt more than tailwinds help.

    2) You spent 60% of your flight time fighting a headwind, and only 40% enjoying a tailwind.

    So you are right. You have a bad headwind/tailwind record. So do we all!

  3. Ian Twombly Says:

    Good observations Finbar, and absolutely correct. But aside from the issue of the headwind acting on us longer, doesn’t it seem like on a leg-by-leg basis, we get more headwinds than tailwinds? I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten a tailwind in both directions of a trip, for example. But I’ve had a headwind both directions many times.

  4. Jeff Frey Says:

    You would think that on a round trip that they would average out and you would at least get tailwinds 50% of the time. Like you though it seems like I’m always fighting a headwind. Last month on a family trip to Myrtle Beach we had a headwind down and then coming back about a 25 knot headwind to deal with.

    This weekend we flew from Delaware to Michigan though and had a small tailwind. Not bad for a trip heading west. Usually I’m only getting around 100 knots ground speed across the mountains heading west in my Archer and I was actually getting around 125 knots. Hopefully the wind shifts by tomorrow morning so I can have a tailwind for the return trip.

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