As a pre-solo student, I turned up at the airport one morning for a lesson on a day that was a bit windy. I don’t recall what the winds were, but they were probably above 10 knots. My instructor took a look at the winds and canceled our flight. “You wouldn’t learn anything,” he said.
What he meant was that the newish sensations of an airplane moving around in reaction to strong, gusty winds would be daunting for a pre-solo student, and he was absolutely right. I’d likely have spent the entire lesson reacting to and then overcorrecting the movements of the airplane, and wouldn’t have retained anything we were trying to accomplish. He did me and my wallet a favor that day. We spent the hour in ground school.
Later, of course, as I got a few more hours under my belt, we launched in breezy conditions. Even then–even though I knew what to expect, because we’d briefed it–I felt unprepared for the way the airplane seemed to rock and roll without control inputs from me. It was unnerving and uncomfortable. It was a little scary.
I asked a colleague–a CFI–if it was normal to feel this way, or was I being a baby? She could have laughed, but she didn’t. She took the question seriously and told me to think about the airplane as if it were a boat, reacting to the movement of the water that surrounds it. This helped–a little. Hours of flight time and more exposure to winds helped too.
If we wait until it’s absolutely calm to fly every flight, we’ll stay on the ground a lot. Pilots who live in Oklahoma and Texas, where the winds seem to be a fact of life, get acclimated to them very quickly. Others may not. I’ve seen many new pilots confess they’re still uncomfortable with the way the airplane feels when it bobs around. Are they being babies? No, but when the discomfort remains and starts to interfere with the learning process, that’s when you need an intervention.
If something’s bothering you in the cockpit, don’t let it get the better of you. Tell your CFI, or a pilot friend, and get a second point of view. Schedule a flight lesson to tackle that particular issue. If the fear and anxiety start to outweigh the reward, and we don’t do anything about it, we might be tempted to give it up. And that would be a shame. There are nice days ahead, beautiful days just beckoning you to take to the sky. Don’t let a little wind stop you from enjoying them.–Jill Tallman