What Is Wind?
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Home > Articles & Tips Index > Flying > What is Wind?

[Courtesy of Scobie Puchtler, scobie "at" seanet.com, May 2000]

> My first question is just how much wind is too much wind for HLG > in the 12oz > range ?

Matt somehow caught me feeling particularly long winded this evening so consider yourselves warned. The delete key is not hard to find!

Wind is the word we use, when standing on the ground, to describe air in motion.

Air in motion is most often pretty complicated stuff. Not always. Sometimes air in motion is 'laminar' although the words 'smooth'or 'creamy' might do a better job of describing the smooth consistent feel of that laminar air that we get when we interact with it using a sufficiently sensitive flying toy such as a radio controlled hlg. But most of the time things are a bit more stirred up.

This propensity of air to be complicated, non laminar, turbulent, of course also makes wind full of the same complex variety, and unless you're sure that the wind you are in is truly smooth, then noticing or describing only the SPEED of the wind is insufficient when making decisions about it, such as how much of it might bee 'too much wind' for an HLG.

After years in the high-tech kite industry, I know when a kite flyer is getting serious, because they start to describe wind in terms far more than just its speed. When my business partner, Mark, who is arguably one of the best two-line sport kite fliers on the planet, describes wind, he'll often use at least three criteria. He might say on a given day that the wind was silky, about 6mph, and dense. In this description, which happens, by the way, to be a great set of conditions for flying sport kites, speed is key, but the wind's texture and density of the air are also being noticed and valued because they have real effect. On another day, Mark might just say: "AARGH, cottage cheese!", because that's his word for wind that's so chopped up and chaotic that it's useless almost regardless of speed.

Of course, now I say the part that is often frustrating to people. All the above only goes to show that there is no absolute about the windspeed, and when it will or won't shut down flying your hlg. I could show you 12mph conditions that you'd still have fun in, and 8mph conditions that would make flying almost impossible. You are clearly learning alot with your hlg, and you make some great observations.

> I find even a little over a slight breeze really raises havoc,

As I've noted above, it sure CAN raise havoc, but it also deserves further thought. Think about the overall physical conditions at your flying site. What is the wind flowing over and around? What is the source of the wind on a given day? Will wind above a certain speed EVER be smooth and creamy at that site? or will it ALWAYS be problematic? Also, if you're really interested in these issues, you may come to really value a good wind meter. You won't need it forever, because once you've owned it for a while, and especially if you're disciplined about testing your own best-guesses against it, you'll get good enough at judging wind that you'll always have a sense of wind speed, and without even thinking hard, you'll be able to describe any wind much more specifically than 'a little over a slight breeze'

> but does test > piloting skills.

Another great observation. No question that wind, especially less than perfectly laminar wind, really tests pilot skills, but this too merits exploration. If it tests pilot skills, then it's probably improving pilot skills as well. A great frisbee guru of mine had a mantra whenever we were playing in wind: "if you can learn to have fun in the wind with a frisbee, then you can have fun anywhere..." Very zen, I know, but it adds weight to the argument that flying in difficult conditions can really teach you, especially if you have a chance to understand how and why the conditions are difficult. Of course this means that a more skilled pilot can fly in more difficult conditions more successfully, and perhaps have more fun.

> As of yet most of my flight have been right at dusk so no thermals yet.

This is another observation that shows that you're already a student of thermal activity. It is important to distinguish thermal conditions from choppy, cottage cheese air. While good thermal conditions might make for bumpy air, the reverse is definitely NOT true. There is plenty of bumpy, chaotic, non-laminar 'wind' out there that has no component of useful lift, and clearly you have flown in some of it, at least some of the time! Though here again, the most skilled pilots can make air that seems useless still serve them with lift, by reacting so sensitively to the chop, that they seem to be able to eek out a lift advantage in air that would simply feel impossibly disappointing to a less honed pilot.

I personally love to fly in air that isn't super challenging, and has a lot of 'lift reward' component, but any time I find myself in less than ideal conditions, I still fly at least for a while and try to take my medicine by learning what I can from the not so great air. Every now and then I get surprised and really learn something new, but at the very least it keeps the turbulent-landing and fast-reaction abilities in shape.

If you've gotten this far without hitting delete, then you deserve some good strong clean


Scobie in Seattle


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