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Home > Flying the Plane > Will a strong headwind make the plane lift off earlier?
Will a strong headwind make the plane lift off earlier?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 09:23

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Dear Captain Lim,

Thank you for all the articles you have written here in your site and in AirAsia Travel 3Sixty segment. I have always found your explanations very clear and really appreciate reading every one of your articles.

I read in your article "Winds Beneath Your Wings"  which mentioned that a strong headwind will help the aircraft take off faster.

Could I ask how this is so, I am assuming the aircraft during take-off with an opposing headwind, would only cause it to take a longer time to reach the rotation speed, wouldn't it?

Thank you for taking time to answer this question

Sean

Hi Sean,

During a take-off, a headwind is an advantage as it causes the airflow over the wings to increase, hence generating more lift for the plane to take off. Additionally, the take-off distance is reduced.

For example, on an Airbus A330, a 10-knots headwind on a warm day with a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius would rotate at higher speed and carry more load than a 10-knot tailwind would. This would translate into getting the plane off the ground earlier as the effective runway distance is considerably reduced.

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frequent flier perspective
Captain Lim is right but understanding the physics of the problem.

Pretend you are the plane, you take off without a breeze and it takes you 5000 feet to lift off at 200 kph - you are probably a 757-200.smilies/smiley.gif Now standing still with a 20 kph wind in your face, you feel like you are going 20 kph without even moving. So it will take you less time and distance to get to 200 kph (since you only need 180 kph to take off now, 180 kph + 20 kph = 200 kph). The extra wind doesn't add any extra drag since you the plane have to get to that speed anyway. With a 20 mph wind in your back, you get pushed forward and have to make up that wind so you need to reach 220 kph (220 kph - 20 kph = 200 kph take off speed), which will take you much longer.
Kevin , 17 Sep, 2013
Gusts are the problem
If the wind is constant, it's ok.
However, if the wind is gusting, we should be careful.
Rotating at a speed which takes in consideration the head wind is dangerous when the wind is gusting.
Suppose the rotation speed is 150knots and we have a head wind of 30knots. If we rotate at 120knots we are counting on the wind to get 120+30=150, and if the wind suddenly stops, you'll be back to 120knots immediately what is not enough to produce lift for rotation. If the plane is already off the ground it's gonna fall for lack of lift at 120knots.
If my rotation speed is 150knots and I have a head wind of 30 knots I would rotate at 180knots for safety as we can never be sure that the wind will keep blowing and I wouldn't rely on the wind.
Is that right, Captain?
Carlos Roberto Abreu Moreira , 01 Apr, 2015

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