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March 3, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Into the Wind: Of Airplanes, Ducks and Movies

Any pilot knows the significance of the term “into the wind.” Do you?

The key to getting an aircraft off the ground and keeping it in the sky is to create a flow of air across the airplane’s wing. In addition to an engine, one of the most efficient ways to do this is to point the aircraft into the wind thereby increasing flow over the wing without additional thrust from the aircraft itself. Taking off and landing into the wind is something every pilot knows how to exploit.

An aircraft carrier will turn into the wind to provide as much assistance as possible to aircraft as they're launched and recovered. Photo: Wikipedia

And you would be right to say, “But a jet engine can generate so much thrust, who cares about an extra 10mph?” (Or knots, as those in aviation prefer.) True enough: 10mph for a commercial airliner doesn’t matter too much. However, with the price of gas inching higher every day, every little bit helps. Plus, it’s not always a 10mph wind down the runway — it’s often much higher.

Runway placement is not left to chance. Detailed studies consider predominant wind directions (among other things) before construction begins. Image: Wikipedia

What about smaller airplanes? A small-engined, single-prop airplane needs all the help it can get! Taking off into the wind, in some cases, may be the difference between getting off the ground and remaining on terra firma. What about even smaller aircraft? Gliders, ultralights, paragliders and even birds are dependent on favorable winds to assist with not only takeoffs but landings, as well. Anything that puts more wind over (and under) the wing will increase lift and help overcome weight. This, as they say, is a good thing.

Ask any bird and he'll tell you taking off into the wind is best. Image: Wikipedia

And so it was no accident that the creators of the  movie, “Into the Wind, the Sport of Powered Paragliding,” chose its title.  Pilots of paragliders and powered paragliders — or PPGs — typically launch their craft by foot; taking advantage of the wind is a no-brainer. Launching into the wind can save precious steps by reducing the amount of time it takes to launch a human and 80 pounds of gear into the air (unlike paragliders, powered paragliders have an engine to provide thrust once in the air). This is especially poignant in higher elevations where powered and non-powered paragliding is popular. The thinner air in higher locations results in air that is less dense than air in lower elevations, which results in less air across the wing and less air density to carry the glider aloft.

Increased airflow over the wing, all other things being equal, results in increased lift. Image: Wikipedia

It was also no accident that I happened to pick the movie “Into the Wind” as the example I cited above. With full disclosure in mind, I must say that “Into the Wind, the Sport of Powered Paragliding” is a movie I narrated and co-wrote in 2005. The movie has won awards at film festivals and lead to a direct invitation to a film festival in Moscow where ITW came home with “Honorable Mention” honors. ITW has also been shown on several PBS stations from Alaska to Texas and, as I write this, final plans are being made for the premiere of “Into the Wind 2, the Adventure Continues” at Houston’s internationally acclaimed Worldfest International Film Festival next month, as well as a private screening the week before. Once again, I am the narrator and co-writer. In fact, the first burning of 1,000 shrink-wrapped DVDs arrived just yesterday and are being readied for sale. It’s an exciting time for those of us in the “Into the Wind” family!

“Into the Wind, the Sport of Powered Paragliding” features three PPG pilots and their flying adventures — two just learning to fly (the movie follows them from their initial instruction to their first solo flight), and a third experienced pilot and his flying adventures across the country. “Into the Wind 2, the Adventure Continues” picks up the spirit of adventure and excitement with additional flying scenes shot across not only the U.S. but over Moscow, as well. An interesting fact about powered paragliding in Russia: It’s illegal. The only legal flying performed in Russia is done by commercial and military pilots. Fortunately, Russian aviation authorities tend to ignore the small PPG community. It was comforting knowledge as I found myself 2,500 feet over Moscow — one of the few people, and certainly one of the very few Americans, to experience such a terror joy.

Want to learn more about the basics of flight?

And here’s a dash of self-promotion, the movie trailer from “Into the Wind II, the Adventure Continues…

"Into the Wind II, the Adventure Continues" will have its world premiere next month at the Worldfest Houston International Film Festival. Image: Page One Productions

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