Flying isn’t a contest, so why should your instructor ask you to fly a rectangular course, perform coordinated S-turns, or make even turns around a point? Because these are skills you will use when flying, especially when flying an airport pattern with a wind.
Wind can help you get to your destination or make it more difficult. In most cases, it simply wants to blow you off course. You want to go straight ahead toward your destination and it wants to push you to one side. What’s the solution?
Learning to deal with the unseen wind might seem like a lose-lose situation, but it isn’t. Once you actually “see” the wind and visualize how it will impact your flight you can make adjustments to diffuse much of its power. In fact, a tailwind (one from behind your aircraft) can increase your speed over the ground.
How can you see the unseen wind? By looking for telltale signs. It’s relatively easy at airports because you’ll see windsocks and other devices that show you the wind’s direction at ground level. You want to take advantage of the wind there and fly into the wind, if possible, so that it will let you set down at a lower ground speed. But even up in the air you can quickly learn how to read the wind by looking at factory smoke, large trees, or the wind across the water. In addition, weather forecasts (what will happen soon) and weather reports (what’s happening now or recently) will give you a good idea what the wind is probably doing.
The easiest way to compensate for wind is to pick a point on the horizon or at least 10 miles away and fly toward it, compensating for crosswinds by pointing the nose of the plane a little off to one side of the target. You might not be pointed at the target but if your angle is correct, you will be traveling toward it. This maneuver is called crabbing, and the correction angle you are holding is called the crab angle. There are other ways, including using an E6B computer to set a course heading that compensates for wind direction. However, winds change and by the time you use the computer you might be off course, so first learn how to visually adjust for wind.
During your practical test you must show the examiner that you can perform various ground-reference maneuvers while maintaining an altitude within 100 ft. of the starting altitude and airspeed within 10 knots.
Ground-reference maneuvers are practice maneuvers that require you to control the aircraft over a pattern on the ground. Their purpose is to help you develop control skills, especially in relation to winds from various directions. GRMs you will practice include rectangular course, S-turns, turns around a point, and others.
"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
-- Andre Gide