Wind Drift Circle


  • The wind drift circle helps pilots determine wind direction and strength (velocity), while in flight and recognize the effect of wind on the airplane's ground track
  • Typically the wind drift circle is performed as a training maneuver

All procedures here are GENERALIZED for learning.
Fly the maneuver in accordance with the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Airplane Flying Handbook, Figure 6-2. Effect of Wind During Turns
Figure 1: Airplane Flying Handbook, Effect of Wind During Turns

C-172S Procedure:

  1. Perform clearing turns looking for traffic and ground obstructions
  2. Select a reference point in an area where an emergency landing can be made if necessary
  3. Establish and maintain 100 KIAS (approx. 2200 RPM) and 1,000' AGL
  4. Enter the maneuver from any direction to the reference point
  5. Over the reference point, roll into a 30° bank and perform a 360° turn, maintaining a constant bank angle
    • Any error in AoB or coordination will have some degree of effect depending on how bad
  6. Initiate a roll-out at a point where the wings will be level when completing the turn
  7. Note any difference in position between the starting and finishing positions
  8. Determine the approximate wind direction and strength based on any differences in the starting and finishing positions
  9. Upon completion of the maneuver, resume normal cruise and trim as necessary
  10. Complete cruise checklist

Airplane Flying Handbook, Figure 6-3. Effect of Wind During Turns
Figure 2: Airplane Flying Handbook, Effect of Wind During Turns

Common Errors:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area
  • Skidding or slipping turns
  • Excessive gain or loss of altitude
  • Not entering the pylon turns into the wind
  • Failure to assume a heading that will compensate sufficiently for drift
  • Abrupt control usage

Practical Test Standards: