Sunday, December 10, 2006

Airport Explanation

I've had a couple questions from family about airports and runways. For example, how can there by a "Runway 32" if there aren't 31 other runways?

So I took a satellite photo of the airport in Gaithersburg where I fly out of, and I superimposed the GPS track from my last flight over the photo of the airport. As you might remember from elementary or junior high school, we divide the compass into 360 degrees. North is 0 degrees, East is 90, South is 180, West is 270, and North is also 360 degrees. When we're flying, we generally talk about the direction we're headed. So if we're headed East, then our heading is 90 degrees.

The runway at Gaithersburg is oriented roughly Northwest to Southeast. More specifically, if you stand at the Southeast end and look down the runway, the direction you're facing is Northwest, or about 320 degrees. If you stand at the other end and look down the runway, the Southeast direction you're facing is about 140 degrees. For aviation purposes, we just remove the zero at the end, so if you're taking off or landing in a northwest direction on the runway, you're on Runway 32. If you're taking off or landing in a southeast direction, you're on Runway 14.

In my experience, the wind in Gaithersburg is usually blowing from the Northwest. Assuming that's the case, and since we always try to take off into the wind, we start at the Southeast end of the runway and roll toward the Northwest as we accelerate until we're moving fast enough to fly. That's Runway 32.

We also land into the wind, so as I'm coming in to land, I'm flying Northwest, about 320 degrees on the compass, and I'm landing on Runway 32.


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