Is it possible to fly a plane backwards if you have a really really strong headwind? I mean when you are aloft, you have positive airspeed and airflow over the wings but you have negative ground speed.
However, note that headwind cannot cause a plane to fly backwards through the surrounding air. Constant wind does not affect airspeed.
Yes, I have done this many times in hang gliders, and at least once in a Cessna 152. In the latter case, the wind aloft was much stronger than at the ground-- it would be foolish to take off or even taxi in a ground-level wind strong enough to fly a light plane backwards.
You may enjoy this video of flight at zero groundspeed (I am not the pilot!) --
Note the lack of any obstructions that would create turbulence upwind of the glider. Also, the stable marine airmass, chilled from below by the cold ocean water, contributed to the smooth, gust-free conditions seen here. In many other situations it would be unsafe to maneuver near the ground at low airspeed in wind this strong.
Been there, done that. A poorly forecast cold front once had me flying backwards in a Cessna 172 over Altoona, IFR (instrument flight rules) at night. Center asked me several times to verify my heading. Then when it was clear to them, they asked me my intentions. I told them I had lots of fuel and could continue to wait things out for an hour or so. The winds let up in about 20 minutes.
The controller (and all the other big boys on center frequency) were kind of incredulous. The controller eventually gave me a EFC (Expect further clearance) time, which made sense.
On that trip the anemometer at Rocky Mount, NC broke at 140 mph, according to FSS (Flight service station). A secondary problem was mountain wave over the Blue Ridge mountains and to a lesser extent over Pennsylvania. That required a block airspace clearance because the updrafts exceeded my descent capability, and the downdrafts far exceeded the climb capability. There was however no problem maintaining the IFR (instrument flight rules) minimum altitudes and the MVA (minimum vectoring altitude) for center.
Indeed. When I was a child in the 1960's I was fishing at a bridge off the eastern end of Isla Grande Airport (TJIG) in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I saw a huge, dark and tall column of something turning and churning all the way at the other end of the airport, and flagged down a policeman walking his beat to tell him that I thought it was a fire. His eyes grew huge, grabbed me and ran for safety in the nearby Club Náutico marina building. It was a water spout -- a tornado coming in from San Juan Bay. I clearly remember seeing two aircraft trying to land on runway 27 and ending up flying backwards -- a PRANG Huey helo and a Cessna 172. One of them crashed somewhere else, but I don't remember which one or where. That was a sight I will never forget -- that and the one of my mom frantically looking for me because the spot where I was was now covered in zinc roofing.
At that same airport, many years later, I witnessed an Aeronca 7AC "Champ" trying to land in a strong headwind and coming to a dead hover over the water close to the runway 9 threshold. Try as he might, the pilot could not make any forward progress -- the engine was not powerful enough to develop enough airspeed. It was a very stupid landing attempt, IMO. He turned west and landed at Arecibo Airport (TJAB). Once the winds calmed he came back.
Yes, if there are really strong winds, the aircraft can fly backwards relative to the ground, but never relative to the air. This is because an aircraft always needs a minimum wind flow over its wings in order to keep flying. If it's flying backwards relative to the air, there would be 0 flow or even negative wind flow over the wing.
This can happen with a glider (sailplane) winch-launching into a strong wind. Once the glider is airborne, and up into the faster wind, the winch can be slowed to a stop, and even payed-out again. For obvious reasons, this is called 'kiting', or a 'kite launch'. Some pre-planning or radio communication between the winch driver and pilot is useful to get the maximum height out of this manoeuvre.
Is it possible to fly a plane backwards if you have really really strong headwind
Definition of "fly backward": "tail facing direction of travel".
Yes, it's possible, even with a fast plane (jet) and light headwind; easier vertically.
No. The question asks "Is it possible to fly a plane backwards...", to which the answer is no, for all conventional aircraft (those that depend on airflow over the wing). Every answer including the word "yes" then goes on to talk about motion over the ground. Why? The aircraft is flying through the air and has absolutely no relation to the ground. The question did not ask about ground motion.
For anything flying in a steady wind, there is no such thing as wind. It is impossible for the aircraft to be affected by the wind, nor for any person or device in that aircraft to detect that wind, without an external frame of reference (observing ground motion, navigation equipment, stars...). The ground is moving relative to your flight path, yes, but you're not on the ground.
In a steady wind: You are flying in still air. The still air in which you are flying, is moving over the ground.