As you may have imagined by the title, today’s blog is going to be all about flying a more precise VFR traffic pattern allowing for a much better approach to land. Traffic patterns are basic maneuvers used on controlled and uncontrolled airports to provide sequencing for yourself and other aircraft to land safely. Understanding each and every leg of the traffic pattern is very important. The traffic pattern consists of four legs and when drawn out on a map will show a rectangle. This pattern must be flown accordingly while taking wind direction and other aircraft into consideration, especially at uncontrolled airports. Airports that are located in Golf or Echo airspace, otherwise known as uncontrolled airspace, list the pattern direction for each Runway (Left or Right Traffic) and it is up to the pilot to make an appropriate entry. Most uncontrolled airfields have a left traffic pattern unless specifically stated in the AFD (Airport Field Directory). Now, hopefully some of the people reading my blogs have a little bit of experience and understand how the patterns work, but I will explain them as best I can to hopefully provide a simpler overall picture. Of course, I will be referencing a traffic pattern for piston single-engine, more specifically, the Cessna 172 or 152.
For example, we will use a controlled airfield (Flying Cloud Airport) and walkthrough some tips and tricks that I found to help me out greatly. The four legs of the traffic pattern are:
- The Upwind leg (This leg is easiest to remember since you are flying into the wind when you takeoff). I like to start my turn after taking off right around 400 feet AGL so that I get a bit of distance from the runway, while also leaving myself enough room to climb up to the pattern altitude and get setup to land.
- The Crosswind leg (Right around 400 feet AGL, you should start initiating a 90 degree turn to either the left or right depending on which pattern you are flying.) A helpful trick I learned to make sure that your turns are perfect right angles is to look out the back window on the upwind leg to verify that you are still straight-out from the Runway, then pick a spot that you think is close to 90 degrees on the horizon, followed by initiating a gentle standard-rate turn until you reach your point.
- The Downwind leg (This is the leg that is generally entered when arriving at an uncontrolled airfield, and also should be the point in your traffic pattern where you reach the pattern altitude for the field) The best way to figure out how far to bring the crosswind leg out from the field is by looking at the runway behind you and give yourself about 3/4 mile distance before turning to your downwind leg. Once established on the downwind leg, referencing the active runway, fly parallel to it until you are abeam the numbers or threshold before starting the descent and introducing the flaps or carburetor heat if required.
- The Base leg (After starting your descent and maintaining about 400 feet per minute rate, pick a point that you feel will set you up for one final turn while also taking the final approach distance in mind so that in a perfect world, you will intercept the PAPI Lights (These are lights that tell pilots by giving four white lights indicating too high, and four red lights indicating too low, with two white and two red being right on glideslope.) Once you turn onto your base leg, keep a 90 degree angle between the aircraft and the runway while keeping wind in mind as you will most likely be turning “into” the wind and might not have to bank as quickly as it appears. Most people tend to turn into the final approach course too early and end up coming in at a slight angle instead of holding the centerline right after the turn levels out.
- Finally, the Final leg (Upon reaching this leg, the aircraft should be configured to land and at the Vref airspeed, or the airspeed recommended for a controlled descent while following the PAPI approach lights all the way down to the numbers.)
****Base to Final turns are the most deadly part of a traffic pattern as the aircraft tends to get slowed up due to a dirty configuration (flaps down), and a cautious eye on the power setting and altitude must be maintained at all times to avoid getting close to the stall speed which could potentially result in a low altitude spin.****
Nobody flies airplanes exactly alike, so each and every individual develop their own process towards performing a traffic pattern, but I figured I would at least explain how I fly my patterns and achieve near-perfect rectangles when I look at the track log on Foreflight. Please let me know if there are any important steps that you guys use when flying different legs of the traffic pattern and what allowed you to improve greatly in doing so.
I would like to dedicate this article to my readers and say thank you for reading my blog. Please look forwards to more blogs coming throughout this week. Sincerely, I appreciate each and every like and share that I get and would personally like to thank everybody in supporting these posts. Of course, these posts do take time and I have fun while I do them, so please leave any suggestions or questions you may have in the comments and I will be sure to personally respond to each and every one of them.
As always ladies and gentlemen, blue skies and calm winds for all.
Check out http://www.airnav.com to reference any charts or airport diagrams such as the ones used in my blogs!
If you enjoyed reading this blog and are interested in reading similar posts, visit http://www.globalair.com for aviation related articles and products!
If anybody is interested in becoming a pilot or have the desire to go for a first-time flight, I highly recommend Inflight Pilot Training, located at the Elliott Aviation FBO at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, MN! Check out their website for more information or to schedule a flight at http://www.inflightpilottraining.com