Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

20 Tips For The Pattern


Flying the circuit is fairly cut-and-dried, right? Not necessarily.


It's a corollary to one of the most popular mantras instructors have been preaching for years: A good landing is nearly always the result of a good approach.

In a similar sense, a good approach is directly related to having flown a proper pattern. If you enter the circuit properly, fly in appropriate sequence to other traffic and maintain the proper speed, chances are you'll be primed for a smooth touchdown. To that end, we offer another of our "Top 20" stories.

1 Pattern entries can fall into two categories: those for uncontrolled airports and procedures for controlled approaches. Uncontrolled airports often publish recommended methods for entering the pattern, and you should obviously follow those whenever possible. If there's no published entry route and no apparent sensitive areas that you can see, enter on a 45-degree angle to the downwind with speed no more than 40% above stall. Twins may need to use 50% above Vmc to maintain a comfortable margin.

2 When entering any pattern, controlled or not, always do so with strobes and landing light(s) on, day or night. Even if the weather is CAVU, lights help make your airplane more visible to other traffic. If you fly with one of the new generation of Xenon landing lights, such as the LoPresti Boom Beam, you'll greatly enhance your chances of being spotted by other traffic, and that makes everyone's job easier.

3 At controlled airports, the pattern may be locked in stone unless the controller deems it otherwise. Twins may be required to fly a higher pattern and sometimes even directed to a different runway. Controllers will most often keep traffic flowing smoothly, partially because they're familiar with landmarks you may not know and can expedite your landing. Controllers definitely aren't the enemy. If you examine the airport chart in advance, fly the published legs and follow the controllers' advice, they'll very likely keep you out of trouble. Remember, however, that controllers do make mistakes, so double-check any direction you're given.

4 If you're flying a retractable, extend the gear on the 45 and attend to the prelanding checklist. In other words, perform the full GUMP check: turn on the fuel pump, assure that the fuel selector is on the proper tank (but don't switch at the last minute unless the tank in use is low), turn on the aforementioned lights, double-check your altimeter, adjust the mixture for the elevation and advance the prop for a possible go-around. Throwing the wheels to the wind will help you decelerate to pattern speed. Plan to be at pattern altitude when you make the turn onto the downwind. If you must deviate in altitude, do so on the high side. Better to be slightly high than low when you're close to the ground, but remember, other pilots won't be expecting traffic above them. They'll anticipate that everyone will be at the same level.




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