Departing from a short field is an important skill for any pilot. There is a standard procedure to follow and plenty of factors to consider.
The procedure to depart from a short field can be found in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the aircraft. However, it will go something like the following for most light aircraft. Continue reading “Short Field Takeoff”
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No airport is officially declared to be a short field because a field that might be short for a 747 could be very long for a Piper Cub. Every airplane is different. Continue reading “What is a short field?”
The previous posts about traffic patterns have assumed that you are operating at a non-towered field. This is because at a non-towered field, you are the controller along with any other pilots in the pattern. This post will deal with the pattern but leave the bulk of the details about towered communications out. Look for towered communication details in another post.
Towered operations follow the same pattern concepts with some exceptions. The biggest difference at a towered field is obviously communication. You don’t announce your position as you fly around the pattern. Instead, you make contact with the tower and they will give you directions to fly.
You will rarely fly a complete pattern at a towered field and rarely use the 45. Instead, the controller will decide where you will enter the pattern.
For example, if you are approaching Lancaster, PA (KLNS) on a heading of 090 to the airport and runway 8 is active you will likely be told to maneuver for the straight-in for runway 8. This does NOT mean that you should fly around the class D airspace and enter on a 45 for downwind runway 8. It DOES mean that you should turn to the right and line up on a long final for runway 8 (no downwind or base leg at all).
If you are coming from the opposite side of the field you will likely be asked to enter left (or right) downwind. Again, you will not fly a 45. The only way you would fly a 45 is if you happened to be coming from a direction where the 45 would be. But in this case it is not called a 45, you will just be asked to enter downwind.
Remember that the purpose of the complete pattern at a non-towered field is to help pilots control the airspace by flying in expected ways. At a towered field the controller is handling this and will give you instructions to get you to the runway relativley quickly.
As I will say again and again: if you aren’t sure,just ask.
They may also ask you to report a position. For example, they may say “Cessna 12345 report 5 mile final runway 8”. When you are on final 5 miles from the runway you would say “Lancaster Tower, Cessna 12345 5 mile final runway 8”.
From there the controller will usually clear you to land.
Note that when the controller tells you to report, he is also telling you to enter. So in the example above you are expected to maneuver to final. You are NOT expected to fly around the field and get on a downwind. The only exception would be if you are already on a downwind or base, in which case the controller will usually handle this by saying “Cessna 12345, enter left downwind runway 8, report base turn.” Notice that you have been told how to enter and then how to report.
Another common reporting point is “Cessna 12345, report 3 mile base runway 8”. There are a lot of conflicting opinions about what this actually means.
Some people believe that you should fly a base leg leading to a 3 mile final and report right before you would need to turn final. This seems like the least plausible meaning to me.
Others believe it means that you should fly a long base leg and report when you are 3 miles from turning final. This seems more likely and is what I would actually do in most situations.
Here is the real deal. The controller is not ready to clear you to land so he is telling you to report this point as a way to help him manage the traffic. When you report you are reminding the controller to deal with you. He has chosen a report that hopefully will be a good time to clear you for landing. So as long as you are somewhere in the base leg area and roughly 3 miles from the airport he will be happy. Still, I would love to see an official technical definition from the FAA for this.
The overall point of towered traffic patterns is to go where you are told and listen closely. The controller is managing the flow of traffic and you just need to help him to do his job. If you don’t understand what you need to do, just ask and the controller will be happy to help. Controllers are people like you and me, try not to get intimidated if you are new to flying.
Controllers are professionals, but they can make mistakes, so keep listening and looking for traffic. If the controller tells you to do something that looks unsafe, get clarification. If you are told to do something that you can’t do, say “unable”. It is your responsibility to accept commands given by the controller and turn them down if they aren’t going to work.
The trim wheel is a very helpful tool that makes flying a lot more relaxing. Without it you would be forced to hold the yoke pressure almost all the time while flying around.
On most small airplanes the trim works by moving a trim tab, which is a small control surface usually mounted on the elevator surface itself. This trim tab “flies” the elevator.
See the image above, when the trim tab is deflected downwards it pushes air downwards, which has an equal and opposite reaction creating a force that pushes it up. As it rises it lifts the whole elevator along with it.
As the elevator rises it pushes a lot of air up which causes a downward force on the tail. We experience a downward force on the tail as the aircraft pitching up.
How to think about trim
Do not try to think of trim in terms of up and down while flying. Trim is much simpler if you think of it in terms of forward and back. When you are pulling back on the yoke and holding back pressure, you can roll the trim wheel back to relieve that pressure.
Conversely, if you are holding forward pressure, roll the trim wheel forward and you will feel that pressure decrease.
This is the proper way to use the trim. Control the pitch of the plane with the yoke, and then relieve the pressure with the trim.
How to fly with trim
When flying you should make adjustments to pitch with the yoke because it is more responsive and easier to actively control. Once you have made a change and you are consistently holding pressure then roll the trim wheel to take the pressure off the yoke.
This whole process of setting your pitch attitude usually takes a few seconds. As you gain experience it will be much faster because you will have a sense of what the airplane is doing.
As a rule of thumb, if your airspeed is not changing then you are ready to set the trim and the plane will stay at the same speed once it is set right.
If you are using a simulator, you will likely need to physically release the yoke slowly as you trim. In a real plane, you will just be reducing pressure because the yoke itself will not change from its present position. See the video below for a demonstration of how trim works, and how to use it.
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Wind can have a large effect on the traffic pattern, especially when it comes to the base and final leg.
You should familiarize yourself with the current wind at the airport before takeoff and when preparing to enter the pattern. Remember that the wind report you get from an automated station is on the surface and may not be as strong as the wind at pattern altitude.
When flying each leg around the pattern think about whether the wind is coming from your left or right and crab towards it to fly a straight track. When preparing to land look at the crosswind and what it will do to your base leg.
If you expect to have a tailwind on base you will need to turn final sooner in order to not overshoot the runway. Conversely, if you experience a headwind on base you can expect to have more time before you need to turn final. More time also means more time to descend, so adjust you glidepath and consider adding some power.
On final, if you face a strong headwind component you will again have more time to descend and may need more power to make it to the runway.
Plan in advance so you know what to expect in each leg of the pattern.
Traffic patterns at a non-towered airport are usually left-handed patterns, meaning that all turns are made to the left. There are exceptions, and you can find these details on a sectional chart. See the sectional chart for Brandywine airport, below. There is a lot of airport info here, including “RP 9” which means that a right pattern is to be used for runway 9.
Why a right pattern?
The reason for the right pattern doesn’t really matter, but it can be interesting. In this case, there may be two reasons for this. The first is that the airport has a reservoir to the south. If all planes use a right pattern for runway 9 and a left pattern for runway 27 then all of the traffic will be over the reservoir and reduce the noise footprint over the QVC studio located north of the airport.
Second, Brandywine is home the American helicopter museum on the north side of the field. If the airplane traffic is kept to the south then helicopters can operate more freely on the north side without conflicts. Go visit the museum if you are ever in southeastern Pennsylvania, its great!
In airplanes, we generally fly left patterns. This is because the pilot sits on the left side so the left pattern gives him an excellent view of the airport and other planes operating there. Helicopter pilots sit on the right side so they fly right patterns. This helps to separate helicopter and airplane traffic as well.
The wind changes and you must adapt to it. Sometimes this means that the full pattern will need to switch to the other side of the airport.
The simplest runway switches are done at airports with a standard left pattern to both runways. To switch simply use the downwind leg you are flying as an upwind leg. Then stay at pattern altitude and turn crosswind instead of base. Your next turn will be another left onto downwind for the new runway.
If you are switching from a left pattern to a right pattern on the opposing runway (like you would at Brandywine) simply depart the pattern and maneuver to enter the 45 for the new runway. Be careful about any planes that may still be in the old traffic pattern as they will be flying head-on towards you. Do not enter the new pattern unless everyone is flying the same way.
If you are at an airport with multiple crossing runways and you decide to switch to another runway, again, you should announce your intentions so hopefully the other planes will follow suit. Then, depending on the specific layout of the field you will fly your pattern at altitude until one of the legs of the old pattern puts you in a good position to get on downwind for the new pattern. When in doubt depart the pattern and reenter to try again.