Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

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rcigliano
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Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby rcigliano » Wed Aug 12, 2009 10:12 am

Being a newly minted private pilot, one of my concerns is entering the traffic pattern of an unfamiliar airport correctly.

How to you plan for and visualize entering a traffic pattern?

Do you plan before hand, maybe drawing it on the sectional or on your nav log? Or do you just wing it and visualize it when you approach the airport?

I would love to hear how the more seasoned pilots do it.
Last edited by rcigliano on Wed Aug 12, 2009 4:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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champguy
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Re: Enetering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby champguy » Wed Aug 12, 2009 11:05 am

Where I fly there is so little traffic that you can usually "just wing it" and everything works out.
But even here I listen a few miles out on CTAF to find out if anyone is both flying and talking about it. It is out where the pattern forms up that the real action happens and it is so important to have everything set up in advance so you can have your eyes outside looking for the yahoo trying to take you out by doing something stupid.
If you are having trouble visualizing the pattern as you approach the area, try anything. Drawing the pattern on the sectional, or writing down in advance the magnetic headings of the legs might help. I prefer flying a small enough pattern so I can do the whole circuit with visual reference to the runway I am going to use, or first find and follow the yahoo who got there first.
Remember, not all who wander, are lost.
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PilotBillFromTexas
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Re: Enetering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby PilotBillFromTexas » Wed Aug 12, 2009 3:52 pm

If you're at a towered airport it's easy. ATIS will usually say "landing and departing runway 17" for example. When you call up they are going to tell you exactly what they want.

You're more on your own at non-towered fields. In the real world, pilots fly all kinds of "patterns." Some don't fly patterns at all. It's like driving, you have to fly defensively and be as predictable as possible for other people even if they are not always predictable. Make sure that you look up the airport in the A/FD so that you know the standard L or R-hand patterns, noise abatement, etc... I would write everything down.

I was flying with an airline pilot buddy about a year ago in a C-182 on a cross country trip and he was PIC. I noticed that he had all of his frequencies writtien down and diagrams of the airports that we were going to penciled in with the runway numbers and some arrows. That was kind of a "duh" moment for me because I learned to do that like every other student pilot in the world but, at some point thought that I was too good for it. So, now I make little drawings, too and an arrow of the direction that I'll be approaching from and the TP. Not always, but usually.

Another pilot friend that I really respect as an aviator just gets a brain fart about which way to enter a pattern. I was flying with her and talking out loud what I was doing. She couldn't get her head around it so, I just drew it on the sectional for her. She said that she always has to draw pictures to get her orientation right.

Charts are temporary things. Mark them up.

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rcigliano
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Re: Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby rcigliano » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:00 pm

PilotBill and Champguy good information. It is good to hear that my concern is not unique.

On my nav log I diagram the runways with arrows showingthe traffic pattern (left or right). I also mark up the sectional and my taxi diagram also has the arrows.

I sometimes have a brain frart visualizing how to enter the pattern from the direction I am flying. I usually use the DG to determin the correct runway and then visualize the entry (I usually use a lot of hand motions and talk out load). Unfortunately (or not) one of the Eaglets I am flying does not have a DG. Only a wet compass and a Garmin 296.

I have started to create blow-up copies of the sectional around the airport and draw in the traffic patterns and enrties so that I can prepare before hand. This method allows me to pick out checkpoints to fly to start my entry.
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champguy
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Re: Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby champguy » Thu Aug 13, 2009 11:05 am

I love all that prior preparation, two p's for good luck.
Just remember about that old fart, having a brain fart. He is on the wrong frequency, sees the field, and lands, just like that.
He is more dangerous than a skilled enemy who either comes out of the sun, or is on your 12. Either way you know about where to look for him.
Keep your head up and looking around anywhere in uncontrolled airspace, but we know that.
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Re: Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby Dave Higdon » Mon Aug 17, 2009 3:29 pm

Rob -- long-standing practice for me follows for arriving at an uncontrolled field:

First: Within 100 miles of destination, check with Flight Service for whatever local weather than can give me; gets me winds, altimeter, temp and, sometimes, density altitude far enough ahead to process and apply the info;

Next: Start to monitor the UNICOM freq by 40 miles out -- usually 50, if I'm high inbound from a long cross-country...usually give me time hear whatever traffic is using the field and get a lock on the active runway used;

Next: At 30 nm I start announcing my intentions, distance from airport and relative bearing: N123XY is 30 out, inbound from the (east/north/west/south) at (whatever) thousand feet for landing on Runway Whatever; at 20 out, call for airport information from the FBO while making follow-on repeats of my general declaration at 20, 10 and 5 nm...with or without a response from the airport.

While inbound, make my descent profile work to get me to the pattern altitude about 5 miles out -- gives me a good view of whatever traffic there is and at 5, 3 and 1 mile announce my intent to enter downwind on a 45 from whatever direction...I use these practices consistently with one exception -- when the pattern arrangement falls on the airport side opposite of my arrival -- then I set my descent to arrive 500 high about a mile before getting over the runway and along the way announce my intention to cross midfield and enter the downwind...

Getting the MkII EBs on traffic allows me time to adjust for whatever the other crazies are doing out there...like the day I arrived for an into-the-wind arrival at an uncontrolled field out on the prairie and when on short-short-short final saw a NORDO airplane on final to the opposite runway :shock: ; touched down and exited the center to the right ASAP...trying to go around seemed an opportunity to get spinner-to-spinner with another antique...pilot, that is :o

FWIW...

Dave

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Re: Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby PropFan » Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:29 pm

Dave, a follow-up question:

Suppose you're arriving from the NE for landing on 18. Do you swing around to the south a few miles out so you can still enter the downwind on a 45? The only other option would seem to be a straight-in approach which, I know, is disfavored.

(This isn't so hypothetical, as I plan to fly down from Kansas City to Augusta (3AU) this Saturday and, given the prevailing winds, expect to land on 18.)

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PilotBillFromTexas
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Re: Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby PilotBillFromTexas » Mon Aug 17, 2009 9:04 pm

I'd stay east then enter on the 45.

I hope that I fly better than I draw. I would try to not make the turns too steep like I drew it.
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JHWellington
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Re: Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby JHWellington » Tue Aug 18, 2009 8:18 am

PropFan wrote:Dave, a follow-up question:

The only other option would seem to be a straight-in approach which, I know, is disfavored.

PropFan


This is only "disfavored" if the pattern has other traffic. If no one responds on the radio, I will make a straight in approach. Faster and easier.

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PilotBillFromTexas
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Re: Entering an Unfamiliar Traffic Pattern

Postby PilotBillFromTexas » Tue Aug 18, 2009 8:48 am

I do straight in's too if I know that I'm alone in the pattern. But, it sounds like he's nervous about it already. So, why not just keep it simple?


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