Dogfight: Pattern Entry Comments

"Any way you want?" vs. "A pox on 45-degree pattern entries"

March 1, 2011

Pattern Entry poll results

Pattern Entry poll results

Editor at Large Tom Horne and Senior Editor Dave Hirschman have a lot of things in common: lots of ratings, lots of experience in lots of airplane models—and lots of opinions. Their premier “Dogfight” article expounding on two different schools of thought regarding  pattern entry options brought responses from a large number of readers—below are just some of them.

These letters have not been edited; they appear as the writer sent them.


As a regular animal rescue flight pilot, I routinely fly into often-unfamiliar nontowered fields. When approaching from the cold side I always take the midfield crosswind approach at pattern altitude. It is much less complicated than descending into a 45-degreee downwind, and gives you the same visual warning abilities. Of course I always announce well outside of the pattern to make sure I’m not barreling into someone turning upwind.This procedure is significantly less stressful on my passengers and reduces vulnerable time in the pattern. —Jack Merritt


By showing only the 45-degree to downwind entry in the AIM, the FAA has caused massive confusion throughout the aviation community on this very important topic. When approaching an airport from a direction that allows an efficient entry to the 45-degree, then fine. Fly it that way. Otherwise, to suggest that pilots overfly a field and maneuver in the vicinity of the airport to set up for the 45-degree is nearly comical. Further, to suggest that this maneuver be done while descending to pattern altitude is downright dangerous! Crosswind (midfield or over the numbers), upwind, and downwind entry legs at pattern altitude are all acceptable alternatives to the 45-degree to downwind entry technique. It should be so stated in the AIM and the CFI community should teach it that way. P.S.—Love the new “Dogfight” column! —Mike Pastore


I agree that a 45 degree entry into the traffic pattern is not always the best however, flying a left hand pattern is. It is also a regulation (FAR 91.126). There are still a lot of pilots who think this is only a recommendation.  I think the most important thing is the position reports and watching for other traffic. —Jack Busbee


Loved your article on traffic pattern entries in the Jan 2011 AOPA magazine. You make good points and I plan to do more crosswind entries when appropriate. Is there any reference documenting FAA aproval of the crosswind entry. I'm was a full time CFI many years ago.I moved on to Airline flying, butstill dosome instructing my Flying Club. I want to pass on good info especially to Pilotspreparing for a Check Ride with the FAA or a designee. —Mike Williams


Dear Dave, 
I enjoyed the competing articles on pattern entry in the January AOPA, but I have a question/comment.  I was a Navy carrier pilot for 29 years, but that was 35 years ago.  I am starting to fly again, something on my bucket list, in light sport aircraft I can rent at Charlotte County airport in SW FL.  They don't have a tower there and the pattern can get crowded with practice landings and such.  I have tried most all the pattern entry variations found in FAR/AIM, but one seems to be missing which puzzles me. The only VFR pattern entry I used in my military service was to enter the "brake", directly over the active runway.  If I were the only aircraft in the pattern, or the lead aircraft in a formation, I would "brake" "over the numbers" and make my approach in a constant turn, attempting to be level on final just over the runway threshold. During the entry to the brake and when over the numbers, I had a good view of the entire pattern area.   All
aircraft entered the pattern the same way.  Since we had towers, we could call in to enter from any direction, but entering the brake set up a comfortable approach pattern. Why not?  Why isn't this pattern entry even mentioned in GA literature? In my view, it is a better entry than the 45 being touted by Tom Horne. —Harry Klein


Dear Dave,
I am an avid fan of both you and of aopa magazine. I tell all of my students to join AOPA and read both AOPA pilot, and AOPA flight training magazines. You and your organization are of great benefit and a treasure to the aviation community. That being said I would like to give you some feedback on your latest article about pattern entries. I agree that the overhead descending teardrop entry is inefficient, and congests the frequency. It may even be unsafeto be descending and turning into the pattern. Itis not the best way to enter the pattern,thats for sure. I do not think splitting the field is any better and I will tell you why. I would like to point out that not only did your highlighted bonanza make fewer calls and save time, but he also potentiallyput anyone on the 45 degree entry and himself at an extremely high risk of collision. The problem I wish you had pointed outwhen talking about this type of entry is thatyou have the potential for two aircraft to have directed energy at each other with closure rates in excess of 250 knots in some cases.It is no secretthat a faster aircraft speed and the time for aircraft detection/collision avoidance are inversely propotinate. The FAAhasincreasedvisibility and cloud clearance minimums above 10,000 msl in Class E airspace because ofthe higher airspeeds found there.They have done this becausethe time needed to aquire the collision risk and take the proper action is quite small with high closure speeds. While the closurerates expected at these altitudes are greater thanthose in the pattern, closure rates are still fast enough to be of concern given the size of general aviation aircraft. One last thing id liketo mentionis thedemand placed on the pilotto execute a proper pattern. Splitting the field doesnt leave alot of time to get stabilized in the pattern before power and configuation changes  must take place.Unless the person splitting the field is yankin and bankin with a bob hoover maneuver, he probably wont roll out onthe downwind heading until abeam the numbers or nearly so.For these reasons the entry you champion leaves alot to be desired with regard to safety. I agree withyou that there is abetter way to enter the pattern than the overhead teardrop, but I disagree that the midfield downwind across the field is the best way to get into the pattern.Acrosswind entry as noted at the end of your article carriesa few of the same problems assplitting the field. Ittoo has the potential for aircraft to have directed energy at each other at high closure rates, although less of a risk than splitting the field. It is not predictable like the forty five midfield downwind entry, but does allow more time than splitting the fieldto get established on the downwind before making power and configuration changes. If you  write another article on pattern entries I believe you should consider the 45 degree upwind (downwind leg of the oppositerunway, not to be confused with the departure leg)leg entry. This has multiple advantages for every pilot. First, it ensures that aircraft are not approaching head on or nearly so. Second, it allows the pilot in the left seat to better see the airport environment (all windsocks, aircraft taxiing, aircraft about to take off, and any traffic already in the pattern). Third it allows time for the pilot to slow down and get ready to configure the plane for landing. This prevents the airplane from getting ahead of any student, or pilot for that matter.Another benefit is that it allows the pilot to merge seamlessly with other traffic with out "cutting" anyone else off. Finally, it only adds one extraposition report into the mix, istead of theextra few with the overhead teardrop.I feel that this entry is far superior  thansplitting the field or entering on the crosswindand much safer as well. I feel this entry is worth noting to the aviation community in a future article. I am sure you will be swamped with pilots waiting to disagree with you and argue with you point by point, and prove their aviation intellect but the idea here is to add another view point and pattern entryinto the mix, not rip your beliefs to shreds because I disagree. As an instructor I feel compelled to add my .02 because safety is no accident. —Robert W. Hasiak


Flying from a non tower Class E airport (KPWT) that have several IFR approaches, I view your comments somewhat lacking in the area of safety. I often see aircraft converging onto final from both directions at the same time. Often IFR practice approaches being conducted from the North whilst vfr traffic is departing to the north. At times a  PIC chooses to adapt the 45 degree approach while others choose the 90 degree mid field approach.. All at the same time!! Yikes!!  It's enough to cause a good pilot to stay home on a nice day.. Here is a thought..Instead of wondering about which approach procedure is correct,  lets talk about what makes sense. My home base is aligned pretty much north and south. Since we have a hefty set of mountains to the west most traffic comes pretty much from the east. ( east side traffic pattern) Not always but most of the time. Now for the big decision which way do you land? Normally we would land into the wind which in some days does not appear to be of vital concern to some as some always favor landing to the north. PERIOD! With the exception of the pilot who actually listens to the AWOS to discern the winds instead of following the leader of the northward landing. I have seen countless pilots line up behind someone landing in a tailwind or the improper direction for no wind and I mean several. Are they thinking?  The facility directory states that KPWT rwy 19 is the designated calm wind runway. Know the procedure and follow it. Since AWOS calls out the wind direction  one would think that we all would chose the landing direction based on the wind. Not so..

One would also think that an IFR flight would break out to the west since the traffic pattern lies on the east side. And normally they do. Not always..

Base on these observations it would be my suggestion to base the pattern entry on the individual field. We seem to be trying to make the decision making process into at standard procedure when it should not be. Lets base the process on a knowledge based process. A process that is based on facts, noted procedures and a thought pattern of what makes the most sense from a safety stand point.

  1. Decide which way to land by AWOS  ( or ground indicators iF AWOS is not available.)
  2. Make your entry on the safest side of the field. Away from potentially conflicting traffic. ( IFR? conflicting traffic?) Using ether process is fine if  that is the safest. Think about what you are going to do before you line up on downwind.
  3. Think—Listen—watch—communicate —think—listen —watch—communicate  from beginning the approach to taxing to the tie down. 

Make the knowledge based decision by thinking about the variables one flight at a time one airport at a time.

A plea for pattern sanity is to follow the written procedures, listen and watch what is occurring around you and communicate. Keep it simple — keep it safe. Keep thinking about it. Keep talking about it. —Bill Pearson


Hello Dave;
This article was very good reading and I have to agree with your view of traffic patterns at non controlled airports. I use this pattern quite often, as I travel thru-out the state of Michigan in the summer to dawn patrols. I find that most ( city ) pilots or people who do not fly often at non controlled fields seem to fly the B-52 approach, extended upwinds and very long down winds. This is sometimes very aggravating, as I know I could just cross in front of them at mid-field on the upwind or at base to final, but I don't! and this seems to continue to keep those extended upwinds and downwinds even longer. I fly at mostly uncontrolled fields and use the mid field cross wind approach, although in a recent biennial flight review my instructor told me he didn't like this approach? although he didn't say that I couldn't use it? so I guess it was ok. So in short I have to say kudos on both articles.


Thank you for a really great article midfield on pattern entries. Perhaps it is that I have always flown on a budget. Perhaps it is that I spent most of my 1st 300 hrs of instruction given in NORDO Champs in the mid 1990's.  Perhaps it is that I have over 700 hrs in gliders and tend to be a bit of an efficiency nut.  But I to find that the Mid-field crossing entry is often much preferred over the 45 degree entry.

Another issue I find with the 45 degree entry is that the Cub that just crossed midfield at 2000' and is now descending for his 45 degree entry is likely doing so right over where the Bonanza is now on his normal downwind.

Your example of that 172 with an instructor could easily be costing the student $180/hr or $3/minute.   Even if a 172 flying the midfield entry took 2.5 minutes to land, it is still a 7 minute difference or $21 savings for the student. Multiply this by 25 lessons and you have just cut the cost of getting a rating by $525 or nearly a 10% reduction in the typical cost of getting a pilot certificate.

I wonder how many of those pilots that insist on flying over the field and doing 45 degree entries are the same pilots that complain about how much it costs to learn to fly or how the pilot population is declining. Or perhaps it is just instructors and rental owners being paid by the hour that really think that the 45 degree entry is the only way to enter. —Brian


Gentlemen:
I read your "DOGFIGHT" articles with much interest and hereby offer some thoughts of my own based on my experiences with pattern entries at non-towered fields.

  1. When approaching a non-towered airport about 15 miles out, I get the ASOS/AWOS or look for smoke patterns, etc. (if no WX info exists) to determine wind direction.  On call-up to advisory frequency, I usually announce position and intended landing runway.  This usually results in call-ups from other aircraft either arriving or in the pattern, if such aircraft exist.  If pattern is active, I usually get a call-up from aircraft in the pattern announcing which runway they are using.  If it is different than my choice, I re-evaluate based upon winds and traffic and will usually accept the "currently active" runway from an aircraft in the pattern or ahead of me.
  2. If feasible to enter on a 45-degree to downwind on the "hot side" that's my pattern entry.  If I am approaching from the "cold" side. I announce for a mid-field crosswind-to-a-downwind if no traffic conflicts exist.
  3. If traffic in front of me announces he's overheading the airport at mid-field  above pattern altitude and teardropping into a 45-degree entry on the "hot" side, then I will announce to follow hiom in the same entry.  Note: I really do not like this entry but if there is an aircraft performing this entry becaue of heavy traffic within the pattern, I think it best to not enter mid-field-to-downwind and cut in front of him, even though I could be the lower approaching aircrraft.
  4. I dislike straight-in entries to Final even though one instructor on a BFR ride thought I was being overly cautious and maneuvering way too much flying an upwind leg, crosswind and then downwind to a landing coming off a practice GPS approach in VFR conditions at a strange non-towered field.  I then told him of one experience I had back in about 1975  at a non-towered field where an aircraft was performing a low straight-in and another low-wing airplane was descending in a left base literally converging and coming down on top of the straight-in airplane.  I was in an airplane on the taxiway and keyed the mic and said "Aircraft approaching Aurora on base leg - PULL UP."   Fortunately, the aircraft on base leg pulled up immediately and went around and the straight-in airplane was missed by what I thought was a very close call.  To avoid any legal liability and to avoid becoming embroiled in a pilot conflict with these two pilots, I then took off and went about my business.  But, I am convinced that had I not made that call I would have most likely witnessed a mid-air colllision.  That's why I don't do VFR straight-ins.
  5. I also dislike having to overhead the airport and drop into a descending teardrop to a 45-degree entry, especially if there is a VOR-A approach also coming from the side where I'm teardropping into that 45-degree entry.  One might meet an aircraft head-on or from the his side coming into the pattern from a practice VOR approach.   An example of this would be approaching KMAI (Marianna, Florida) from the West, crossing mid-field above pattern altitude to enter a left downwind leg for Runway 18 from an overhead right turn teardrop to a 45-degree entry (a common practice).  Note on the VOR-A approach plate that the final approach from the MAI VORTAC (FAF) is at 316 degrees and only 4 nautical miles from the VORTAC to the field. This would definitely not be a place to perform this teardrop-to-a-45-degree entry.  So, the caveat here is that pilots need to be aware of instrument approaches to non-towered airports as they make their pattern entry decisions.  Someone might be practicing and not talking soon enough on the advisory frequency.

In summary, I say that there is merit in both of your airticles.  But, when deviating from the normal 45-degree entry on the "hot" side, all other entries require an extra measure of thought, communication and vigilance.Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment. —William F. Fusselman


In reference to the "Dogfight" article in the January 2011 issue concerning Pattern Entry: Excellent concept!  I love the Dogfight idea, please keep them coming! My thoughts on the Pattern Entry:  The type pattern entry I use depends upon the wind direction / active runway and the direction I'm approaching the airport.  Let's say I'm headed west, and the airport has runways 9 and 27.  If the winds favor 27, I'll set up a midfield crosswind keeping my upwind leg prior to the crosswind leg well away from the traffic areas.  Now, if winds favor runway 9, then I'll set up a 45º to the downwind, starting at roughly the same place my upwind leg would have started if the winds favored the other direction.   I think of the two types of pattern entry as my options rather than opposing ideas. —Virgil Kelly


Dear Dave:
I fully agree with you that the 45 degree entry recommended in the AIM does not fit most of the time. I've been a CFI for 33 years, specializing in multiengine and instrument training. In a comparatively expensive airplane I don't want to inflate my student's training cost by adding an additional .1 hours entering a pattern at the end of a lesson; over 5 lessons that would add about $ 100.00 to the training bill. I have however modified the cross-over method somewhat to give the student more time to perform the GUMPS check on downwind: I have them enter a crosswind leg about 1 mile upwind of the airport. That will place the plane above the flight path of an airplane departing the runway (unless it's a jet or somebody on a missed approach). The student will roll out on downwind approximately abeam the departure end of the runway, which gives sufficient time to announce the downwind leg and the proceed with the GUMPS checklist. Radio calls are "5 miles east, will enter crosswind for runway 35", followed by a crosswind and downwind call. If there's no other potentially conflicting traffic I usually don't make base or final calls.

I also terminate many VFR multiengine lessons with a straight in approach. Many pilots have not been taught how to fly a well planned straight in approach (probably because their instructors were afraid of the traffic pattern GESTAPO) and do not begin the descent early enough to allow for the descent, slowing to landing gear speed, performing the GUMPS check and then flying a stabilized final to the runway. This is especially critical in an old Apache with a gear speed at a ridiculously slow 109 KIAS. Many years ago Dick Collins in one of his editorials recommended a descent profile of 5nm per 1000 ft in a non pressurized small plane, and that rule works really well. It will have the plane reach pattern altitude on about a 5 mile final, the next mile is used to re-trim and decelerate to landing gear speed, the GUMPS in performed 4 miles out, followed by power reduction and partial flaps for the final descent at about 3.5 miles. Since most planes seem to have a GPS nowadays, the distance to the airport is always available. Here in Kansas you can also count section lines on the ground when you get close in.
A common mistake I see many students make is planning the descent to pattern altitude, and not to airport elevation itself. If they fly a straight in and plan to reach pattern altitude at the airport, it obviously will not work. If they fly a pattern and reach pattern altitude when entering the downwind, they'll approach from above the pattern which makes traffic in the pattern hard to see, and will be well above landing gear speed when entering the downwind, resulting in a B-52 pattern.
Since many uncontrolled airports now have straight in GPS approaches, pattern in the pattern need to be aware of planes on straight in approaches anyway. Most pilots in the pattern seem to be very cooperative and readily extend the downwind to follow traffic on a straight in approach. —Herb Pello


Dave:
I just read your article "A Pox on 45° pattern entries" and could not agree with you more.  I've often wondered how awkward the 45° entry is compared to the crossover from the cold side.  This raises a corollary question: what about the straight in landing  when approaching on line with final?  Shouldn't that also be quick and safe when accompanied by adequate radio calls (10, 5, 3 and 1 mile final)? —Tom Muller


I read both comments on pattern entries with interest. Time, money, vantage point. And both of you are really talking about small airports, with no twins, turboprops, or jets. Which define your argument ... and what you are missing. Allfour primary airports that I regularly use have significant turboprop and jet traffic - and three of the four are non-towered.And no radios required at these non-towered airports.... or for those who believe in freedom of the skies and do not want the burden of even turning the radio on except to talk to a friend at these non-towered facilities. A larger interest is safety.

I am a CFI-A/I/ME, typed CE750 and regularly fly KA's, most recently 91 on contract.

Virtually all of thestudents and partners that I fly with and teach[in small Cessnas] agree with you- and learned to fly the overhead and descend to do the 45 andSTANDARD pattern entries. NONE EVER knew that jets, turboprops, and large aircraft would be at their 1500 AGL crossover altitude - OPPOSITE DIRECTION - to them as they flew the overhead crossover, descended and made their 180 turn. I continually asked the students where their traffic problem would be .... and none knew where the FASTER and LARGER planes would be, farther outside of the light plane spacing, nor their altitude, or even thought of the closing speed, close to 300K.

Those PERFECT 45 entriesmade for an interesting debrief on the ground with a chalkboard or paper & pencil. The average light plane pilot does not know the pattern is or what is required for the larger planes.

I would rather see a pilot fly the over the airport entry to downwind- or better yet - cross at the upwind end of the runway for a crosswind entry at pattern altitude, not at the turboprop or jet altitude.

Save me from the SAFE pilot who is flying opposite direction at my large plane altitude of 1500AGL,not knowing that my King Air is doing 175K at his altitude, opposite direction, while he is looking over his shoulder to see if he is far enough out to make a turn to make a 45 to enter downwind.


I greatly appreciate bothyour heart felt opinions on pattern entry. However, onehas done great service to aviation and flight training while the other has destroyed years of effort toward instilling safe pattern entry practices in the GA population. My students and fellow pilots will, because of this article, have ammo in there belts to refresh the dogfight and likely end up with someone paying the ultimate price, their life.

With the exception of instrument approaches, practice or otherwise, the only FAR / AIM recommended pattern entry to non-towered airports is 45 entry to the mid field downwind. I was taught this not by my many instructors, but byan FAA Examiner during my CFI check ride oral. Further examination of the FAR / AIM lead me to fully embrace this practice and to preach the 45 entry gospel.

When asking yourself whatthe best method for pattern entry is, you must ask yourself what is the method of departure? Why? Because we must provide our own separation at non-towered airports. Departure is runway heading or 45 in the direction of the traffic pattern until above traffic pattern altitude. The 45 downwind entry just happens to parallel the 45 departure option, providing a standard which gives us the best chance of separation in the non-towered environment. Mr. Hirschman's option greatly increases the probability of a mid field collision with either departing traffic or other aircraft on a 45 entry.

I am surprised the AOPA Safety Foundation would allow such rhetoric as Mr. Hirschman has been allowed to publish. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from responsibility. He, along with AOPA,is now directly responsible for any non 45 entry pattern incidents which will occur. No thank you, Mr. Hirschman. In one small article, you have managed to make our skies significantly more unsafe. —Daniel Boulay


Have to take issue with your advocacy of the mid field crosswind entry. It's a fallacy to argue that reducing time in the airport environment decreases chances of conflict - when that time is devoted entirely to positioning and sequencing the A/C for maximum visibility, separation, and uniformity. Busting into the chow line, as it were, by barging in on a midfield crosswind, ignores and negates those efforts. You failed to address several issues: To traffic already on the 45, downwind, or upwind legs, the interloper presents a near head-on, minimum profile, maximum closing speed target, avoidable only by leaving and re-entering the pattern. When he banks into the downwind, he is blinded by belly and roof to the presence of other planes. For an approach from "the cold side", a teardrop descent into a 45, or as you mentioned, upwind or standard crosswind would require little additional time and mate more smoothly with the flow. As for your contention that the MFCW is FAA sanctioned, and Mr. Horne's claim that a pattern can be flown "any way you want", that's not what I hear from the many DE's and FSDO folks to whom I've posed the question. Unanimously they insist that though the AIM is advisory, only the pattern procedures depicted and described (p. 4-3-3) are considered proper, and the mid field crosswind is not one of them. In the event of a conflict or accident, any pilot deviating from those recommendations would be held at fault. Additionally, radio chatter is not a function of pattern shape. CTAF calls can be kept to "just the facts, M'am" no matter how the airport a\is approached. I hope to see these, and other readers' inputs discussed in Round 2 of this debate. —Joel Hamm


I'm firmly in the "A pox on 45-degree pattern entries" camp. Mr Horn attempts to support his pro-45-degree-entry position by saying "You can even see [from the 45 degree entry position] any rogue pilot attempting to “split” the runway by flying overhead the airport and directly turning downwind—and potentially cutting off any traffic that is already established in the pattern." What he neglects to point out is that a 45-degree pilot has just as much chance of cutting off established traffic as the "rogue" pilotdoes! In either case, if there is conflicting traffic established downwind, the entering aircraft will have to give way. In fact, that's the main reasonI'm in favor of an overhead entry (approaching the airport at pattern altitude andflying up the active runway) and against a 45-degree entry. With an overheadentry you establish your interval upwind byturning crosswind only when past the last aircraft on downwind, eliminating theneed to give way to other aircraft on downwind when you can't squeeze in between them using the 45 entry. (And even if you can squeeze in between, you'll have to delay your base turn for interval, potentially extending the pattern for miles downwind as the plane behind you does the same.) Plus, an overhead entry doesn't violate the FAR which requires all turns to be in the pattern direction (left or right), and the 45-degree entry does. Overhead patterns are used by the military for this (and other) reasons without any particular safety issues.


Hello Dave and Tom,
I’ve only been a private pilot for a short time so I might be missing something... But I found the recent article Dogfight – Pattern Entry (January 2011 AOPA Pilot) a bit disconcerting. While approaching a non-towered airport on a recent cross-country flight (45 degree entry, of course), I heard another pilot announce that he was going to approach and cross the runway midfield at pattern altitude, and I thought, YOU’RE GOING TO DO WHAT??? I understand the argument that was made for this approach in the article, and even though it is an FAA-approved entry procedure I cannot understand how it could be considered safer (or even safe).
When using the 45 degree approach there seems to be one ‘main’ concern for a midair collision – another aircraft earlier on the downwind leg. But when approaching an airport midfield, perpendicular to the runway, at pattern altitude as implied in the article (“1,000 feet agl”), there are now three concerns for a midair collision – (1) an aircraft performing a go-around (which may not be immediately announced), (2) an aircraft on the downwind leg, and (3) an aircraft on approach using the more standard 45 degree entry. Good luck if you have to deal with more than one of these at the same time.

It may require a bit more time and a few more radio calls, but the fewer possibilities for collision would seem to make the 45 degree approach more advisable as a ‘national standard’, which would make approaches at non-towered airports safer for everyone. —Dave Randall


Tom,
Your recent article in AOPA magazine issue 1/2011, on 45-degree pattern entries was good; but what about those airplanes without a radio (or portable transceiver)that some pilots like myself with a J-3 Cub do not use radio communication entering and exiting the "pattern", other pilots should be aware of such. —Mike


Gentlemen:
I'd like to share some thoughts regarding your recent article.  I've been operating in/out of non-controlled airports for almost 50 years in everything from J-3 Cubs to transport jets.  We're all aware that the greatest risk of mid-air collision is highest within five miles of any airport, especially those without radar sequencing or ATC control.

Hi-performance aircraft (higher speed) often use 1500 agl patterns (required at ATC controlled airports) when arriving into a non-controlled pattern.  They also tend to be farther away (turn radius) from the airport.  The FAA's video on flying into non-controlled airports specifically says to fly over the airport 500'  above the TPA before entering the "normal" pattern.  Frankly, it's the the DUMBEST thing I've ever heard of, especially if the aircraft is flying outbound to do a 225 degree right turn (very blind in a high wing aircraft) into the area where the high speed aircraft may be entering for the so-called "normal" 45 degree wide downwind entry.   More than once in my career have I been face-to-face with such an aircraft....  the pilot totally ignorant of the risk he has put himself into.  Remember also that these higher speed aircraft have often just been terminated from ATC radar control (cancelled IFR or traffic advisories) and may not have been monitoring the CTAF to hear the three calls someone might have already made.

The safest way to operate in the pattern is to spend the least time there, while complying with all regulations and right-of-way rules.  Operating large aircraft, I don't hesitate to make a straight-in approach (if aligned) if I can determine that I won't interfere with any existing traffic.  Otherwise, I'm forced to circle into the pattern.... at a higher speed and a deck angle that makes my "visual" scan compromised.  Fortunately, TCAS now makes this a much safer operation.

When approaching an airport from the non-pattern side, the mid-field (longer runways) or the departure end crosswind is a very safe method of pattern entry.  If a departure aircraft (staying in the pattern) is flying according to the AIM recommendation, they will climb outbound to 800' agl and turn crosswind.... then hopefully downwind at TPA.   That makes it very easy for the "crossing" entry aircraft to see them and find a slot to fit into the downwind without conflict.   Any aircraft entering from the 45 also should be easy to visually see... especially as they tend to enter a wider pattern.

A 3.5 degree glidepath requires 3 miles to descend from a 1000' TPA.....  a 5 degree path requires 2 miles.  Slower aircraft flying the steeper approach will minimize their risk from being over-taken (common mid-air issue) by flying the "tighter" approach. 

As for the "radio" stuff......  it's been my experience (instructing and giving BFRs) that such talk gives pilots a very unrealistic sense of security.  They tend to talk, look at the runway and spend too much time in the cockpit rather than looking OUTSIDE for the traffic that can kill them.   As someone once said, you have one mouth and two ears.  You should listen twice as much as you talk. 

As for the regulations......  the FARs require all turns to be "left" in a normal pattern, yet they publish a 45-degree "right" turn for pattern entry.   Also, I could never count the number of "base leg" traffic airplanes I've seen cut-out traffic established on a final approach (they have the right-of-way). 

Pilots should be taught from the very beginning that non-controlled airports can be a free-for-all at times.   There isn't even a so-called "active" runway as each pilot is allowed to chose his/her own... possibly approaching careless and reckless issues.  Yes, an aircraft landing downwind often has the right-of-way in many cases.... or on short final for a crossing runway if closer than you might be.   I once had a student on his first solo cross-country land on a runway while a crop duster was landing on the taxi-way in the opposite direction.....  probably the only two landings at that airport in the recent hour.

Pilots who have instructors that teach airport operations as "absolutes" are deluded.   In much of the USA, terrain or populated areas also affects traffic patterns and the "locals" often have their pet method of getting in/out of the pattern.... usually a wise method to minimize their risk for engine failure, etc.    As a Super Cub pilot, I also often "drift" downwind when departing a runway to allow a 180 return to the runway in case of engine failure.   It's not the FAA way, but it gives me a much safer option, especially if the surrounding area is not good for ditching.

That's it for now....  but I could kill a few cups of coffee discussing this with either of you. —John A Lindholm


Dear Sir:
Your article on cross over pattern entry is the best I've seen on the subject.  I use this entry most of the time unless the pattern is full and planes on the 45. There is no reason to fly the "standard pattern" and subject yourself to more traffic, more radio calls, and burn more fuel. Well stated. —Dennis Toepke


Tom,
I read the "Dogfight" between you and Dave on the subject ofPattern Entry in my latest AOPA Magazine. I think your both right but it depends on how you were trained. It's all about risk management while entering this higher risk area. In order to ensure safety we need to communicate our intentations and look out the window. We have standards in our lives to help us to determine what the other person is going to do, since we sometimes can't communicate or read their mind. With these standards we can make it safer for everyone. Just look at the countries that don't have standards for traffic. It's a high risk area, which can be avoided. My instructor taught me the 45 to midfield but also stated what ever you do, do it safely. In the latest Safety Advisor emailed to me by AOPA there was an article on entering the pattern which stated "Check out the Air Safety Institute’s Operations at Nontowered Airports Safety Advisor to brush up before you go." This article stated some the following:

The preferred method for entering from the downwind leg side of the pattern is to approach the pattern on a course 45 degrees to the downwind leg and join the pattern at midfield

A word about procedure: There are several sources of information that explain official FAA-recommended procedures at nontowered airports. FAR 91.113 cites basic right-of-way rules, and FARs 91.126 and 91.127 establish traffic-flow rules at nontowered airports. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and FAA Advisory Circular 90-66A expand on the regulations. Together, these documents define procedures for nontowered flight operations. Right-of-way rules, along with nontowered airport traffic patterns and procedures, exist to prevent collisions in the air and on the ground. There are other benefits to adhering to the rules, such as an orderly traffic flow, noise abatement, and defusing potential right-of-way conflicts. However, traffic separation is the prime concern. This Safety Advisor covers the “rules of the road” at nontowered airports.

There are several ways to enter the pattern if you’re coming from the upwind leg side of the airport.

  • One method of entry from the “opposite” side of the pattern is to cross over midfield at least 500 feet above pattern altitude (normally 1,500 feet agl). When well clear of the pattern—approximately two miles—descend to pattern altitude, then turn to enter at 45 degrees to the downwind leg at midfield
  • Because large and turbine aircraft fly 1,500-foot-agl patterns, crossing 500 feet above the single-engine pattern altitude might place you in conflict with traffic. If large or turbine aircraft are operating into your airport, 2,000 feet agl is a safer crossing altitude.
  • An alternate method is to enter on a midfield crosswind at pattern altitude, then turn downwind (see Figure 10). This technique should not be used if the pattern is busy. Give way to aircraft on the preferred 45-degree entry and to aircraft already established on downwind.
  • Again, aircraft using the alternate entry should yield to aircraft using the preferred entry and to aircraft on downwind. In either case, it’s vital to announce your intentions, and remember to scan outside. Before joining the downwind leg, adjust your course or speed to blend into the traffic.

Though permissible, a straight-in approach should only be used when you are certain there will be no conflict. Straight-ins should yield to other aircraft in the pattern. If another aircraft is ahead of you on base and the spacing will not be sufficient, go around by altering course to the right (on a standard left pattern), enter the upwind leg, and turn crosswind when it’s safe. —Dale Woods


Both Thomas A. Horne and Dave Hirschman have valid points on the way of making traffic patterns at non towered airports. However, if you are approaching a busy non towered airport with multiple runways (we have many of those here in Florida) the overhead approach is usually the best. With students all over the place and most of them coming from other countries, with their English language suffering a little, you are better served to take a look from above and see  what is taking place in the pattern. It is not unusual to see aircraft setting themselves  up to multiple runways at the same time, just because the winds are light and variable. That is not a good situation. I usually make a general call to the intended airport when say 5 miles out and asking which runway is being used at this time. If I get no answer from shy "pilots" I will make a call to the local FBOs which are always willing to help. That being said this is not an assurance of anything. Taking a look at above pattern altitude (midfield crosswind) is the better way. Obviously on light and more ordinate days the standard pattern is the acceptable way. You are both right but would like to hear your opinion on non towered airports with multiple runways. —Carlo Calanni


I’d like to weigh in on your "Dogfight" discussion. As someone who commuted to work and home by airplane pretty much every working day for 5 years and on the majority, when an instrument approach wasn’t required, making an overhead entry as recommended by Mr. Hirschman there is no question in my mind that an overhead entry is both safe and efficient. With a couple of common sense caveats. To begin with, the first announcement should be long before arriving overhead. I announce exactly 10 miles out (aircraft, distance and direction), again at about 3 miles, and then overhead, downwind, etc. Second, if there is a lot of pattern traffic, I always choose to continue over the airport to return on the 45 for the standard traffic pattern. No reason to try to interrupt a busy flow. (Talk about an opportunity to cause traffic conflicts.) Finally, with normal pattern traffic, I’ve found that if you communicate with other aircraft in the pattern to establish that you are visible (and visa versa), you can almost always fit into the traffic pattern with no conflict. As long as you are nice everyone seems willing to work together. In all the years I have been flying this kind of approach I’ve never once had a complaint. I wish I could say that about my inclination to announce runway 2 as “Runway Zero Two.” Seems a couple of times a year someone has to complain about that. Oh well…What’s your next Dogfight about? —Joe Shelton