You are flying the base leg, descending and configured for landing, when the control tower calls with an unexpected request.
A faster aircraft is on a long final approach, but it’s getting tight out there between that aircraft and you in your Cessna 150.
Not an uncommon scenario in the pattern of a towered airport during peak traffic periods.
Although it may seem to go against the grain of the general caution about avoiding unexpected maneuvers in a traffic pattern, a delaying tactic like a level-altitude, shallow 360-degree turn in the direction requested can save all concerned much time and trouble.
Make no mistake, however: Sudden changes of plans are a distraction waiting to happen. The setup for this one is flight at low airspeed and low altitude. Everyone wants to be helpful, but don’t lose focus on your main task of flying your aircraft.
When the tower asked a Cessna 150 pilot on the base leg to perform a three-sixty to let an overtaking aircraft land, things quickly unraveled. After performing the maneuver, the pilot requested to re-enter on the downwind leg, not the base, and the request was approved.
But distraction had set in, which the pilot realized only after another arriving aircraft’s appearance prompted more maneuvering for spacing.
“I joined base and turned on final when I noticed I had full flaps, a low power setting, carb heat and was below glide path,” the pilot wrote in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, owning up to having been more focused on “trying to accommodate them than I was to flying the airplane.”
(If you needed a good reason to head out to your practice area to work on refining your slow-flight skills and power-off stall recognition and recovery technique, here it is—but for safety, do it a few thousand feet above traffic pattern altitude.)
Being prepared to comply promptly with air traffic control’s instructions is always important, and it pays to expect surprises whenever the traffic pattern has a complicated mix of aircraft.
But if ATC’s instructions make you uneasy, consider requesting an alternative way to cooperate. Faced with a similar scenario in the future, the pilot wrote, “I will request vectors out of the traffic pattern so I can rejoin and make a stabilized approach.”