A student pilot nearing the private pilot practical test and a flight instructor are practicing landings on Runway 33 in a 10-knot crosswind from 240 degrees. Given the choice by the tower of left or right traffic, the student pounces on right traffic, but the CFI requests left turns. What’s the difference?
It’s all about that base.
The student pilot’s preference for right traffic exhibits strategic thinking. From a right downwind, turning base (into the wind) would produce a decrease in groundspeed to, let’s say, 60 knots, providing extra time to configure the aircraft, survey the windsock or get one last wind check from the tower, and prepare a stable final approach. Turning final, it will be necessary again to adjust for another change in groundspeed and promptly establish the proper crosswind correction.
The student pilot recalls only too well making the left base turn in increasing groundspeed during that recent practice session, and the helpless feeling as the unexpected tailwind component pushed the trainer through the runway’s extended centerline in just seconds. The student did not realize then, as the CFI did, that the problems had begun much earlier in the pattern, when the trainer drifted in toward the runway on the downwind leg because no crab angle had been applied to the downwind heading. As that base leg destabilized into an overshoot, the student pilot’s first impulse had been to pull a hard turn back to the final approach course in a desperate attempt to correct the condition. But the student suppressed that urge, recognizing it as a setup for a stall/spin scenario with zero chance of recovering at the low entry altitude (an insight gleaned from attending safety seminars and reading assigned accident reports).
Going around was the only acceptable option that day—a task that also demanded precise control and strategic planning—challenging for a task-saturated pilot, but manageable for one whose overall performance rates a pronouncement of “checkride ready,” a status confirmed today by the consistent performance of practical test-worthy crosswind landings.