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Tips from PIC

Situational awareness in the pattern

I was doing some pattern work to keep my skills current, sharing the pattern with mostly student pilots and instructors working toward those elusive perfect landings.

Initially when I heard the nonstop traffic on the radio, I thought maybe I would just head out to the practice area to keep from adding to the controller’s workload. After quick contemplation I decided to stay in the pattern and do my best to fit in with the current traffic.

The first round in the pattern was normal, but on final I could see four airplanes in the run-up area—more traffic for the controller to contend with. Once I was on downwind, the effects of those aircraft launching happened. The student pilot ahead of me had to extend downwind, and I did a right three-sixty. As I completed my three-sixty, the student pilot ahead of me was still extending downwind, so I offered to do another three-sixty so we didn’t get an overly strung-out extended pattern. The controller happily accepted my offer with a request to keep it tight. That’s exactly what I did, and this time when I rolled out, I spotted the student pilot airplane, let the controller know, and received “follow that traffic, you’re number two for landing.” After landing and turning onto the taxiway the controller thanked me for my help. I was able to help because I had situational awareness, which allowed me to anticipate the needs of the traffic and controller. Even though many of us are no longer student pilots, we still need to practice keeping our situational awareness sharp—as I did on this flight.

Contact AOPA’s Pilot Information Center at 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672), [email protected], or for more information.

Mark Milkovitz is a senior aviation technical specialist in the AOPA Pilot Information Center.

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