Airplane Pattern Entry

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Figure shows several pattern entry points. Position A in that illustration demonstrates a crosswind pattern entry. This is normally used when you are approaching the airport from a direction opposite the side of the runway the pattern is being flown, and provides an efficient method of merging with the flow of traffic. This pattern entry is accomplished by flying across the active runway at pattern altitude perpendicular to the runway. At the appropriate distance, you will then turn to the downwind leg of the pattern. The position of the crosswind leg should be such that aircraft taking off from the runway will not climb into you and you have the ability to maintain visual contact with departing traffic. This position is normally near the middle of the active runway but may vary depending on conditions. You should be careful when making a crosswind pattern entry for other reasons, however. If traffic volume in the pattern is at all busy, you may want to avoid a crosswind pattern entry due to the possibility of cutting off other traffic in the pattern as you make the turn from crosswind to downwind. Additionally, as you make the turn to downwind you will lose some visibility of traffic while you are turning away from them. These factors contribute to the fact that crosswind pattern entries should be used only when traffic volumes permit a safe entry.

Downwind entry
Downwind entry into the pattern is the most common entry point for uncontrolled fields. There are two types of downwind entry listed in figure, points B and C. Of the two entry types, B is the preferred method for reasons of safety and traffic flow and is the one most recommended by FAA publications. Position B is known as a 45-degree downwind entry and provides you with the best view of traffic in the pattern as you approach the downwind leg on a 45-degree angle. This method also provides for a relatively easy turn from the entry angle to the downwind leg and allows you to make any wind corrections without an excessively steep bank. Remember, as a rule of thumb you should not exceed banks of 30 degrees in the pattern, and the 45-degree downwind entry allows you to easily remain below this bank angle in most cases.

As you approach the pattern from position B, you should be scanning behind you on the downwind leg to assure that you are not cutting in front of other planes that may already be there. You will also be able to see aircraft on base and downwind legs from this point, giving you the ability to more easily keep track of aircraft in the pattern. Listening to the radio during your approach to the airport may indicate where to look for other planes as you fly this pattern approach.

An alternative to the downwind approach using a 45-degree angle is the straight in to downwind approach. Position C shows an airplane flying straight into the downwind leg. While this approach may make an efficient entry point, it can be more difficult to see other aircraft and maintain adequate separation.

Base entry
Position D in figure illustrates a plane entering the pattern on a base leg. Once again, this entry point can allow a pilot entering from that direction an efficient method of entering the flow of traffic. Like other entry points, it can pose problems for the pilot in maintaining proper spacing with other planes in the pattern. Be very careful not to cut in front of other planes that are on downwind when you enter the pattern on the base leg; this not only poses a safety hazard but also does not promote a “good citizen” mentality when flying with other airplanes.

Final entry
Final entry to the pattern, also known as a straight-in approach, is depicted as position E in figure. Although the most efficient way to reach the runway, the straight-in approach is perhaps the worst method for traffic avoidance. Most pilots approaching the runway tend to focus on the asphalt, and not other airplanes, and pilots in the pattern already will also be looking at the runway as they maneuver through the base and final turns. Not only is it risky, but very rude, if your straight-in approach cuts somebody else off.

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