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8 Tips To Make A Textbook Traffic Pattern Every Time

Are you struggling with your traffic patterns? Take a look at these tips to fine-tune your pattern work.

1) Note the wind direction.

This seems obvious, but there's a reason why windsocks are located near the beginning of the runway. When you roll onto the runway, take a look at the windsock, determine the crosswind correction you need for the takeoff roll, and think about what you need to do when you join the upwind leg.

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2) In the upwind, look below you.

In addition to cross-checking the windsock before your takeoff roll, briefly check where the runway is below you in relation to your aircraft on the upwind. When you get above obstacles, the wind tends to shift and intensify. By looking below you, it can help you establish a heading for the upwind that will prevent you from drifting off the extended runway centerline.

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3) Think about what the traffic pattern legs will look like.

If you have a left crosswind on the upwind leg, you know when you turn left crosswind your heading change will be less than 90 degrees to correct for wind drift. Think about this for each leg before you begin the turn. This comes with experience but the more patterns you do, the easier it will become.

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4) Determine your rollout heading.

A common mistake is to roll out early or late when making turns in the traffic pattern. If you're lucky enough to be departing from an airport whose nearby roads run on a grid, you can use those as reference for your rollout. Otherwise, you can use your heading indicator to assist as well. Most heading indicators have tick marks located every 90 degrees, so, if your upwind heading is 360, you know you need to roll out on right crosswind at 090. In a zero wind scenario, this works perfectly. When the wind is a factor, you'll need to use the tip you learned in #3 to figure out the best heading to roll out on.

Finally, if you have a ground track indicator on your digital HSI, use that to maintain your ground track in the pattern.

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5) Keep an eye on a distant object.

While flying traffic patterns, you should be focused primarily outside the airplane. When you turn downwind, parallel to the runway, choose an object on the ground that you can "fly to." If this point starts moving, you're either being blown away or towards the runway, depending on the wind. Ideally, it should stay put in your windshield until you begin your turn to base.

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6) The descent on downwind is situational.

When you're learning how to perform a traffic pattern, textbooks always talk about starting the descent abeam your aiming point, which is correct. However, when you're number 4 to land in a busy traffic pattern, you can't start your descent there, otherwise, you'll end up way too low by the time you turn final. So, you may have to begin your descent on base, or even final, in certain situations. Slowing your airplane and configuring it should also be modified accordingly.

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7) On final, don't wait to configure.

Configuring the plane early allows you greater time to get the airplane stabilized. If you add flaps at the last minute, you'll find yourself worrying about getting the airplane trimmed and slowed down instead of focusing on performing a safe landing.

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8) Lastly, don't forget crosswind correction.

When you turn final, along with configuring and getting the airplane slowed to your final approach speed, you should also be fine-tuning your crosswind correction if there's a crosswind. Don't wait until short final to realize what control inputs are needed to properly execute a side slip to landing. Remember, once you land, the crosswind correction should be kept in until you come to a complete stop.

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Take The Next Step...

Do you have a perfect takeoff and landing every time? Neither do we. That's why we built our Mastering Takeoffs and Landings online course.

You'll learn strategies, tactics and fundamental principles that you can use on your next flight, and just about any takeoff or landing scenario you could imagine. Even better, the course is full of tools you can come back to throughout your flying career.


Corey Komarec

Corey is an Embraer 175 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota, and he's been flying since he was 16. You can reach him at corey@boldmethod.com.

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