December 2009 Issue

Understanding Aircraft Traffic Patterns

Everything you once knew about them, along with a few things you probably didn’t.

Did you know: Every time you enter a traffic pattern using the normal 45-degree entry to downwind, you’re breaking the rules? We’ll bet you probably also didn’t know that if you’re staying in the pattern for some takeoff and landing work, you’re probably not following Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) recommendations. Sure, for most pilots an article on traffic patterns is a routine review, but if you don’t know what we’re referencing about breaking the rules, perhaps this review is a good idea. As you know, the basic traffic pattern is a rectangle with the runway on one of the long legs of that rectangle. Under normal circumstances, you’re expected to make left turns, which we’ll assume for all of our examples, and fly all or part of that normal traffic pattern at both non-towered and towered airports, unless otherwise directed by ATC. Obviously, each of those legs has a name.

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