Preparation for the Traffic Pattern


Flight Five is designed to prepare you for practicing takeoffs and landings in the airport traffic pattern. The main component of the flight is to fly a unique FirstFlight maneuver known as the 3-D pattern. This maneuver combines elements of ground reference maneuvers with climbs and descents, and introduces pre-landing check procedures.

Before commencing Flight Five, be sure to do a thorough Preflight inspection.

Using the techniques developed in Flights One and Two proceed to the practice area.

Select a location where you will be able to maneuver without disturbing people or wildlife on the ground and where you could land safely in the event of an emergency.

The FirstFlight 3D Pattern

As always, before doing any maneuvers, clear the area by reversing course or making two ninety-degree changes of heading.

The 3D pattern is a unique FirstFlight maneuver. It is not part of the Private Pilot practical test. It consists of flying a pattern similar to that flown when practicing takeoffs and landings, including the climbs and descents, but performed at a higher altitude away from the airport. The idea is to learn all the skills necessary for practicing takeoffs and landings in an environment where you can focus on these skills without having to deal with radio communications or other aircraft in the traffic pattern. By learning the traffic pattern procedures away from the airport it will make your first session of Touch and Gos at the airport much more rewarding. You will already know how to fly the pattern and will be able to focus more on the actual landings, which are the most challenging part of learning to fly an airplane.

Select a reference point on the ground that will define the location of an imaginary runway. Fly over this reference point at an altitude of 3000 feet AGL. This altitude will be your imaginary traffic pattern altitude. Traffic pattern altitude is usually 1000 feet above runway elevation. Standard traffic patterns are flown with left turns. For the purposes of this maneuver, your imaginary runway elevation should be 2000 feet AGL and your traffic pattern altitude will be 3000 feet AGL. Determine the wind direction by observation of smoke, dust clouds, crop movement, etc., and then fly away from the imaginary runway in order to fly back toward it and intercept the downwind leg of your imaginary traffic pattern at a 45 degree angle. This is the standard way to enter an airport traffic pattern, except that any over-flight is usually done above traffic pattern altitude.

On entering the downwind leg of your imaginary traffic pattern, perform the before-landing checks.

When you are abeam the touchdown point of your imaginary runway, reduce power to 1500 rpm. Carburetor heat, which is required anytime the power setting is outside the green arc, should already be on, having been included in the before-landing checks. Pitch to gradually reduce airspeed and commence a descent. As soon as the airspeed is within the flap-operating range, which is indicated by a white arc on the airspeed indicator, add 10 degrees of flaps. At the moment you add flaps, the nose will have a tendency to pitch up slightly. Be prepared to apply slight forward pressure on the control wheel as the flaps go down in order to maintain your desired airspeed.

Pitch for final approach speed plus 10 knots. Check for traffic and, while continuing to descend turn left onto your imaginary Base leg. On base, add another 10 degrees of flaps and pitch for final approach speed plus 5 knots. You should plan on being at about 500 feet above the altitude you have chosen as the imaginary runway elevation at the point where you turn from base to final. Be careful not to lose airspeed as you turn from base to final. If you find yourself getting slow, pitch down by applying forward pressure on the control wheel. On final, add the remaining 10 degrees of flaps and stabilize the airspeed at final approach speed. Reduce power to idle and continue descending until within 10 feet of the altitude you have chosen to represent the imaginary runway elevation. The chosen altitude should be at least 2000 feet AGL. Once you are within 10 feet of the imaginary runway elevation, apply a little backpressure to gradually level off, thereby stopping the descent and reducing airspeed. This is to simulate the flare, which occurs just prior to touchdown. When really landing, you keep applying backpressure so the airplane is at an airspeed just above the stall speed at the moment the main wheels touch the ground. However, for the purpose of this maneuver, on reaching Vso x 1.2, “Go Around“.

To Go Around, add full power, turn off carburetor heat, pitch to climb, and retract flaps to 20 degrees, then 10 degrees and, once a positive rate of climb is achieved, 0 degrees. Climb should be stabilized and the airplane trimmed for to best rate of climb, Vy. You will need to apply some right rudder as you add power to overcome left turning tendencies and maintain coordinated flight during the climb.

Climb straight ahead until 500 feet above the imaginary runway elevation, then check for traffic and turn left on to the crosswind leg of the pattern. Check for traffic again prior to turning left, and as you turn onto the downwind leg of the pattern. Just prior to reaching the imaginary traffic pattern altitude, push the nose down slightly to establish straight and level flight at your imaginary traffic pattern altitude . Then reduce power to about 2100 rpm and trim for level flight. Next, perform the before-landing checks and continue for another circuit, repeating the previously described sequence of tasks.

After a few circuits, you will start becoming familiar with the sequence of tasks necessary to fly the pattern, using the proper pitch, power settings and airspeeds that apply on each leg of the pattern. Be particularly attentive to maintaining the appropriate airspeeds and using trim to stabilize the approach. During the upwind leg when you are “going around,” be sure to use right rudder to maintain coordinated flight as you climb. You will also need to apply the techniques learned when flying the ground reference maneuvers in Flight Four to compensate for the effect of the wind.

Having completed several circuits of the 3 D Pattern, return to the airport for landing. This concludes Flight Five.

Flight Six features “Touch and Gos” and is your opportunity to put your 3-D pattern skills to work at an airport and to start getting serious about your landing technique. It also provides an introduction to traffic pattern communication procedures.