Pattern Silliness

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I got a note from a California reader this week looking for a reality check on pattern operations at Rosamond, which is in the high desert, just west of Edwards Air Force Base. He reports that there's quite an active homebuilt community there and a group of them have become what he described as "insular" in their pattern practices. Translated, that means they like to do pretend fighter-jock stuff, including a lot of incomprehensible military slang on the CTAF. Here's a link amplifying it.

Now it's a little hard to judge this on the strength of a web link, but taking it at face value, is the airport, he wonders, justified in having a discussion with these guys and what basis would it do so? One issue here is obvious: A bunch of GA pilots talking the talk strikes us all as just a little silly, but silly isn't against the law or the FARs. The rest of us just cringe. Given the proximity of Edwards, maybe some of them are genuine fighter jocks, for all we know. But incomprehensible jargon ought off to stay off the CTAF if it's related to intention in the pattern. It's hard enough to keep pattern operations peaceful and orderly without would-be Mavericks and Gooses (Geese?) larding up the freq. If they've assigned themselves call signs, double cringe.

I don't know how widespread this sort of thing is, but I have never seen it myself. What I have seen—and what the Web site also mentions—is the use of an overhead approach. Personally, I see this as perfectly acceptable if it's done sensibly. I use overheads myself in fast airplanes, although the Cub is too stupid slow to bother. But I only fly it in certain circumstances. I won't enter an overhead if I know there's other traffic in the pattern that might conflict. The problem with an overhead is that when you break left, you will be in a position to T-bone traffic in the downwind or into the face of traffic entering on a 45-degree to downwind. That heightened risk isn't worth the non-standard procedure; I tool around and enter a regular downwind.

Second, the way you announce this is important. "White Mooney entering the initial" won't do it, since probably half the world has never heard of an overhead approach, much less the initial leg of it. So I explain it: "Venice traffic, Mooney is five south to enter the upwind leg for an overhead approach to 22, Venice traffic." Or something like that. You can actually enter an upwind with other traffic around, then decide whether to break into the downwind or take it to the crosswind, depending on where other airplanes are. This is a perfectly safe thing to do.

Overheads are fun to do and challenge your ability to judge power off speed, descent and glide angle in a way that square patterns don't. They also encourage tighter patterns and that's a good thing, since it's oh-so-hard to see an airplane on an unnecessary three-mile final. Still, I use radio calls as close to standard as I can get them so those unfamiliar will catch the flick. "Venice traffic, Mooney turning into the left downwind from the upwind, runway 22 Venice."

Around here, most pattern dwellers don't seem to get upset with overheads, but at some airports they seem to. Too bad, because they're a hoot to fly. I make it a practice not to tweak the Aunt Janes (except in blogs), so I wouldn't fly the overhead where I knew folks would get into a twist about it. It's just not worth the hassle. Or the lecture over the CTAF.

Comments (98)

I'm sure I would hear more of this if PEOPLE WOULD STOP USING THE UNICOM FOR CONVERSATIONS! Not that that bothers me.

Posted by: Brad Koehn | February 25, 2011 3:38 PM    Report this comment

When I was working on my private certificate several years ago, there was a large warbird restoration shop on the field as well as the flight school. I can tell you from personal experience, hearing "North American 12345, Flight of 6 entering the initial" was just about as scary as it gets for a 15 hour student! And it happened all the time! I'd add another pet peeve, Cessna 12345 procedure turn inbound ILS27. That's nice for us unnatural pilots who fly by instruments, but useless for anyone who's not instrument rated! I prefer to say, Cessna 12345 - 7 mile final on the ILS27 - low approach only. As for tying up unicom, think first. I can get out that sentence intelligibly faster than a lot of pilots can call out base - final.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 25, 2011 6:45 PM    Report this comment

Folks should stick to standard civilian phraseology. Most of the pilots I know use the phraseology they hear others using, not the recommended stuff. So each of us is setting an example each and every time we transmit. It's easier and more effective to use the same standard than constantly reinventing the phrase wheel.

But who cares if a group of guys are playing fighter jock together with their own click lingo? It should be fairly obvious to most of us what they are saying. If you aren't sure ask them on the radio. If it irritates you then embarass them with some appropriate quick wit. Seems to me some out there get off as much playing deputy fife as those playing fighter jock. In my experience the fife's cause more grief to the flying community as their insecurities usually manifest itself as tattle tale FSDO calling.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | February 25, 2011 10:16 PM    Report this comment

Also forget IFR lingo near a "pattern". Announcing that you're over "ZORBID" or "SHENK" and headed for the airport means exactly squat to all the VFR pilots in the pattern. Use VFR terminology when approaching a traffic pattern because traffic PATTERNS at airports are always VFR and we don't carry IFR approach plates in a pattern to figure out where you are.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 27, 2011 7:45 AM    Report this comment

First of all, I agree with your main point: the pattern is where the other airplanes are and we should do everything to be clear and predictable in our actions there, lest we see one up close and personal.

I'm a little curious about why the overhead is so obscure. The basics and terminology are right there in the AIM (5-4-26: Overhead approach maneuver with a nice diagram in Figure 5-4-30). I've heard people cleared for it at towered airports in the SoCal area as well. (I've also heard someone who didn't know ask what an overhead was on the CTAF when someone reported "initial for the overhead", and good for them!)

Posted by: THEODORE FABER | February 28, 2011 12:49 AM    Report this comment

frankly, I wasnt taught the overhead approach, and should have been. I too would be in the dark flying into this airport which seems to delight in this procedure, which will be to the detriment of these flyers one day. Clear communications, to me, are important in my ability to have a situational awareness,even though at an uncontrolled field radios are optional.

Posted by: Horace Ferguson | February 28, 2011 6:11 AM    Report this comment

The overhead approach may be assigned by ATC, the availability of a standard overhead does not preclude the assignment of a rectangular pattern. To initiate the overhead, the requesting pilot has to cancel IFR at the initial point. The long and short of it is, the overhead is only available if assigned by ATC. It's not for VFR traffic at an uncontrolled field.

Posted by: Alan Bradley | February 28, 2011 7:39 AM    Report this comment

I did overhead approaches in the military and quit when I retired. General aviation is not/not the military and frankly I view overhead approaches (as much I like them) a bit confusing in the GA setting and anything confusing is potentially dangerous. I personally use a 45 degree entry to join a longer downwind than mid-field to ensure I, and others,get a chance to see and be seen---why make something that is straight forward more confusing?

Posted by: Kenneth Nolde | February 28, 2011 7:58 AM    Report this comment

Ken, you nailed it. There's enough potential danger in the pattern at an uncontrolled field, so why make it more confusing? See and be seen.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | February 28, 2011 8:59 AM    Report this comment

Show me a reg that states the overhead cannot be used at uncontrolled airports. Use common sense and fit in. Be safe and courteous, but don't tell me you can't do it. Traffic permitting it's a quick, safe and easy approach. And I'm not an ex fighter jock. I was a trash hauler and we did them all the time in the Herk.

Posted by: Jerry Morris | February 28, 2011 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Just a little clarification on the "obscurity" issue and why most VFR GA types are not familiar with the procedure & lingo: The overhead procedure does indeed appear in the AIM, but is buried in Chapter 5 as a sub-note related to IFR operations at controlled airports. Airport pattern stuff and general flight operations is in Chapter 4, which is the primary part emphasized in initial training. Nowhere in that chapter does any mention of overhead ops appear.
I think Paul stated it very well; the fun of flying is a major reason most of us fly and by all means we should enjoy it to the fullest. But while having our fun, we must not forget we are not truly alone up there and that our activities do impact others (hopefully in a figurative sense only)!

Posted by: John Wilson | February 28, 2011 9:24 AM    Report this comment

The overhead is NOT only available if assigned by ATC. It works fine for VFR traffic at an uncontrolled field. 14 CFR 91.126 says airplane pilots approaching to land at an airport without an operating control tower in Class G airspace must make all turns of that airplane in the pattern direction. Using the overhead pattern meets that rule and can be done safely. So does entering upwind, turning crosswind, then downwind. And a lot of other methods. Don't expect other people to be as dumb as you, nor as smart. Look out the windows. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | February 28, 2011 9:48 AM    Report this comment

Flying in Northern Nevada I fly into low usage non towered airports where I'm often the only aircraft in the pattern but use the same procedure for announcement and entry. If approaching the runway from the non traffic side, I usually use an overhead approach at least 500 feet above pattern altitude directly overhead the field. I've made at least two calls prior to the overhead position, usually 10 miles and 5 miles out. If there is other traffic and spacing is in question I will make a 45 out and back, starting 1000 feet above the pattern altitude when reporting overhead. If pilots follow the protocol of "Who are you calling, who are you, where are you and what are your intentions" and others are listening it seems to work. One of my pet peeves is the pilot who makes the call "other traffic please advise", usually when on a very long final. If you listen before your call you will catch most of the existing traffic and if not after your call you will likely hear from someone in the pattern that thinks there may be a conflict. At least that's the way I was taught, it's the pilot's responsibility to listen to be situationally aware and not other pilot's responsibility to report activity or the weather that's recorded and available for every pilot.

Posted by: Shane Gorman | February 28, 2011 9:56 AM    Report this comment

Regarding instrument reporting at uncontrolled fields, though it may be obscure to VFR only pilots, when there are multiple airplanes doing instrument procedures at an uncontrolled airport, specific reporting is critical to safety to maintain separation. When the procedure becomes a bit more relevant to the normal traffic pattern, perhaps the radio calls should be modified somewhat for clarity to others in the pattern.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | February 28, 2011 10:05 AM    Report this comment

So if you guys are flying initial at 110KIAS where would you break and what angle of bank would you initially shoot for?

Posted by: Ken Day | February 28, 2011 10:16 AM    Report this comment

I use the overhead break approach when safe and appropriate for operations an my non-towered home field. Rule of thumb for where is to approach just to the right of the numbers 2-500 feet above pattern altitude, pull power there and make your hard left break keeping the numbers in view while slowing from cruise through gear down, flaps down, and then to approach speed all while keeping the bank up allowing you to bleed off speed while descending at the same time.
Rule of thumb for radius for turns is TAS X 10 = Radius of turn in feet.
110 KTS X 10 = 1,100 foot turn radius.
Fly Safe,
Captain Bob

Posted by: Robert Perry | February 28, 2011 11:19 AM    Report this comment

We have a group of YAK pilots who use "fighter" jargon. Only after I sought out help did I determine what in the world they were talking about. It caused some tense moments in the pattern because we didn't know what they were talking about.

I believe standard terminology is best. This means no "CB" talk as well. Like "WE be on downwind for the super-slab".

Posted by: STAN TEW | February 28, 2011 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Correction to my previous post. The new AIM was released on February 11th, of 2010 [not 2011]

Posted by: CHARLIE KUSS | February 28, 2011 11:36 AM    Report this comment

My rule of thumb was for standard rate turns. An overhead break often means a greater than standard rate and a decreasing speed during the turn. Generally even from a 150kt cruise speed you can slow and get the numbers within a 1/2 mile radius of the numbers.

Posted by: Robert Perry | February 28, 2011 11:49 AM    Report this comment

So with reference to everyone who's quoting the AIM. That's a procedure for IFR. DID YOU GET THAT _IFR_ traffic.

If your military wannabes want to clog up the pattern with their BS then so be it!

I also agree with not giving cryptic instrument lingo. If I'm practicing approaches I'll usually use both the instrument lingo for any IFR guy around, so they know exactly where I am, and then I'll give my final in miles to avoid any confusion. And what's more, if the pattern is crowded I'll make it very clear that I'm going to join a normal pattern prior to landing. I'm not going to just muscle my way in with something non-standard.

If you want to do the military stuff, go see Uncle Sam. If he gives you a job doing it then be my guest! If not, just stop dreaming!

Posted by: Alex Barclay | February 28, 2011 12:16 PM    Report this comment

Question - How does one get a ILS landing clearance at an uncontrolled airfield? I mean how do you land at an airfield when the cloud base is 100 feet above the ground.

Except for major civil airport in UK all landings are supposed to be an overhead join. Students have this procedure drummed into them from the start and when flying to other airfield it becomes second nature to follow it. With everyone using this procedure I believe it is easier to see other aircraft in the circuit. Aircraft are prone to disappear when in a head on or tail on position.

The use of ID's (even items like Merlin One) is really for Airfield Radio Op's (sometime known as controllers) because they will write this down so they know who is where in the circuit by moving little batons around. Other pilots will know there is an aircraft at a position from the radio calls. But what if there is no Airfield Radio Op and aircraft flying in the pattern don't call their position. I mean do you as a pilot have little batons where you write aircraft ID's and their positions that you can move around a virtual circuit in your cockpit. Now wouldn't that be fun :-).

Posted by: Bruce Savage | February 28, 2011 12:25 PM    Report this comment

I have an RV and sometimes use overhead just for fun at uncontrolled. I only do it when no one else is in the pattern, or if some dumb ass is way out 3 miles or so getting ready to turn base off downwind.

Posted by: Charles Heathco | February 28, 2011 12:30 PM    Report this comment

The whole idea of radio communication is to let other people know your intentions. An overhead approach may be in the AIM, but most pilots (including me) haven't flown one and won't know where to look for you if you announce it. And as already noted, non-instrument-rated pilots won't know where you are if you use IFR terminology/locations. Stick to standard announcements AND standard patterns - it's safer for everyone.

Posted by: Christine Pulliam | February 28, 2011 12:37 PM    Report this comment

As for the the IFR/VFR confusion some were discussing, I typically give information relative to both worlds: "...7 miles Southeast at 3000 outbound procedure turn for VOR-30" or "...turning 10 mile final over ABXYZ for RNAV-36." This way Everyone knows where you are and what you're doing. Once past the FAF I just trim it down to standard VFR since by then it's pretty obvious where I'm at when I say "3 mile final RNAV-36." Keep the RNAV part because it lets them know you're not doing a standard final approach.

You can't be so set in what you say that you're inflexible. That causes trouble. You're well within your rights to say whatever you need to say to safely get the point across to everyone else. If you need to call 'long downwind turning to base over the Big Red Barn' then do it! (Tower did tell me to report 'over the big red barn' once.) No it's not a perfect report but if that's all the information you can give, it can't hurt anyone more than saying nothing at all.

Posted by: Corey Phelps | February 28, 2011 12:56 PM    Report this comment

The fact that the overhead maneuver exists and is well defined in the AIM as a VFR operation (“an aircraft conducting an overhead maneuver is considered to be VFR and the IFR flight plan is cancelled…”) that can be conducted at controlled or uncontrolled airports should be sufficient reason for all pilots to be aware of what is going on if it is announced on the CATF. The “Break” phraseology may sound jet jock want-to-be like, but that pesky AIM comes back and states that is how you will announce your intentions. If you want to get on someone about proper use of the CATF, how about a few choice words for the idiots ordering barbeque and sides with the FBO while other aircraft are in the pattern and others doing practice approaches at the same time.

Posted by: John Salak | February 28, 2011 1:19 PM    Report this comment

Since it's in the AIM, it's kosher. Everyone should be familiar with the terminology. Lack of familiarity with overhead approaches is simply ignorance, something from which we all suffer to some degree from time to time and which is, fortunately, easily treated.

Posted by: Kim Elmore | February 28, 2011 2:10 PM    Report this comment

One more word of caution for those who have said that they only use the overhead at non-towered fields with nobody in the pattern: If you're relying on an absence of radio calls to determine that nobody is in the pattern, then the NORDO cub or hard-to-see ultralight at that uncontrolled field could bring your day to a painful halt.

Posted by: Chris Front | February 28, 2011 2:53 PM    Report this comment

Ordering a pulled pork platter over CTAF on the 45 is NOT kosher. An overhead entry is generally NOT as safe as the conventional 45 and I second the commotion about possible NORAD traffic below. I have only used the overhead approach when ending a long cross country late at night at an unfamiliar airport that is surrounded by terrain and/or obstacles.

Posted by: Doctor Dave | February 28, 2011 3:04 PM    Report this comment

Overhead approaches are no more unsafe (when done using good judgement) than someone coming into the pattern or departing the airport and not communicating at all. Several times while on final to one runway (18 at KJVY) aircraft have departed RY36 with little or no communication. Everybody needs to use good judgement and common sense.

Posted by: Unknown | February 28, 2011 3:33 PM    Report this comment

Could we remember the new arrivals in the pilot world, please?

Whether an overhead is legal, safe or kosher, "initial for the overhead" is probably not something which the newbie on his/her 5th solo understands. But hearing another airplane SOMEWHERE in the pattern and not knowing where to look - now that's something the newbie can understand and be terrified about. Worst case, it could lead to an accident; slightly-less-worse case, it could lead to yet another of those 80% of students who drop out before getting their private ticket.

Like the locals who give me a cardiac workout by calling "inbound over Sonny's Restaurant," it's just easier - and safer - to be CLEAR. Isn't it?

Posted by: Donald Weber | February 28, 2011 4:13 PM    Report this comment

We have a crop duster pilot at our rural airport who sometimes makes overhead approaches. For him, time is money so he needs to get in and out. Most of us just give him the right of way. Before I got to know him I made the comment amongst other pilots about the crop duster pilot making usual approaches and not using his radio. He turned to me and said, "that's because I don't have a radio". Oh. I guess we can't assume everyone has a radio...

Paul, I noticed you didn't say "Mooney N123XYZ..." :-)

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | February 28, 2011 7:23 PM    Report this comment

Having been a user of the airspace and an instructor for over 40 years, I would like to point out a couple of factors that are present in this scenario. It would seem that there is no "right or wrong" in this pseudo military activity in the civilian traffic patterns. One of the assumptions that is made in all these comments is that all aircraft are radio equipped...not necessarily the case. That is the beauty of "non-tower controlled" airports. One of the primary factors in establishing "safety" in aviation has been a "set of standards" that everyone observes in the various disciplines encountered in Aviation activities. The IFR environment has it's set of standards, the VFR environment has it's set of standards, the military has their set, the civilians have their set. When these different "sets of standards" are mixed, that creates confusion and therefore sacrifices the safety aspects of those operations. Don't forget the kiss technique..."keep it simple stupid"...maybe consider simply stating your position relative to the runway, altitude, and intentions. Drop the "non-standard" phraseology that is confusing to the "uninitiated".

Posted by: Blaine Banks | February 28, 2011 8:42 PM    Report this comment

I'd never seen an overhead approach until I became a controller at TUL in 1978. Sure, it was fun to watch a flight of F-100s ignoring the 250 Kt speed limit and peel off one-by-one into what, at least for the last guy in the flight, was really nothing more than a downwind leg, but it was a royal pain to provide them separation. They screwed up the final -- too fast the first time for anything but an F-104 to get out of their way, and the second time they came around you never knew if they'd be turning a half mile final or something three times farther out than that. Forget about having traffic in the downwind leg while the air show was going on.

And then there were the T-38s from Vance that would always want to fly a "penetration." Y'all haven't even mentioned penetrations.

It never occurred to me to perform a 360 overhead at an uncontrolled airport. The one and only time I flew one myself was at RVS (three and a half times the traffic of TUL . . . in hindsight, not exactly the best place to do it) and I talked to the controllers in the tower in person before I got into the Cessna 310 that I thought would have the oomph to make the overhead worthwhile. They approved me breaking the 180 MPH (156 Kt) speed limit, but in the end, it was a big yawn. The 310 was no F-100 or T-38. I succeeded in screwing up their traffic pattern, but not much else.

Posted by: Gary Kerr | February 28, 2011 10:26 PM    Report this comment

The purpose of the 360 overhead is to slow a high performance airplane down to approach speed and to get that plane configured for landing. I can't imagine any typical General Aviation airplane requiring a 360 overhead, unless of course someone can afford to own and be able to fly a Mig 29 or an F-104. You can buy one of those now if you have the money. The idea of any aircraft flying slower than...say...250 knots doing a 360 overhead is comical. I can hear it now: Piper Cub 12345 on the initial....5 minutes later, Piper Cub 345 left break....3 minutes later again, Piper Cub 345 on short final....2 minutes later, Piper Cub 345 clear the active.

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | March 1, 2011 4:06 AM    Report this comment

Bruce, here in the US we have a number of uncontrolled fields with Cat. 1 ILS. ATC will clear you for the approach but not the landing. Most ILS approaches to uncontrolled fields have minimums of 200ft and 1/2 mile. ATC will authorize a frequency change about 3 - 5 miles out so you can make position reports on the local advisory frequency. On days with ceilings less than 500ft, traffic conflicts aren't a real problem since everyone is (supposed to be) IFR - it gets really interesting when ceilings are 1000 overcast, you're on the approach, and there are 3 in the pattern.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 1, 2011 6:58 AM    Report this comment

Thank you Josh for clearing up that issue for me.

Now for the Overhead we overfly the airfield at 1000ft above circuit height then descend to circuit height on the dead side turning onto circuit direction (lefthand righthand), turning again for crosswind crossing end of runway turning at circuit height downwind and the rest for the landing. Is this the same there?

The overfly is there to tell the pilot which runway is in use and the circuit direction from the signs on the ground. A good lookout should then tell the pilot who and what is in the circuit. Now add a radio and all gets better for those with radio's. Methinks that too much emphasis is put on communications that may not exist. What does a non radio pilot do?

Like I said here in the UK the overhead join is drummed into the students and with everyone following the same procedure makes it safer, not the communications. Don't forget the gliders, ultra lights and para-gliders are also part of the family and we need to look out for them.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 1, 2011 7:55 AM    Report this comment

Thank you Josh for clearing up that issue for me.

Now for the Overhead we overfly the airfield at 1000ft above circuit height then descend to circuit height on the dead side turning onto circuit direction (lefthand righthand), turning again for crosswind crossing end of runway turning at circuit height downwind and the rest for the landing. Is this the same there?

The overfly is there to tell the pilot which runway is in use and the circuit direction from the signs on the ground. A good lookout should then tell the pilot who and what is in the circuit. Now add a radio and all gets better for those with radio's. Methinks that too much emphasis is put on communications that may not exist. What does a non radio pilot do?

Like I said here in the UK the overhead join is drummed into the students and with everyone following the same procedure makes it safer, not the communications. Don't forget the gliders, ultra lights and para-gliders are also part of the family and we need to look out for them.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 1, 2011 7:55 AM    Report this comment

Bruce's explanation of the UK "overhead" brings out the fact that this discussion has ranged over a number of entirely different maneuvers, all tagged as "overhead".
The classic overhead starts with an entry down the runway, with a "break" somewhere mid-fieldish and a more or less continuous descending 360 to a rollout on final. This is strictly a jet-fighter type thing, although I note the Van’s Air Force group posted some discussion on the fine points of doing it in RVs.
The 'overhead' being practiced by the group this post refers to consists of what is really a pattern-altitude upwind pass down the runway at speed followed by a 180 degree break at about runway end into the downwind. If it is a formation flight of several they will stagger the breaks for spacing, and IMHO this is what the procedure should be reserved for.
Then there is the “runway crossing” overhead, similar to the UK model, where a mid-field crosswind is done, usually for a wind-check when arriving from the non-downwind side. I see this done both at pattern altitude with a direct join to the downwind, or sometimes at above pattern and continuing outward until reversed for a “45” entry back to the downwind.
All these things can be done safely if eyeballs & clear communications are employed properly (well, at our patch, which is embedded in residential areas, the early break/descending 360 over the residences would definitely be frowned on!)

Posted by: John Wilson | March 1, 2011 9:58 AM    Report this comment

We teach students if unfamiliar with the traffic situation to overfly the airport 1000 ft above pattern altitude, fly well clear of the area, then enter the downwind leg of the traffic pattern at a 45 degree angle to downwind.

I very seldom see this done - with the growing deployment of AWOS systems at local airports, most pilots listen for the wind and join the pattern.

We have grown way too dependent on radios over here - and we've got a big mix of traffic using our uncontrolled airports. Anymore, I'm afraid to fly without at least a handheld and preferably a transponder - especially if I'm going to be more than 1500ft AGL. We are near a moderately busy class C airport with airline and military ops. The airlines don't concern me, it's the high performance singles and twins going in there that fly IFR at 2000 ft AGL with their heads down and autopilots on - then flying their final at 120kts like the big boys do. We also get the occasional Lear or Hawker at our home field which even if they do fly a pattern - if it's 5 miles wide I don't figure they'll mesh in too well with the 172's and Cherokees.

As I understand in the UK, you guys normally operate out of smaller grass airports which would eliminate the jets and most of the twins?

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 1, 2011 10:10 AM    Report this comment

It would appear that this discussion is wandering away from the original point of interest. This is a group of RVer's doing a fighter syle "overhead break" at their home airport. This points out as a shining example of "terminology" needing to be "standardized" and thereby understood by all concerned. The direction in which this discussion is going is an example of the problem we have. Just what is an "overhead" approach? Ask 10 different pilots and you will get 10 different answers. An "overhead" approach is not the "norm" for entering a VFR pattern at an non tower airport and should therefore be done with extreme caution and with all due respect to all others who do not subscribe to the "overhead" approach as a normal procedure in the manner in which it is being done by the "RV fighter jocks". Great fun and cool, but, not the "norm".

Posted by: Blaine Banks | March 1, 2011 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Thank you again Josh and to you as well John for clarifying the overhead US style. Make me wonder if I want to fly in the USA.

To answer your query Josh. Military fly to military airfield and within their own flying zone. They are a law unto their own. They don't like to comply to civilian procedures and don't like GA flyers into their zones. After all they are officers who give order and don't like to receive them.

GA can fly into most civilian airports except for a very few i.e. Heathrow, Gatwick etc for very obvious reasons. Many farm strips maybe too small for some GA aircraft like the PA28 etc.

Yes Blaine I do believe we are wandering away from the original point of interest so I'll thank all concerned and bid you farewell

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 1, 2011 11:26 AM    Report this comment

Josh Johnson and Mark Fraser said it better than I could. Thanks to both of you.

Posted by: Phillip Peterson | March 1, 2011 7:42 PM    Report this comment

My terminology may be a little rusty since I have been out of the business for a few years - are there still Control Zones? If the weather is IFR, the airport rotating beacon on, there should be no VFR operations in progress without a Special VFR clearance, used to be needed to operate in the control zone to avoid conflict with aircraft on IFR approaches.

As for overhead approaches, at every airport I worked at (I was a tower operator) the jet fighters making 360 overheads flew their patterns well above the standard traffic pattern, and maintained that altitude until turning base leg.

The FAA has gotten very lax about sticking to standard phraseology; it used to be frowned on for controllers to deviate from the standards. It would be best for all concerned to deviate only under non-standard situations.

Posted by: Unknown | March 2, 2011 4:32 AM    Report this comment

Coincidentally, Paul, I lived across the street from Rosamond Airport for quite a few years in the previous century.

Okay, I just downloaded the AIM, and see that apparently Control Zones are no more - so an airport with an IFR approach but no control tower would be in Class E airspace; Special VFR clearance required to takeoff or land when visibility is less than 3 miles to separate VFRs from IFR approaches at these airports. Used to also be a 1,000 foot ceiling factor but apparently no more.

Where I used to fly, there were usually 3 or 4 airports on the same CTAF frequency, so - in conjunction with the no-radio aircraft making straight-in approaches - one could not rely on radio calls to ensure you knew who all might be a factor in the traffic pattern.

Posted by: mach37 | March 2, 2011 5:17 AM    Report this comment

Aviation has a lot of people/groups that seem to think that their way is the only way something should/must be done. This seems to be a case of a civilian pilot being uninformed and saying that just because he does not know about overhead traffic patterns, they must not be legal; and besides that only a want-a-be fighter pilot who is trying to "shine his ass" would do it.

I think I could make a very good case that the overhead pattern is as safe, or safer than the pattern entry that is the standard "civilian" patern entry.

I am an ex Air Force fighter pilot and I do overhead patterns and the other common pattern entrys. This is making a fuss over nothing. I also do "closed traffic patterns" from a low approach. I suppose this person would suggest I be ordered to appear before the local self appointed Gestopo for an interview.

Just because something is used in military flying does not mean it can't be used in the civilian world too.

Oh, I fly a Lancair Legacy that has the performance of many WWII fighters.

See you in the traffic pattern!

Posted by: Lynn Farnsworth | March 2, 2011 7:03 AM    Report this comment

What it bsically comes down to is ..."ya'll be careful out there now, ya heer"....we operate in one of the finest aviation environments in the world, it is incumbent on us to watch out for eachother and simply be as safe as we can and respect everyone's right to operate within the regs. After all, the regs were supposedly written for one purpose, to promote safety through a set of standards that the regs are aimed at producing for everyone's benefit. Have fun out there and be respectful and careful.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | March 2, 2011 10:56 AM    Report this comment

A quick comment here from another part of the world, and somewhat of a followup to Bruce Savage's comments from the UK...

In Canada the "preferred" method of traffic pattern entry is to descend to pattern altitude on the "dead" side of the airport (ie for an airport with a west-facing active runway using a left-hand traffic pattern, descend on the north side of the field) then cross the airport at circuit altidude to join left downwind at the mid-point of the runway.

Other pattern entries are allowable (ie joining straight into the downwind leg) but not preferred. Joining the downwind leg at a 45degree angle as is done in the US is definitely not preferred.

Providing this just for the sake of information.

On the topic of radio calls, well, an old instructor taught me a valuable lesson when he said, "make it precise, concise, and then SHUT UP." ;-) When he talked about "precise" he meant that your transmission should say who you are, where you are, and what our intentions are. In terms of "concise", he indicated that it was best to use terms that would be understood by a VFR pilot visiting the airfield for the first time.

Oh yeah, one other basic rule taught by that same crusty instructor... "Turn your brain on before you open your yap and make a fool of yourself." I only wish I could claim to have followed this rule 100% of the time!

Posted by: Mark Briggs | March 2, 2011 12:01 PM    Report this comment

To add a little "clarity" to the US vs UK debate in this thread, the US "overhead" is pretty much the same thing as the UK "run and break". The US join-on-the-45 is a great way to join the circuit (pattern) but has no direct equivalent in the UK. Similarly the UK "overhead" will result in some very annoyed pilots if flown in the US.

Having flown in both UK and US, I much prefer the US 45 to the UK "overhead" join because of the increased visibility of other traffic that it affords. That said, my experience is that things can get a bit exciting if a pilot in the pattern decides to fly a wide downwind while a joining pilot flies a tight-45.

Posted by: Mike Ellis | March 2, 2011 12:13 PM    Report this comment

As an additional contribution to "thread drift" (why not, it's informative?) is noting from some flying I did in Australia that they typically use the US pattern conventions rather than the UK's (never encountered an "overhead"). Another thing was that you better use both your radio & proper call-signs even out in the boonies, since in many cases even at un-attended fields they record the CTAF and later bill landing fees to the registered owner. For sure, the USA is still the best place for GA flying!

Posted by: John Wilson | March 2, 2011 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Is there REALLY any difference between an "overhead" and a close-in "upwind, crosswind, downwind"? We're talking semantics here--the only difference is that the "upwind" is slightly closer to the runway.

It's also interesting that the February issue of IFR magazaine had an article on "Overhead 360 for IFR"--basically a circle to land maneuver when you are too high to land straight in.

One respondent mentions "coming face to face with 6 T-6s." Is safety REALLY served by having a flight of 6 aircraft break up into trail and entering the traffic pattern in the way the respondent WISHES? As for being able to see anybody else in or entering the traffic pattern, the overhead pattern makes it EASIER to see traffic in the pattern while keeping distance--I don't think any of those "correct" traffic pattern pilots are doing their downwind right over the field.

The "Pattern Police" don't like it because THEY are unfamiliar with the terminology. Not content with policing the pattern, they now want to police radio terminology. How about if they just bother to LEARN the terminology?

That said, Bertorelli is correct--it takes little time to say succinctly what your intentions are.

Is there really a problem here? How many accidents have occured due to overhead patterns? Everybody lighten up!

Posted by: jim hanson | March 2, 2011 1:07 PM    Report this comment

Just to clarify...the Navy overhead is a 360. The Air Force overhead is two 180's in a race track pattern. Yeah, it isn't a problem. Since 1964, I've only seen general aviation airplanes do a 360 overhead twice. It took them longer for them to set up for that overhead than doing a mid-field cross wind entry. Some people just have to play make-believe military, even the ones who have never been in the military. :-)

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | March 2, 2011 1:20 PM    Report this comment

Because I learned to fly at a USAF base, I was familiar with the overhead approach-it was used by the F-4s and C130s. As stated clearly in the AIM, it is a VFR approach. I have used it in my 172, and in the past in higher performance airplanes. If the pattern is not already cluttered, it's an OK pattern entrance. It doesn't take much time (not at all like the pseudo-Cub description above) if the circuit is kept tight, which is one of the reasons for using it. The entire pattern is visible, so nordos aren't any more a factor than they are in more typical entries. In a busy traffic pattern, it's safer to meld in with a standard pattern.

The only glitch at a non-towered field is to announce intentions in a way that informs those who aren't familiar with an overhead, because the terms "initial" and "break" aren't familiar. So I say something like "XXX traffic, Cessna xxx is 3 miles out for an overhead approach, maintaining 1000' and breaking into the 360 at the numbers." Whether that's clear to a 15 hour student, I can't say, but I think it's clearer than saying "XXX traffic, Cessna xxx is on initial for an overhead, break at the numbers".

Re IFR/VFR terminology, until the IFR traffic is close into the airport, I don't see a problem. FAFs are typically far enough out (5-6 miles) that there's no conflic. At a 3 mile final, announce a 3 mile final. If the FAF is close in, then double up the terminology: "XXX traffic, Cessna xxxxx crossed the VOR, 3 mile final for 12."

Posted by: Cary Alburn | March 2, 2011 1:51 PM    Report this comment

I fly a Citation and an L-39 out of Fox Field (WJF), a controlled field (up to 21:00, anyway) just south of Rosamond. When the field is not controlled, I use standard patterns if anyone else is in the area.

I will sometimes use a midfield crossing in the Citation and enter downwind if I'm coming from the upwind side of the field. I often use an extended base leg if the direction of approach is appropriate. Always with frequent radio calls and with an eye on the TCAS (a "luxury" I insist on in both airplanes). Not everyone has a radio and not everyone has a transponder, so eyeballs are also an essential tool in see-and-be-seen environments.

In the L-39, an overhead break is a fun and safe approach, and folks on the ground enjoy watching it. Your initial should be well above the traffic pattern, over the runway, where no one else should be (but you're looking anyway), and the break is in the direction of the downwind leg so you'll see any traffic all through the pattern. As someone noted, not so different from a circling approach in the Citation coming in on an IFR flight plan.

Castigating those who use the overhead approach is not helpful, and smalcks of arrogance on the part of those who act like the ultimate authority on approaches they don't understand. Clear communications for the benefit of all is what we need. I know I'll be more careful about how I call out where I am as a result of this discussion.

Thanks to all who contributed the helpful posts.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | March 2, 2011 3:07 PM    Report this comment

"The "Pattern Police" don't like it because THEY are unfamiliar with the terminology. Not content with policing the pattern, they now want to police radio terminology. How about if they just bother to LEARN the terminology?"
I couldn't agree more. If you don't know what "I’m bingo to mama" means, you shouldn't be flying your airplane in my sky! That was a joke - humorous example of actual radio jargon unrelated to pattern activity used for illustrative purposes - but the underlying principal is the same. As was also suggested, "..lighten up!" and for safety’s sake remember that there is no way of avoiding sharing the airspace with pilots who don’t possess the total aviation knowledge and unparalleled flying skills we do.

Posted by: John Wilson | March 2, 2011 3:18 PM    Report this comment

Certainly there should be no doubt to civilian traffic about the words used to announce your approach, and just "initial" has no place in the civilian environment. But having the ability to do an "overhead" in your repotoire is important to the IFR pilot making an "A", "B", etc approach which has only Circling mins.
I always made sure my students were comfortable with the Overhead to make sure they stayed close to the field in IMC. Sure, some local at an uncontrolled field may be doing Touch-and-Gos in IMC, but hopefully they are on the CTAF and the IFR traffic announces ahead their intention to do an Overhead when they pop out over the field. The Overhead should be taught along with the other patterns along with proper terminology---losing the airport during a circling approach can be a disaster!

Posted by: Howie Keefe | March 2, 2011 3:22 PM    Report this comment

Boy, Howie is dead on about the circling approach in IMC. Memory of trying to keep something airport-environment related in view out the side window during a tight circle from an overhead VOR approach to minimums (wouldn't have been less, of course) on a black stormy night definitely stretched the boundaries of "having fun flying". That type of "circling approach" is, of course, unrelated to flying the overhead/upwind full pattern VFR day version. I suspect the reason overheads are not a part of basic VFR insturction is that there is truly no reason to need them if you are non-IFR, non-formation flying type (or, like Walt, have the joy of flying an L-39!)

Posted by: John Wilson | March 2, 2011 4:05 PM    Report this comment

Now the question I have is: did the 360 overhead approach exist before jet fighters came along? I don't see that it was necessary for prop fighters, while jets really had a problem bleeding off airspeed, hence the steep bank overhead the runway. Sometimes I imagined that the Mooney Mk21 could use it to slow to gear-down speed ... but not really.

Posted by: mach37 | March 2, 2011 5:50 PM    Report this comment

Sometimes I imagined that the Mooney Mk21 could use it to slow to gear-down speed ... but not really.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 2, 2011 6:44 PM    Report this comment

...and please, fellow pilots, give more than your tail # on CTAF. What are we supposed to be looking for at your declared position? A Cub? A Gulfstream? A blimp? Give us a clue, please!

Posted by: Dan Luke | March 3, 2011 7:26 AM    Report this comment

I'm a retired F-4 and F-111 navigator. I find the thought of RV's and Cessna 172's doing overheads to be really comical. Whatever floats your boat.

It's not illegal, but the folks doing it really should be sure to make their intentions clear on the radio.

And for heaven's sake, please keep your Cessna 172 below 250 knots on initial!

Posted by: Jim Howard | March 3, 2011 10:10 AM    Report this comment

The purpose of communication around the pattern is to avoid conflicts. This means an accurate and understandable description of your location so others may know where you are to See and Avoid. Unusual patterns and location descriptions that will not be understood by ALL pilots in the pattern are of little value and therefore become dangerous. Traffic calls are well described, and should be followed. The purpose of this is safety. We can fly, have fun and still be safe so that we stay alive to fly another day.

Posted by: Barry Fisher | March 3, 2011 10:59 AM    Report this comment

The problem with too many pilots is that they use their radio transmission as a replacement for their visual scan. If you hang around a busy airport long enough, with students in the pattern, you can determine who knows what they're doing, who knows how to blend themselves into the other traffic, and who probably isn't even looking out their side windows. Too many licensed pilots fit into the same catagory!

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | March 3, 2011 11:17 AM    Report this comment

I'm from Canada so,,, you know, most of the rules don't apply to me:), but I have developed a pattern I wish others would use.
When initially calling I use something like, "traffic vicinity Fort Vermilion this is Grumman Romeo gulf golf (GRGG) 5 west at 2500 ft inbound for landing. Call Fort Vermilion Grumman Romeo golf gulf".
So many times I hear a call out and because I'm slow thinking and partly deaf I only hear "landing 26 Wabasca"
Also because of the previously described lack of intellgence I can never remember the call letters but if you call yourself 206 whisky alpha mike,
i'll have a better understanding of who you are and what to expect.

Posted by: Ray Toews | March 3, 2011 11:34 AM    Report this comment

Here's a related issue--can be discussed here or Paul might want to put it up separately:

How many radio calls should a pilot make in the traffic pattern? At some field, pilots call "taking the runway", "crosswind", "downwind", "base", and "final". Put 6 aircraft in the traffic pattern and 5 calls for each touch and go, and that's 30 calls every 6 minutes that it takes to fly the pattern--300 calls an hour!

Frankly, I'm tired of a student proudly announcing his 10th touch and go in the last hour with 5 calls per landing--reciting the full litany each time. While waiting to get a word in edgewise, is it any wonder that pilots are paying more attention to the radio than to looking outside or flying the airplane? Is it any wonder that most Unicom operators have the radio turned down any more--making "advisories" unavailable?

It's enough to make you want to seek out a NORDO field!

Posted by: jim hanson | March 3, 2011 1:48 PM    Report this comment

I'm in full support of those pilots that call out their position as they depart, turn crosswind, base, and then final. If it's a long final, there are times when a short final call is appropriate.

For most of us, as we approach an airport, those calls are the only way of knowing - partly, at least - who is in the pattern and where they are. Yes, there are occasionally NORDO aircraft, and we have to be on the lookout for them. But the odds of spotting an aircraft you aren't looking for are pretty far south of 100%.

Yes, at busy uncontrolled fields, that can be a lot of radio calls, though I've flown in some of the busiest GA airports in the country and never had too much trouble getting my calls in. (And if you have to take your attention away from your flying in order to make a radio call, then you need more practice.)

Those position calls give other pilots vital information that enables them to make better decisions, and there's no such thing as too much information in this regard.

The student pilot doing circuit work may seem annoying to others in the pattern, but the guy who just switched to the CTAF from approach control and is

Posted by: DAVID TROUP | March 3, 2011 3:02 PM    Report this comment

Incessant radio calls remind me of the Twits Who Tweet--"I'm going downtown"--"I'm going to have pizza for lunch......" (sarcasm). Five calls per lap is overkill.

Sometimes, when considering a program, it helps to take it to the absurd--THEN back off. For those that think that "More calls equate to safety"--why not SEVEN calls? (sarcasm)

It has been said that we should all remember that "Airplanes fly because of BERNOULLI, NOT MARCONI." Does talking on the radio somehow innoculate you against a mid-air? No. Most mid-airs occur at TOWER CONTROLLED AIRPORTS, and usually on good-weather days. That microphone in your hand can't save you.

Frankly, there is little use for the "turning crosswind" call. If everybody makes the downwind call, people can sort out the landing order--even those approaching the field. Base and final--by the time you actually TURN final, there is not much you or anyone else can do to avoid a collision--and should you REALLY be concerned about making a radio call when you are seconds from touchdown?

Having said that, if there is an aspiring Whale driver out there making 3 mile patterns because he/she has been waiting to make their radio call, perhaps a call on base MIGHT be appropriate--a subtle nudge to tighten up their approach a bit.

I like and use Paul's non-FAA/FCC-approved method--it's far more important to describe yourself ("Twin Cessna", "Yellow Cub") than it is your N-number--5 times every 6 minutes.

Posted by: jim hanson | March 3, 2011 4:00 PM    Report this comment

When a pilot says "taking the runway" I've been known to politely ask them to put it back! I understand the need for departure, base and final calls - but announcing you're taxiing to the runway - who cares unless you're gonna backtaxi!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 3, 2011 5:52 PM    Report this comment

Great discussion here and hopefully everyone has learned something. I fly an RV-8 and when approaching directly from downwind of the airport frequently use an overhead approach with midfield break to downwind, which I consider to be at least as safe as any other "standard" entry. However, I make the approach at pattern altitude rather than the 1000 ft above pattern most frequently mentioned here. Above pattern altitude one is looking down into the ground to see pattern traffic which makes spotting other planes difficult. Also, here in the Pacific Northwest, we don't always have the luxury of an extra thousand feet or so of ceiling. Traffic that is level, as when approaching at pattern altitude, is much easier to see and avoid. Spotting downwind and crosswind traffic to merge into from the overhead upwind is very easy, whether radios are being used or not. For experienced formation fliers the overhead break from an echelon formation is also safe, fun, efficient, and people on the ground--with the exception of the Pattern Nazis--enjoy watching it.

Personally I always fly as if others don't know what they're doing (because some of them don't), and, like driving, fly defensively. And you never know when someone is going to be making perfect radio announcements...on the wrong frequency, and therefore they won't be hearing any radio traffic in the pattern anyway. I'm glad to say that I've never done that...and won't ever do it again!

Posted by: Denny Jackson | March 3, 2011 7:34 PM    Report this comment

So I'm one of those overhead guys and I don't mind explaining what I'm doing over the radio when asked, or when someone else is in the pattern. I typically adjust my entry to make sure everyone is on the ground before entry or make a standard entry.

That said, I fly a lot of formation (500+ civilian hours) and getting 4-6 airplanes on the deck it is faster and safer to do it via the overhead than trying to break up and enter the pattern any other way. (WHEN the pattern is clear)

The overhead is great fun in a 150kt warbird or 250kt jet, or just about any plane when done safely and when you communicate. That said, I'm dispointed in the attitudes of some who think it should all be done "their" way along with some sarcastic remark about fighter wannabies. Get off your high horse, learn the regs, and be flexible.


Posted by: Randy DeVere | March 3, 2011 11:04 PM    Report this comment

I had two great opportunities to talk about overheads with folks. One was an CFI who said over the radio that I should be reported to the FAA for the overhead and have my license taken away. We had a calm talk and a look at the aim and walked away with a better understanding of each other's views. He asked for a ride a few weeks later.

The second was at a controlled field where the C-130s were doing the "overhead" at 1000 ft above pattern altitude. When I asked if I could do it lower, they said it wasn't allowed in the regs. Visit to the tower, review of the AIM and their manual and all was good. When entering their control zone I frequently get the "Approved for the low approach to the pitch up break" without asking.

The overhead is fun, legal, and safe just like everything else in flying; when done properly and in the right situations.

Semper Fi,

Randy "DaBear" DeVere

Posted by: Randy DeVere | March 3, 2011 11:12 PM    Report this comment

All good comments. It would appear, as in most other human endeavors, that we are "products" of our backgrounds, experience, and education. The trick is in finding the common ground when trying to get all the aforementioned into the "standard box". As can be seen here, there is no "standard box" in which to place the various perspectives and backgrounds involved. The best we can hope for is ongoing dialoge and everyone respecting the differences in backgrounds and abilities. We have the best system in the world (I do a LOT of international) and I can personally attest to that. The overhead, as in "the VFR pattern" can have variations and we simply need to watch for eachother and make the most simple and yet concise transmissions that we can. As always, engage the brain before putting the mouth in gear. The best we can do is always try to imagine if we were someone else listening to us and what we may sound like...we are all excellent "transmitters" during the transmission, of course. I guess it is a good thing that we don't have mirrors in front of us as we travel the path of old guys tend to do this esoteric stuff...Ya'll be careful now. Please remember, we are all in this together sharing the same sky...let's do it the best we can.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | March 3, 2011 11:35 PM    Report this comment

Mr. DeVere wrote, "When I asked if I could do it lower, they said it wasn't allowed in the regs. Visit to the tower, review of the AIM and their manual and all was good." Huh? What regs? Does that mean there is something in the AIM that requires ALL overhead approaches to be made 1000' above pattern altitude? Which pattern altitude, piston props or jets? If it's there, I missed that. Or does it mean that turbine-powered transport aircraft must fly a minimum altitude that corresponds to 1000' above your traffic pattern? Inquiring minds want the reference, please.

Posted by: Mickey McCall | March 4, 2011 5:59 AM    Report this comment

An additional thought...a comment was made earlier relative to keeping the speed below 250 kias. As we all need to keep in mind, when in class D airspace, it is a limit of 200 kias. I am told that controllers do not have the authority to allow us to break regs. If a controller says "go for it", this is exactly the case, it is us "going for it" and not him. We as PIC's are solely responsible for the operation of our aircraft. An exception to the speed and the controller is in the Dallas Class B, it is my understanding that controllers there have in fact, been given the authority to allow pilots to engage in a high speed descent in order to facilitate aircraft movements in the airspace...only exception I know of.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | March 4, 2011 6:14 AM    Report this comment

I am told that controllers do not have the authority to allow us to break regs.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 4, 2011 6:59 AM    Report this comment

Good call was my understanding that this was designed for Dallas...but it does open the door.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | March 4, 2011 7:06 AM    Report this comment

Mr. McCall, the folks in the tower "thought" there were assigned altitudes for the overhead because their written directions for the C-130's overhead (based on the field) instructed them to tell the pilots to do the overhead at 500ft over the patern altitude. When we looked, there were no altitude requirements/recommendations in the AIM. It was all their SOP for the national guard planes.

Sorry to be confusing.

Posted by: Randy DeVere | March 4, 2011 7:19 AM    Report this comment

Paul, regarding airspeed in Class C/D I believe you are correct. However there may be wiggle room. I'm told, but don't know for sure, that some of the folks flying L-39s and similar high speed aircraft have directions in their opperating limitations that allow higher "pattern/overhead" airspeed with approval of ATC/Tower for safety.

I've heard that from 2 jet owner/pilots but haven't seen the OL. I'll try and see it next time I fly with them.

Posted by: Randy DeVere | March 4, 2011 7:30 AM    Report this comment

We do a lot of formation flying in our Lancairs and Glasairs at Princeton Airport and the overhead approach is our choice of entry pattern, whenever current traffic volume permits. Overhead breaks our formation rather nicely and looks real cool from the ground. However, we do realize that folks in the pattern does not understand or have ever heard 'overhead approach'. So, like Paul, we generally say 'Glasbirds flight of 5, 4 miles east for the overhead approach, upwind entry'.

If downwind traffic won't permit a left-break, we will simply execute the upwind entry, then crosswind, then on to downwind.

So far, no complaints from any of the traffic pattern 'Nazis'! -Rick

Posted by: RICARDO ARGENTE | March 4, 2011 9:11 AM    Report this comment

It really is pretty simple: enter the overhead upwind at pattern altitude, if downwind traffic does not permit the overhead break then simply continue upwind until clear, then pitch out to crosswind/downwind. One possible hitch might be a departing hotrod that would hit pattern altitude before the overhead flight was clear, but there's always some potential fly in any ointment and that's why being alert is better than simply blindly following regs, standards, and tradition.

Posted by: Denny Jackson | March 4, 2011 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Just to throw a couple of other items into this dogpile: HELICOPTERs are advised to "As much as possible, avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic." That means that if they fly any pattern at all, they usually fly right-hand patterns. They MAY make an approach directly to a runway, or directly to a ramp.

GLIDERS often also make right-hand patterns at many fields in order to land on grass runways adjacent to hard surface runways. Rather than make a left-hand pattern (and be forced into a dangerous situation by someone making long patterns) they often fly right-hand patterns.

ULTRALIGHTS (yes, there are still a lot of them out there) usually have a convention of "Half the altitude of the fixed wing pattern, and half the distance from the field on the downwind." This shorter pattern eliminates bottlenecks by the lower speed of the ultralight.

The takeaway: Watch out for ALL "unusual" operations--you are not alone in the sky, and your radio won't save you.

Posted by: jim hanson | March 4, 2011 11:46 AM    Report this comment

When combined with an instrument approach, the 360 overhead presents a real problem for legal IFR separation.

Consider the PA-28 on a two-mile final at 80 Knots. He'll cross the threshold in a minute and a half.

Let's put a B-737 doing 140 Knots behind the PA-28. In a radar environment, we need three miles separation when the PA-28 crosses the threshold, so when the PA-28 is still two miles out, the 737 has to be six and a half miles out. (In the minute and a half that it takes the PA-28 to reach the runway, the 737 will travel 3.5 miles; 6.5 - 3.5 = 3 miles.)

Now let's put a flight of four jet fighters behind the 737. We'll assume something more modern than an F-104 -- something that can safely slow to 200 knots.

Even though the fighters are going to perform a 360 overhead, they've been cleared for the approach and are therefore cleared to descend. If we've got IFR conditions, we can't expect the fighters to remain 1000 feet above pattern altitude, in the clouds, and execute their break. We therefore have to make sure we have three miles separation between the 737 and the fighters.

So, for planning purposes, we've got a PA-28 on a two-mile final, a 737 on a 6.5 mile final, and our fighters are rolling in on their final (or initial) 12.3 miles out. (The fighters will travel 9.3 miles in the time it takes the 737 to travel 6.5, and since we need the fighters to be three miles out when the 737 crosses the threshold, 3 + 9.3 = 12.3.)

Posted by: Gary Kerr | March 6, 2011 11:51 PM    Report this comment

Now let's add the problem child: an MD-80 doing 180 knots that's on a base leg approximately 12 miles from touchdown. The MD-80 is being vectored so that the fighters, when they are on an eight-mile final, pass exactly three miles in front of its nose. As the fighters go past, we'll prepare to turn the MD-80 so it will intercept the final approach course two miles outside the marker. Let's say the total flight distance to the runway threshold for the MD-80 as the fighters cross its nose is ten miles (figure rounded corners) and that it will fly the first three of those ten miles at 180 knots and the remaining seven miles at 140 knots. We can expect the MD-80 to be over the threshold in 4 minutes.

But the fighters, when they go past the MD-80's nose, have 8 miles to travel to the threshold and then they're going to do a break and circle back around to land. It will take the fighters 2.4 minutes to fly those "initial" eight miles. In 2.4 minutes, the MD-80 will be 1.6 minutes out (3.73 miles) and we'll have legal separation...if only the fighters would just land! If the first fighter in the flight cranks it around as he crosses the numbers the first time, he "might" be able to get his airplane on the ground in 1.6 minutes, just as the MD-80 is also landing. That clearly won't work!

Posted by: Gary Kerr | March 6, 2011 11:53 PM    Report this comment

So, instead of tucking the MD-80 in nice and tight behind the fighters, we need at least another three minutes for the four fighters to do their break and get on the ground. To be safe, and because we really don't want to send the MD-80 around, let's plan on four minutes. We need the MD-80, while it's still doing 180 knots (more likely it will want to do 200) to be four more minutes, or at least 12 miles farther out. That's a lot of airspace that we may just not have!

Posted by: Gary Kerr | March 6, 2011 11:53 PM    Report this comment

Gary, lots of math in your proposed situations, but remember that we were initially talking about an uncontrolled airport in Class E airspace; not likely to have the aircraft mix involved in your calculations. A control tower would most certainly be present for the first of your three latest scenarios, and a prudent control tower operator would find ways to avoid a slow PA-28 hogging the airspace on a slow 2-mile final. That used to be my job.

Posted by: mach37 | March 7, 2011 4:29 AM    Report this comment

At an uncontrolled field, think about 4 airplanes on a 2 mile "initial" to the overhead break. At 120kts for the formation, that's 1 min to the break. Lead calls for a 5 second break and over the numbers makes his/her 180. 5 seconds later, two makes the 180 and is now 10 seconds behind lead on the downwind. Three makes their break 5 seconds later and is now on downwind 10 seconds behind two and 20 behind Lead. Finally Four makes the break 5 seconds later and is on downwind 10 seconds behind three, 20 behind two, and 30 behind Lead.

Lead flys the recommended pattern, at the break left 180 (2G 60deg turn) to the downwind reducing power and airspeed in the turn. At the "perch" (Abeam the numbers) drops gear and flaps and continues a descending 180 to the runway landing slightly long.

Considering 100kts approach speed for this type aircraft, each aircraft is 10 seconds or 1500ft apart once they are in the downwind/circling final. (Aircraft with approach speeds over 120 recommendations is 3000 ft separation) Each aircraft drops gear upon establishing their downwind. They each drive to the perch where they drop their flaps and continue the descending 180 to the runway. Each aircraft lands on the runway as briefed (staggered).


Posted by: Randy DeVere | March 7, 2011 7:53 AM    Report this comment

From the two mile initial it takes lead 1 min to reach the break, 5 seconds to reach the perch, 10 more seconds to land, 15 more seconds to slow and exit the runway. So the lead aircraft is on the ground and clear the runway in 1.5 minutes and the last aircraft is clear the runway 30 seconds later for a total of 2 min.

Consider the “45 entry” alternative: 4 aircraft enter the 45 TWO miles out and at 30 second intervals. Lead turns downwind at mid field, slows to 100 kts and flys normal pattern. So from the entry, lead flys 1 min to the downwind, 30 seconds on the downwind (5,000 ft runway), 5 second base, 15 second final, and lands taking 15 more seconds to slow and clear the runway for a total of 1.35min after initial but the final aircraft is down and clear 3 min after lead’s initial.

Check out the Formation and Safety Team (FAST) or Red Star Pilot’s Association websites

Posted by: Randy DeVere | March 7, 2011 7:54 AM    Report this comment

Bruce Savage, thank you for the full-color picture of, as you put it, "how it is supposed to be done" IN ENGLAND. Hope people note your source and DON'T do that in USA where it contradicts every method recommended in the AIM and FAA advisory circulars. Users create a collision hazard with aircraft using the FAA-recommended 45 degree pattern entry, among other things.

Posted by: Mickey McCall | March 7, 2011 7:40 PM    Report this comment

I was shooting multiple overhead approaches yesterday at KWJF (towered) in the L-39. The controllers there handle it smoothly and usually give the option to break in either direction. We set up initial at 2-3 miles, 1500 AGL, 200 kts. Normal traffic is right-hand for 24, and we usually broke right but did a couple left breaks for practice. No one was inconvenienced or bothered at any time, even though there was always at least one other airplane (usually single engine piston, a Lear once) in the pattern - sometimes more. Once we extended a bit wider after a low approach to set up for the next initial to accommodate a small Cessna, and we didn't mind - it was a nice day to fly! (Today we have winds gusting to over 60 kts!)

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | March 7, 2011 7:44 PM    Report this comment

Gary Kerr, why would folks using a VFR traffic pattern in non-towered airspace be concerned about a 737 on a 6.5 mile final or fighters 12.3 miles away? They're outside the traffic pattern airspace and IFR. If they enter using an overhead approach, they will cancel IFR and be VMC. So, for planning purposes, they'll be just like the rest of us - pilot must see and avoid. No different than the rest of the aircraft in the traffic pattern.

Posted by: Mickey McCall | March 7, 2011 7:50 PM    Report this comment

The point I was trying to make (and I'm pretty sure failed miserably at) was the amount of space that the overhead uses. I used to be a controller at TUL, and it wasn't uncommon for us to have a Cherokee, a 172, a 747, an AWACS, an F4, and two 727s in the pattern. Adding a flight of four A-7s who wanted to do a 360 overhead was sometimes fun, and sometimes it just didn't work -- they'd run into the 172 on downwind when they made their break, or the F4 on final would run over them because the F4 was a little too fast and the A-7s were a little too wide and slow getting back around to the runway. Also, not all pilots -- even the military pros -- routinely descended at the 4000 ft/min rate of descent that Randy DeVere might be implying (if the lead remains 1000 or more above the runway until the break, and he's down in 15 seconds, that's at least 4000 ft/min). Also, a Cub can make a standard rate turn at what, 10 degrees of bank? At 60 degrees of bank, a Cub can complete a 360 faster than I can blink. But the faster a plane is going, the longer it's going to take it to make a 360...even at 60 degrees of bank.

Posted by: Gary Kerr | March 7, 2011 9:35 PM    Report this comment

I remember being in the pattern at BiState Parks near St. Louis with six other C-150s. At the time the airport was uncontrolled. I just can't imagine someone trying to do a 360 overhead approach at an uncontrolled airport with seven other airplanes in the pattern. With an Air Traffic Controller running things, he or she can make room for the 360 overhead, but it's not something that I think seven or more pilots are going to be able to accomplish on their own.

Posted by: Gary Kerr | March 7, 2011 9:41 PM    Report this comment

I also found it interesting that Mac Hayes referred to the PA-28 on the two mile final as hogging the air space. When I was a controller at TUL, the only ILS approach for about a hundred miles was to our longest runway. Everybody was welcome, and other than the rare airline pilot who didn't think that he should have to widen out to follow the AWACS that was making low approaches, or slow a little to stay behind a 172, most of the pilots respected everyone's right to be there.

Posted by: Gary Kerr | March 7, 2011 9:56 PM    Report this comment

I also can't imagine trying to do an overhead approach with 7 150s in the pattern at an uncontrolled airport. In fact, it's hard to imagine any approach that would be comfortable in a high-speed aircraft with that many in the pattern. Preferably, there'd be another airport that would be nearby and suitable. But if I had to, I would probably use the opposite side of the airport for downwind (advising ahead of time that I was going to do that) to avoid the dense traffic side, and politely coordinate fitting into the flow by radio.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | March 7, 2011 11:18 PM    Report this comment

This has been a bizarre romp of a thread, with discussions of every type of "overhead" in (and out of) the books being flown at every conceivable type of airport (ATC controlled, uncontrolled, busy, deserted), maybe out of IFR , maybe purely VFR, and by every aircraft type from F104 to Piper Cub flying sometimes solo and sometimes as formations – and much of the time discussed as if all this was somehow interchangeable. I’d like to wrap up my contributions by emphasizing what Gary Kerr brought up a couple of posts up: At an uncontrolled field with several aircraft already in a “normal” pattern, will all you overhead/break fans be very, VERY careful, please? And announce yourself in plain language, please?

Posted by: John Wilson | March 7, 2011 11:27 PM    Report this comment

be very, VERY careful, please?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 8, 2011 6:43 AM    Report this comment

And have a nice flight :-)

Posted by: John Wilson | March 8, 2011 8:18 AM    Report this comment

I don't think the most common problem is safety in this case, rather that someone might think you're closer than you are and go wide to give you a chance to get in, then wonder "where the heck is that guy" when it takes you an extra couple of minutes to pop out of the clouds.

Posted by: Walt Woltosz | March 8, 2011 11:56 AM    Report this comment

" the pattern ... six other C-150s...airport was uncontrolled...can't imagine...360 overhead approach at an uncontrolled airport with seven other airplanes in the pattern...Air Traffic Controller ...can make room ... not something or more pilots are going to be able to accomplish on their own."

au contraire. when approaching an airport for landing, the aircraft at the lower altitude has the right-of-way, but shall not take advantage of this rule to cut in front of another or to overtake
that aircraft. so when entering the pattern, on the overhead or on the 45, one yields right-of-way to those already in the pattern since failure to do so would be "cutting in front" or "overtaking". thus the PIC entering upwind for the 360 overhead must not turn downwind in front of aircraft already on downwind. EXACTLY like entering on the 45, one can't just barge in and cut other people out. can't get spacing? exit the pattern and try again. just like when using the 45. so the overhead, performed at pattern altitude (whatever that is for the type aircraft) and at normal speeds, is no more or less dangerous than entering on the 45. ATC is a valuable aid to aviation safety, but the trained, knowledgeable, prudent, conservative, proficient PIC is responsible for flight safety. no offense intended, but i'll trust ATC for traffic separation after the dead controller's pulled from the smoking radar scope after the midair. PICs die. Controllers retire early.

Posted by: Mickey McCall | March 9, 2011 9:53 AM    Report this comment

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