For some reason, pilots often make a hash of flying the traffic pattern with especially nasty arguments over straight-in approaches. In this descent into animated madness, AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli takes a humorous look at the issues. For Ercoupe and Mooney owners, the thin-skinned and the humorless, viewer discretion is advised. All others, Happy 2021!

42 COMMENTS

  1. WAY better than reruns of Gilligan’s Island. (RIP, Dawn Wells.)

    Most pilots’ traffic patterns are like German aircraft formations – “same day; same way.”
    Why?

    Because most flight instructors let their students get away with it.
    (I suspect that these flight instructors are incapable of flying a proper pattern, themselves.)
    I’ve been told more than once, “What difference does it really make? They all end up over the numbers, don’t they?” Seriously.

    Happy New Year!

  2. That was great, absolutely great. I’m still laughing my ass off. The FedEx truck was just to much…
    You’re making me crack open my AIM later today. Honestly, best video I’ve seen for a long time for all the right and wrong reasons. I needed a little laughter and you provided it. Nice job, thanks. Now I’m going to watch it again.

    • Another Paul video to add to my private pilot syllabus! The Fedex Truck.. you got full belly laughter out of that one. I teach my students the “Approved” Traffic pattern entries and exits, because if they depart our left hand pattern on a right crosswind (like almost all southbound departures from that runway do) they will flunk their checkride. It is far more useful to understand what can go wrong, and that courtesy is a virtue.

  3. Speaking of landing on the road. I recall an article I read years and years ago (can’t remember where) about a pilot who decided to relive his youth by retracing the Rt 66 adventure driving vacation his Dad took the family on. Instead of driving, however, he decided to fly the route in a cub. Somewhere along the way he got a bit disoriented trying to find his planned fuel stop, an airport with a turf runway near the highway. He was already low on fuel, so he didn’t really have much search time. As he flew a circling search pattern he overflew an auto service station sitting alongside the highway a few times, and an idea formed. His cub was okay to use mogas, he was already low on fuel, and he hadn’t seen a car on the highway for miles.

    A few seconds later and he taxied up to the pump at the service station. He hopped out of the plane and asked the incredulous attendant if he can use the toilet. As he’s walked back to the plane the attendant is still standing there scratching his head. Amused, and feeling a bit cocky at having avoided a disaster, the pilot says, “I guess you don’t get many aircraft landing here for fuel do you?”

    The attendant points directly across the highway and says, “Nope. Most planes land at that airport right there.”

    • Mark … I knew a crazy pilot who had sold his AgCat in upstate NY to someone in Colorado. Someplace in the mountains, he’s in the same predicament so he lands and taxies up to a gas station pump. Leaving, he happened to look back and saw that the prop wash had blown over several display stands so he sends the guy some $$ to be gentlemanly. He had a lot more stories like that so his pilot buddies nick named him “Bonus Bill” because every day he lived was a bonus day. 🙂

  4. This video reminds me of a quote attributed to Walt Disney: “Laughter is no enemy of learning.”

    The last few minutes reminds me of a typical sunny afternoon at Quincy ‘99. 🙂

    PS – great, now you have me humming “there’s a holdup in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights…”.

  5. I haven’t laughed out loud at an online video in months! Did somebody get a new video editor for Christmas?

    Fun, and educational. Rather than engage in the didactic and pedantic “Ya gotta fly the pattern THIS way!”–the video exposes the many and various ways that it CAN be flown. “Pattern Police”–please take note.

    One item missing, however–and it may be the biggest issue in “Pattern Wars”. It involves an aircraft making an instrument approach to that same small airfield. In most non-towered airfields, the pilot can’t cancel IFR until landing is assured–and is probably still with the controlling agency–not on Unicom. When the pilot DOES pick up the field, he cancels IFR–switches to advisory, and announces that he is on a final for the runway. I can’t tell you how often that has happened to me.

    Sometimes, a pilot in the pattern will recognize what is going on and announce extending their downwind–but just as often, someone will covertly announce “Hey, we fly patterns around here!” This is no time to argue on the frequency–I offer to sort it out on the ground. I usually tell them “I’m on an IFR clearance–at 500′ AGL, and on a two mile final–I called advisory as quick as I was able to cancel IFR and announced intentions. Would you expect me to abandon the landing–overfly the airport–and get in line with the 5 trainers in the pattern–when my approach speed is faster than their cruise speed? Do you believe THAT is safe?” If they don’t listen to reason, only THEN do I go back to the FAA guidance–the aircraft that is LOWER or on final approach has precedence.”

    If you keep it civil, explain the FARs, explain WHY it is more dangerous for a high-performance airplane to mingle amongst the trainers, (I tell them that I TOO run a flight school–and fly antiques, gliders, and LSAs), show a willingness to fit in, explain why alternatives are LESS safe, most pilots will let it go. If not, agree to disagree–“I’M sorry, I didn’t KNOW THAT THIS IS YOUR PRIVATE AIRPORT!”

    Perhaps a sequel to this “production” is in order–complete with more entertaining dialogue by the producers! Suggest including the higher traffic pattern expected of high performance aircraft, the lower traffic pattern altitude of low-performance aircraft, and the often right hand patterns flown by gliders and helicopters.

    • This is why man invented ‘Com2’?
      We have a similar situation at my local field, but the IFR arrivals all announce themselves about 10 minutes out, and I am not aware of their being any problem or conflict – the local fliers all understand what is happening and accommodate the inbound.

      • Several comments on this seemingly being a problem, as though an airplane on an IFR approach has to do a straight in.

        It does not.

        Circling is an option. A visual approach is an option. I’m not sure if protocols for these have changed with ADS-B, but I doubt it. Whether you use the alternate comm or not, you can simply tell ATC you’re changing frequencies. You’re not asking; you’re advising.

        Then cancel on the spot or advise you’ll cancel on the ground. Either way, you’re free to start the dance with local traffic on CTAF. The larger problem is speed disparity. I think it’s reasonable to expect a light turboprop to fly a pattern if necessary (1500 feet) and a straight-in can’t be worked out.

        A bizjet…less so. But the pilots should still be respectful and polite to those in the pattern who have to yield and not get crappy about it if things don’t work out and they have to go around.

    • My only complaint with an IFR plane bursting out of communications-hyperspace in the middle of a gaggle of VFR traffic is when they continue to use IFR position reports, to wit:

      “Bizjet 12345 is at STANE, inbound for landing”

      …as opposed to…

      “Bizjet 12345 is on four-mile final for Runway 24”

      Which one makes the most sense to VFR-only pilots?

      It’s something I’ve noticed over the years, and I mentioned it to my CFII, but there doesn’t seem to be any rule or best-practice about it.

      • This! Millions of pages and if it’s ever mentioned, I don’t know where. I stopped practicing approaches when the IRS changed the training rules over a decade ago. Went back to being VFR and stopped flying for business (and told AOPA they were useless pieces of… I digress). Well, I suspect few prop planes know the IFR chart even at their home airport anymore.

        Then the professionals announce the location of their Gulfstream in what might as well be Cantonese while approaching at “faster than their cruise speed”.

        Not helping.

  6. I agree IFR traffic announcing the fix and not the distance from the airport is very confusing to VFR only pilots. I am instrument rated and it stresses me when I’m VFR in the pattern, and I hear inbound IFR pilots state “ on the ILS from whatever approach fix they are at” I do understand that saying that to tower is appropriate because they know where you are and you are supposed to say it. VFR traffic in the pattern won’t have a clue, unless a distance is given.

    • I typically announce that I’m “X miles [north/south/whatever[ of the airport on the [approach]”, and if I’ll be landing or doing a low approach. That way the VFR pilots know where I am, and the IFR pilots know which approach I’m flying in case they’re also flying approaches. This happens a lot at the local non-towered airports in my area, so it’s important that both piece of information are provided; particularly since often times pilots will be flying opposite-direction approaches.

  7. re: long straight-in. About three millennia ago, a certain student pilot was tooling around his home area for a little bit of fun and practice for his flight test. It was one of those beautiful fall days found in West Virginia, with the mountains resplendent with fall colors and the calm, cool, glassy air making for good performance and a deliciously serene flight. It was time to call it a day, and I made one more pass over the city to look down at my house and turned for the airport, about four miles to the east. I began a long, slow descent, enjoying the perfect day, the smooth engine, and thinking all was right with the world.

    I made my radio call and descended on a long, straight-in four-mile final to runway 10. About two miles out, a Cessna 182 passed over my head – same heading, nearly the same descent angle, about twenty miles-per-hour faster, and no more than twenty feet above me, obviously also going the same point on the runway. If I’d nudged the yoke I could have cut off his tailfeathers.

    Within three seconds it was over. I watched him descend in front of me, touch down, and by the time I reached the ground, he was taxiing to his hangar. A local guy, well-known to everybody, businessman, always in a hurry. He hadn’t bothered to make a call. I have to this day, thirty-five years later, never made a long straight-in landing unless I’m IMC or doing practice approaches, and then, it’s always with lotsa calls and an observer to look for traffic.

  8. If there’s no one else in the pattern there’s no reason not to do a straight in if the wind favors that. All this discussion about patterns is a bit OCD. What I wish others would stop doing is pulling out in front of me when I’m on short final forcing me to do a go-around. Even though I’ve announced my position on the radio the whole way in. That’s when you want to fly close enough to them to get their “n” number and write them up to the feds for careless and reckless operation.

  9. Missing from this video is turbine powered aircraft, which enter the pattern at 1500 AGL, and must fly significantly faster than most weekend flyers. I spent 35 years flying various medium size and large turboprop aircraft, sometimes into non towered busy airports. Fortunately I survived, and my closest near miss was at a tower controlled airport.

  10. Traffic conflicts aside, I’m glad to hear there are still uncontrolled fields with full patterns out there. Reading this got me musing on the past 40 years or so of non-towered pattern conditions here in SoCal. Used to be that Sundays at, say, Whiteman airport in the San Fernando Valley, were a total madhouse, with a LAX-style conga line waiting for that non-existent break in the landings so they could get the runway long enough to squeeze out on a running start. Today I rarely arrive at an uncontrolled field anywhere to find more than 2 or 3 other aircraft actively sharing it, most of the time the closest encounter might be only a radio call heard at some point during the process.

  11. Great Video but wonder why PB chose to diss the King 170B/175B. Just kidding I know it was a picture that was handy but IMO he should have used an ARC radio or a KX155 with a burned out display.

    The KX17B is old (venerable) but they were overbuilt and many are still out there working well on both NAV and COM at 45+ years of age..

    Sadly they are orphans and when they fail licensed shops are no longer set up to service them. There are still a couple of licensed refurb companies that sell them as slide in replacements.

  12. Although I usually enjoy your videos, and AVweb in general, I am strongly offended by your flippant and insulting references to “Those 79 year old pilots who can’t hear and don’t care anyway.” I happen to be an 80 year old pilot who hears just fine with my Bose headsets, listens intently to the tower and all other radio transmissions, and follows all the rules,…ALL of them. Have also read that, Per Capita, Pilots over 70 have far better safety records than younger pilots. Bet you dread hitting that mark when you become deaf, incompetent and ignorant.

    • Yeah, Paul, you better watch out, us UFO members can get mean when aroused and we’ve got the time on our hands to plot a suitable response!

      Actually, I think the reality is an old bad pilot is simply a bad pilot who is now old. Same applies to good pilots. Ingrained habits rarely change.

  13. Were you two the drug bustees at 8:13 and sitting in the cell came up with this idea ?? Genius !!

    You’se two inserted still more subtleties than you didn’t mention:

    Lake Sully had a 737 flying over it w/ a flock of geese there, too
    The police car was car 54
    The F-14 or F-15 blows over a car w/ AB’s on
    A motorcyclist hits a truck
    An airplane towing a trailer
    FedEx truck his L wing of a UPS airplane
    Amphibian tow vehicle submerges
    There were more I couldn’t decipher.

    GENIUS !!
    Enjoyed the calypso music, too … played the video a few extra times to practice my dance steps
    Look out Rod Machado … PB’s 1 and 2(if he’s really real?) are comin’ for ya …
    Next thing ya know … you’ll be selling these videos at Sporty’s.

  14. I have fond memories of working myself into the approach sequence for a major airport’s intersecting runway with my offer to land and hold short of the major actives accepted. My clearance then was “#2 to the field, behind a Dash-8 which is 500′ above and one mile behind you, cleared to land.”

  15. Best video ever to explain pattern ops. Brightened my day. Absolutely loved it. We share the same sense of humor too. As a student pilot I was guilty of a complete brain fart and entered a pattern the WRONG WAY. Scared the crap out of everyone and when I finally landed I kept my head down and slinked around to depart as discretely as I could. I still get the shakes when I think about it.

  16. I see much has been said, and most it, I’d would agree. But I see that you had to use ‘Ass____’
    and ‘Dick’. Really? Like so many, I have been in and around the biz for 30 yrs and thousands of hours, and find it rare to have even a heated argument that sinks to the use of such verbiage. It may be, in the deep depths of the ‘City’ airports even skilled aviators are ‘fn’ stuff. But hey, once we start accepting this, then, as we see on TV and internet, it becomes base and looses it pleasant aspect. Let’s keep it clean, it’s not hard to do, and you are a good writer. You don’t need to go there to get us to enjoy your work!
    Thanks for listen’n. No, I am not a ‘tighty whitey’ guy, just a good ol boy who knows how to treat people I respect as pilots and beyond. Have a good one, and keep the pattern ……..

  17. As a brand new Private Pilot I was just about to turn final when a bonanza passed right in front of me at maybe 100 ft away. He landed and taxied to the pumps. After I landed I went over to him to tell him he scared me pretty good.

    His response was well I made a bunch of calls on 122.8 so pay more attention next time.

    I said well that’s nice but the Unicom frequency was changed to 123.0, four years ago….

  18. I’m sad that you didn’t have some of those many helicopters from later in the clip moving around your pattern!

    Rotorcraft can appear almost anywhere, and especially lower, slower and on the opposite downwind or base (including when joining), as well as being harder to see below in the ground clutter, not to mention their present position departures. Announcing altitude and intent early and frequently may help hover-challenged kinfolk unable to just stop, turn away or land quickly.

    Per (the current, updated) AIM 4-3-3:

    “Helicopters operating in the traffic pattern may fly a pattern similar to the fixed-wing aircraft pattern, but at a lower altitude (500 AGL) and closer to the runway. This pattern may be on the opposite side of the runway from fixed-wing traffic when airspeed requires or for practice power-off landings (autorotation) and if local policy permits. Landings not to the runway must avoid the flow of fixed wing traffic.”

    Transitioning helicopters might fly overhead the field and/or through the pattern (esp. base or crosswind) at various altitudes (often low) and you may hear them announcing doing that (or not).

    And don’t assume most (or even many) helicopters are ADS-B Out equipped, especially in rural areas, most not being IFR.

    I dare say someone else will pipe up about gliders, often NRDO, and their tight pattern downwind landing (for a quick turnaround) towplanes.

  19. Paul, I haven’t laughed so hard for a while. Trying not to be a @$$hole In the video, you advocate using the color and type of aircraft and omitting the call sign.

    While I recognize, this is being done to reduce frequency congestion, it isn’t a good practice. It’s epidemic. Like last call, and all traffic advise.

    But, if we plan to dance intimately in the traffic pattern, the least thing we can do is exchange names. The book, you know, the red and blue AIM thingy, states in paragraph 4-1-9 the phraseology to use.

    If we are dancing and you step on my left foot, I may scream. But if I know your name, I will not get a more immediate answer for you and not everyone on the dance floor.

    Say we are in the pattern, you know dancing, and I lose sight of you. Knowing your name allows me to ask you specifically your position. Not all the Cessnas on final. “The Cessna on final say your position” and we get….. beeeeeep….@#$&@$. Trying not to be an……