Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I had another flying lesson today! After my last lesson, my CFI had wanted to work on the traffic pattern a little more and review some basic procedures. After a brief discussion of our lesson plan, we preflighted and took off in one of the flight school's Cessna 150's. Already I can feel a lot of improvement in my handling of the plane; I am no Red Baron but I am less hurky-jerky on the controls and my ground handling has gone from "drunk" to "pretty ok."

I made the takeoff and we flew North to the practice area to cover some more basic maneuvers. We climbed to about 2500 feet, made some steep turns to the left and right, and then practiced a rectangular pattern around a field on the ground below. The rectangular pattern is a simulated traffic pattern over a point on the ground that is used to show students how to set up a controlled descent and familiarize them with the basics of the pattern.

The traffic pattern exists at nonstandard fields to standardize the flow of traffic around the airport. Unless otherwise indicated, traffic patterns are flown to the left of the runway, and they consist of four legs: Upwind or departure; Crosswind; Downwind; Base; and Final. Here is a somewhat illegible hand-drawing:

To fly a pattern in a Cessna 150, these are the steps you must take. My instructor drilled this procedure into my head and it seemed to work perfectly.

1. Takeoff, upwind/departure leg to ~600 feet AGL

This step is self-explanatory. Take off and climb to about six hundred feet above the ground.

2. Climbing left turn 90 degrees, make for 1000 feet AGL

This is called the crosswind turn. Your objective is to turn 90 degrees while climbing to a height 1000 feet above the ground. On the radio you would announce "Winter Haven traffic, Cessna 3507Q making left crosswind runway 5."

3. Level off at 1000 feet, 90 degree left turn to downwind, reduce power to 2000 RPM, maintain 90mph and 1000 feet AGL.

You don't want to be too far from the field when on downwind, but being too close could create a traffic conflict. It's a judgment call and depends on the speed and type of plane you have. Your objective is to be parallel to the active runway, flying in the direction opposite landing. You reduce power to avoid traveling too fast and/or climbing. Radio "Winter Haven traffic, Cessna 3507Q turning downwind, runway 5, Winter Haven."

4. Maintain stability throughout downwind leg. Monitor position relative to active runway and compensate for drift. Monitor other traffic. Announce midfield downwind.

The downwind leg takes time. Use it to stabilize the airplane, look for other traffic, and correct for any dirft towards or away from the field. You are waiting until your wingtip is opposite the numbers at the end of the runway. When they are...

5. When abeam the numbers: reduce power to 1600 RPM. Add one notch flaps. Activate carb heat and control your descent.

Reducing power and adding flaps is the airplane equivalent of taking your foot off the gas and adding brakes. The carburetor heat prevents ice from forming inside the engine. You will begin to descend slightly, and you should be looking for the runway to be about 45 degrees behind your head. When it is...

6. When runway is 45 degrees behind you, turn 90 degrees and announce turning base.

You want to continue descending slowly through your turn. Don't overturn or your final will be sloppy.

7. Add one more notch flaps on the base leg of the traffic pattern. Continue descent. Monitor airspeed; maintain approx. 70 mph and do NOT drop below 60.

Dropping airspeed below 60 could cause a stall. Stalls are usually recoverable but it is never, EVER good to stall with so little altitude. Recovery could be impossible if you are too low.

8. When you are approximately abeam the runway, turn 90 degrees and line up with the numbers. Pick a spot on the runway and aim for it. It should get bigger without moving up or down at all. Double check the active runway to be sure you can avoid traffic conflicts. Call final approach: "Winter Haven traffic, Cessna 3507Q is on final, touch and go, left traffic, Winter Haven." Add a third notch of flaps and control your descent.

Monitor the runway. It should just get bigger without moving.

9. When just above the runway, pull the throttle to idle. Pull back and "flare" the airplane, gliding to a gentle scrape with the ground, main gear first and nose gear second.

10. If landing to a full stop, taxi off the active and announce clear. If doing a touch and go, remove flaps and carb heat and smoothly apply full power. Rotate at approximately 60 mph and climb out. Repeat.

In a nutshell, that's the traffic pattern. Nice and easy. The first two touch-and-gos we did were fairly sloppy; I was overcontrolling the plane and fighting myself. There's a lot to focus on and a lot to remember, and I felt slightly overwhelmed; but after a couple of patterns it suddenly clicked. By the end of pattern number five, my instructor told me I had gone from really crappy to pretty good, and said that the more we practice the better we'll get. I felt like I was improving a lot at the end of the lesson and I was glad to hear him say so too. Next time I fly: more traffic patterns and some work on tidying up and smoothing my landings.

1 comment:

  1. Great post... I would recommend that you include trim changes as well. Trim is rarely discussed when writing about flying, but it is so important that it should not be omitted. Discussing trim really helps pilots who might not be too familiar with the Cessna 150 to know what to expect when making power changes and flap introductions in order to keep the airplane more neutral and not fight the yoke so much.
    Thanks and keep them coming...