Tips and Techniques to Fly a Traffic Pattern

Pilots generally fly in rectangles or circles at most small airports to ensure a systematic take-off and landing.  The traffic pattern is important to ensure all of the aircraft stays safe and on the flight path so that the pilots can view one another and correctly set up the airplane for landing, and also, the typical airport traffic pattern.

Let us learn about the things that a pilot needs to know when flying a traffic pattern.

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About a Traffic Pattern

As per the NTSB, in 2012, more than 41% of general aviation accidents happen in the method and landing phases of flight. This makes it important that a pilot has to have a good understanding of flying the traffic pattern and landing at a non-towered airport.

Airport traffic patterns are generally similar. A few airports have right-handed traffic practices for avoiding mountainous regions or a densely populated area of the airport. On the other hand, some airports have traffic pattern heights that vary from the typical 1000 feet height.

ATC is accountable for the traffic flow in case of a tower-controlled airport. Tower control is beneficial in keeping aircraft at a safe distance from one another. However, when a pilot flies into a non-towered airport, he and other pilots are responsible to maintain the right sequence and keep a safe distance from one another.

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The Different Legs of a Traffic Pattern

A traffic pattern has the following legs:

Departure Leg:

This leg occurs right after a pilot take-off. This is the time when the airplane is heading on the runway and moving to altitude. For light aircraft, a departure leg is a fast one.

The Upwind leg

This leg is used for an airplane that enters or exits the pattern while hovering parallel to the landing field. If a specific approach to landing doesn’t work out, and the pilot needs to go around, then he will offset a little from the right side of the exit leg to the upwind leg of the traffic pattern and fly from there.

Cross Wind

If a pilot identifies crosswind, then he has to add wind correction. This is essential to keep flying parallel to the landing field and avoid getting far or near throughout the time he is on downwind. By keeping a fixed distance from the landing field every time, it makes it easier to fly the traffic pattern.


When a pilot approaches the airport from anywhere outside of the pattern, then it has a few alternatives to enter the pattern. The commonest and highly recommended option is a 45-degree entry. Herein the airplane comes in the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, maintaining a 45-degree angle to the downwind leg and at pattern altitude.

Final approach

An airplane has to perform a “straight-in” approach, wherein the pilot relinquishes the rectangular traffic pattern and flies straight into the final approach leg of the traffic pattern.


The traffic pattern enables the VFR pilots to either exit or enters the airport in a planned manner. It also enables an efficient flow of traffic at the airport. A pilot should master the skill of entering and departing a traffic pattern to ensure a safe landing.

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