The Pattern

Traffic pattern including legs and entry points.

An airport pattern is the invisible rectangular over an airport. Most smaller airport patterns are approximately the same, so flying the pattern typically looks like this:

  1. Fly off the runway and continue climbing the upwind leg.
  2. At about 500 ft. above ground level (AGL), turn the aircraft 90 degrees to the crosswind leg (usually a left turn).
  3. At about 800 ft. AGL and 1/2 mile from the runway, turn another 90 degrees to the downwind leg.
  4. Once you reach pattern altitude (typically 1,000 ft. AGL), fly straight and level.
  5. Abeam (across from) the other end of the runway, reduce power, add flaps as required and start descending.
  6. At about 800 AGL, turn 90 degrees to the base leg, add more flaps and continue to descend.
  7. Once your plane is lined up with the runway, make a 90-degree descending turn on the final leg and add more flaps.
  8. Make control adjustments needed to keep aligned with the runway and pointed at the landing location. Over the threshold (beginning of the airport) add flaps if recommended by the manufacturer.
  9. Just above the landing point, gently pull the aircraft nose up to make it stall inches above the runway.

As you’ll learn, that’s a very simplified look at taking off and landing an airplane. Most airports use a left-hand pattern (all turns are to the left) and others have a right-hand pattern. A few have left-hand patterns on some runways and right-hand patterns on others to make sure planes don’t bump into each other. Your instructor will tell you what pattern is used at your airport if you haven’t figured it out already. And your airport facility directory (AFD) will make it official.

As you can see, the skills you will need to take off and land your aircraft at an airport, called pattern flying, are takeoff, climb, straight-and-level flying, moderate turns, descent, and landing.