I live in Wickenburg, AZ, right at the Wickenburg airport (E25) and get to watch traffic which ranges from business jets to taildraggers. Probably the most regular traffic is from the flight schools in the Phoenix area and sometimes from Prescott. As I watch during the day and evening, sometimes night, I listen to the CTAF to determine who and where the various aircraft are coming from. I also look at the FlightAware website which many times shows the flight tracks of the aircraft coming to Wickenburg.

The radio calls from the flight school aircraft are sometimes hard to understand due to the foreign students, but all-in-all not bad considering the learning of a new language along with pilot training.

There is a big issue that is prevalent though, and I have no idea how long it has been happening as I only started to live here permanently in January 2018; it has to do with position reporting in the traffic pattern. I have also found this is not unique to Wickenburg. The students seem to have been taught, or should I say that I assume they were taught, that the DEPARTURE LEG of the traffic pattern of an non-towered airport is the same as the UPWIND LEG.

components of a traffic pattern

If we are to consult the 2018 Aeronautical Information Manual 4-3 (PDF Page 189), all the information is there for the viewing and shows that the UPWIND LEG “Is a path parallel to the landing runway, in the direction of landing.” It is not over the runway or extending from the runway in use, but parallel to it. The DEPARTURE LEG is the leg from takeoff continuing out to where one will decide to stay in the pattern or leave the area straight out, or with a 45 degree turn left or right depending on whether the pattern is right or left traffic.

This same information is printed in the Airplane Flying Handbook FAA-H-8083-3B:

“The upwind leg is a course flown parallel to the landing runway in the same direction as landing traffic. The upwind leg is flown at controlled airports and after go-arounds. When necessary, the upwind leg is the part of the traffic pattern in which the pilot will transition from the final approach to the climb altitude to initiate a go-around. When a safe altitude is attained, the pilot should commence a shallow bank turn to the upwind side of the airport. This allows better visibility of the runway for departing aircraft. The departure leg of the rectangular pattern is a straight course aligned with, and leading from, the takeoff runway. This leg begins at the point the airplane leaves the ground and continues until the pilot begins the 90° turn onto the crosswind leg.”

left-hand traffic pattern

Also something to read is the new Advisory Circular 90-66B which includes an “alternate pattern entry” from the opposite side of the pattern, which is exactly where the UPWIND is located. AOPA had a safety advisor in the past that portrayed pretty much the same information.

I have attended several CFI meetings and also a meeting with the Arizona Flight Training Workgroup where I brought this topic up and everyone seemed in agreement that somehow the word must get out that this UPWIND POSITION REPORT is being used incorrectly. Maybe a trip to all the flight schools around the area to talk with the chief flight instructors is warranted? I have also spoken with two flight instructors from one of the big flight schools and to my surprise they didn’t know what I was talking about, so something is obviously missing.

The Law of Primacy says that what we learn first seems to stick in our heads, and if we learn it incorrectly it is hard to re-learn correctly!
I would say to keep a sharp eye out for traffic when you hear them report UPWIND, as they could very well not be where they are reporting to be!

Thank you for reading, safe flights!

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