By Howard Deevers
Remember getting your Private Pilot License, and the examiner said: “Here is your license to learn,” or something to that effect? Now, you are a pilot and can fly anywhere you want, without needing your instructor to sign off on the cross country, and you can take passengers. Congratulations!
Pilots do continue to learn as they fly. Every flight is a learning experience. Unfortunately, much of what they learn does not come from an instructor; it comes from other pilots. Things like “How to short cut the traffic pattern,” or “The use of phrases that are not appropriate for aviation at all.” It happens at airports all over the country.
Here are some examples: At a non-towered airport, “Cessna 123 straight in 5 mile final for runway one-two.” IF there is no other traffic in the area, a straight in is perfectly safe and appropriate. IF there is other traffic in the pattern, then a straight in is a disruption to the traffic flow, and the aircraft should NOT do a straight in, but rather enter the traffic pattern in the standard way with the other traffic.
Another example: At a non-towered airport, “Mooney 321 lining up and waiting.” At a tower controlled airport the tower may instruct a plane to “line up and wait” to expedite traffic flow, when there is a safe distance between traffic that just landed, and traffic that is far enough out on final. Instructors do instruct on this at a towered airport during training. I don't know of any instructors that teach that this is an approved procedure at a non-towered airport.
If the pilots did not learn those things from their instructors, where did they learn them? Probably from “Joe Pilot” after they got their pilot’s license.
Another example is phraseology. On the radios at non-towered airports, “Cessna 123 departing the active. Any traffic in the area, please advise.” “The active?” How about giving a runway number! “Any traffic in the area please advise.” No instructors I know are teaching that phraseology. Where do you learn that? Again, from “Joe Pilot.”
We do need airports that we can use to do practice approaches, and other training. At towered airports doing instructing and listening for tower instructions can complicate the learning process. Non-towered airports give us more flexibility to make a point and not interfere with other traffic, as long as we are all following the same rules.
Flying at Marana (KAVQ) a few weeks ago I heard an aircraft on the radio say, “Marana traffic, Cessna 123, 3 miles to the north. I will overfly the runway and do a tear-drop entry to downwind for runway twelve.” I could not really figure out what that pilot was going to do. First of all, I had never heard of a “tear-drop” entry to a traffic pattern. Was he going to make right turns or left turns? What altitude would I look to find this Cessna? Runway twelve? And, my last thought was, who made up this entry into a traffic pattern?
Another day, I heard a plane saying that he was going to do “A loop around entry to downwind.” I have no idea what that meant, or even where to look for that plane. No instructors I know are teaching this kind of a traffic pattern entry.
If you really want to use that “license to learn” and increase your knowledge about flying, go to the sources of good information. For traffic at non-towered airports, read the Airman Information Manual (AIM), section 4-1-9. It is easy reading and has diagrams. You might be surprised to learn that the “Upwind” part of the traffic pattern is NOT right after takeoff. That is called the “Departure” leg: see figure 4-3-1 in the AIM.
The ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION holds safety seminars and works with the FAASTeam to provide safety information to pilots all over Arizona. Check the web site for a location near you, when we are again able to hold seminars, and don't forget to bring your “wingman.”