Tighten up & Thanks

November 23, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

Traffic patterns should be tight. I was reminded this afternoon when a Mooney flew over the neighborhood, which is a few miles from the airport. That’s one of the reasons I moved here and it’s great for seeing good and not-so-good airmanship. The bad news was this pilot was way beyond the bounds of  a normal pattern for this size aircraft. However, he was being quiet and with reduced power the Mooney was making much less racket than a neighbor’s lawnmower a block away.

But it got me to thinking about how often we critique ourselves on how crisply a particular maneuver was performed. The mantra in the old aircraft I fly is to stay within gliding distance of the field in case the engine quit. It never has and probably won’t but it still seems like good advice. It also lowers the sound footprint considerably because a lot of power is not needed to drag the machine in the last few miles in from the impromptu cross-country.

Wide tracking also creates a collision hazard when someone flying a tight pattern is overtaken by a faster aircraft on base or final – that usually results in a lose-lose proposition.

Thanks !

This is also the weekend to give thanks, as our forefathers did some centuries ago for a bountiful harvest in the new colonies. We should give thanks for having the freedom to fly in this country,  unlike almost any other place. You’ve heard before that GA is threatened in many areas which I won’t elaborate here,  but merely say that despite our challenges the U.S. has more GA flight activity then the rest of the world combined. Give thanks for that freedom and resolve to do what it takes to protect it.

Take a non-pilot flying to introduce them to our world – maybe to become a pilot or just to understand. Think about what you can do to help your airport and educate the community on what it does – truly it is a field of dreams. Finally – always – resolve to go about the business of flying with safety at top of mind. It’s not that hard and won’t inconvenience you nearly as much as a mishap. It keeps our insurance rates down, improves our images and helps airports.

Go fly this weekend and remember to keep the pattern tight.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Frank Linthicum

    I agree tight patterns are generally good. However, tight patterns at unfamiliar airport make me uncomfortable. I feel I can fly safer if I widen it out a bit to allow time for a more stabilized approach. I am a 700 hr instrument pilot and still have a lot to learn.

  • Bruce Landsberg


    The pattern should be as wide as needed to allow you to enough time to clear the final approach and line up. Wind effect is often neglected by amateurs which makes base either too long or too short.

    It really helps to have a flow and the aircraft configured so there is little do once in the pattern but to add flaps and lower the gear at the appropriate place. (probably could start an argument on that topic as well.)

    Practice with an experienced instructor and best to do it away from home field. Thanks much for your note.

  • Tommy Williams

    Power to idle on downwind abeam the numbers fully configured and at the proper final speed. Make the runway with no additional power application. It will work great in most light aircraft and it’s not hard, just different.

    Keeps the pattern tight and quiet!

  • Gary Stegall

    Hey, Tommy. That’s the way I think most of us were taught in primary training. As we move up to more complex, heavier aircraft, we should then be taught to go by the aircraft manufacturer’s recommendations in the Pilot and Owner’s Handbook(POH) or the Airplane Flight Manual(AFM). And don’t forget to get a thorough checkout with a CFI who is proficient in make and model.

  • Steve Reed

    If I made power off approaches all the time, I would be replacing cylinders constantly. A well planned partial power approach works better from the standpoint of engine longevity.

  • John Lunseth

    Bruce, I am sorry, but you are wrong on tight patterns, and I think that preaching tight patterns kills pilots. I am not a CFI, and by most standards I am a low time pilot (700 hrs.), but I can read statistics. This subject came up on the Red Board in Oct., and it caused me to look at the Nall Report statistics on landing phase accidents, stall/spin v. engine failure. There were 20 landing phase stall spin accidents in the 2010 report, 9 fatal, and only 3 loss of engine. Further, if you make allowance for the fact that 2/3rds of all mechanical failures in GA aircraft are home-builts, that leaves 1 engine failure in type-certificated aircraft in the 2010 report, and that was not fatal.

    Tight patterns kill pilots. There was just one in a Mooney Bravo in Pomona, CA.

    I flew a program here in Minnesota called Fly Minnesota that resulted in landings at around 100 different airports. Flying a Skyhawk pattern (because that was my training) in my M20K, I invariably found that even with good winds, bank angles at or exceeding 30 degrees were needed, airspeed decayed and throttle had to be added on the turn from downwind, and I could not square the base at all or I would blow through the final. My Mooney has a 13:1 glide ratio. I can be two miles from pattern altitude and make it to the field.

    Honestly, this mantra – “tight patterns,” needs to change. Look at the Nall stats yourself and you will see what I am talking about.