How to Fly a Traffic Pattern

The VFR traffic pattern is a standard procedure for departing from, or arriving at an airport.  This article gives an overview of how to fly a standard traffic pattern.

traffic pattern

Takeoff into the wind and enter the upwind leg of the traffic pattern.  Be sure to keep the plane aligned with the extended centerline of the runway, particularly at airports with parallel runways.  Once you're within 300ft of pattern altitude, start a left 90 degree climbing turn (or a right turn if flying a right hand traffic pattern, as dictated by ATC or local procedure). You're now entering the crosswind leg.

Use the crosswind leg to climb up to pattern altitude (usually 800-1000 AGL) and to check for other aircraft that may be entering the pattern.  Upon reaching pattern altitude, make another 90 degree turn to enter the downwind leg.  You are now flying parallel to the runway from which you took off. Looking off the left wing (or right wing if you've been making right turns), the runway should come into view.  You should be close enough to the runway such that in the event of an engine failure, you would still be able to safely make the field.

'Abeam the numbers' (that is, adjacent to the landing threshold and runway numbers), reduce power such that your speed is in the white arc (the flap extension range), switch on the fuel pump (if present) and landing light.  Begin a slow descent and add the first step of flaps to aid with the speed reduction.

When you are 45 degrees abeam the touchdown point, start another 90 degree turn onto the base leg.  You would typically add another notch of flap, and maintain a vigilant watch out the left window, waiting for the runway to come into view.  The descent should continue and you should continue a speed reduction such that you're getting close to approach speed.

Shortly before passing the runway, make the last 90 degree turn to final.  The runway should come into view at your 12 oclock, and you should be approximately 500' AGL.  Add flap as necessary to slow to final approach speed and execute a normal landing.