Cross Country Traffic Pattern – Redux

The topic of this month’s rant is the constantly annoying, logically unexplainable, incredibly expensive, sometimes dangerous, often unsafe, and bloody frkn stupid cross country traffic pattern.

The 2016 version of the Airplane Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-3B, recommends flying a normal airport traffic pattern generally at 1000 feet AGL and at a distance of between ½ and 1 mile from the runway. Yet, regularly here at Montgomery Field, I end up chasing some Bozo halfway to El Cajon on the downwind, turning base behind him on a three mile final, and then start looking for an emergency landing field because the stupid bugger has run me dry from a full fuel tank. (Okay. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I always thought, and had been taught, that you should keep your pattern within gliding distance of a runway. There’s no way that 747-Captain-in-Training Basil Babozo could make a successful glide to the airport from the distances he travels from that airport. OR, worse, the distances that his wet-behind-the-ears instructor insists that he fly the pattern. Which are, no doubt, recommended by the Let’s Keep That Prop Spinning The Hell With How Much The Student Ends Up Spending Professional Fleabag Flight Training Academy – snicker.)

Why do pilots fly cross country patterns? Well, we could go back to the newbie CFI who aspires to grander aviation dreams than light general aviation training airplanes. Not interested or cut out for flight training but realizing it’s the only way to amass sufficient hours for that first, REAL, paid professional flying gig – after which he has visions of captaining a 787 – our newbie teaches a traffic pattern better served by his dream aircraft. He could also be ordered by the aforementioned Fleabag Flight Training Academy to ensure that each trip around the traffic pattern take a minimum of ten minutes (for safety, of course – they don’t want their students to tire from extensive landing practice) and is consummated by, not by a touch and go, but a full stop landing with a taxi back to the assigned runway so that the instructor and student have sufficient time to discuss every nuance of the previously flown pattern, approach and landing. Oh, and take more money from the poor student’s rapidly emptying pocket.
I have flown patterns behind these kinds of people and, people, lemme tell ya it ain’t pretty, it ain’t efficient, and it ain’t bloody right.

The hardest part of learning to fly is trying to figure out the round out, the flare and the landing. When you spend ten bloody minutes in each circuit of the pattern, there’s no way that you can get enough practice on the hardest part: the frkng landing. There might be ten seconds in round out, flare and landing – maybe twenty if you’re fast and float a bit. Then you taxi off the runway, get a clearance to taxi back to the runway, wait your turn to take off, then take another ten minutes flying that huge, bloody 747 pattern. Whereas, if you’re doing it right, there’s a minute on takeoff and upwind, 15 seconds on crosswind, a minute and a half on downwind, 15 seconds on base and a minute on final to the landing – four frkn minutes, not TEN. BOZO.
No, the whoopdee doodle flight school likes the upwind leg to pattern altitude (2 minutes), a 30 second cross wind, a 4 minute downwind. a 30 second base, and a 3 minute final. Oh, and another minute rolling out to the frkng end of the runway after another shitty landing. Jaysus, me beads.
There’s no excuse for it and there’s no reason for it – except for the fact that some of these fleabag flight schools have a ‘POLICY’ that states “no touch and go’s on a runway of less than 10,000 feet” … or some ridiculous number like that. Some fleabag flight academies claim that Montgomery’s 3401’ of landing surface is insufficient for a student pilot to successfully land, then transition to take off and commence a touch and go. They’re “worried” for the health and safety of their students. Horse hockey. They’re worried that their overpriced airplanes and underpaid rookie instructors won’t be fully utilized – and let the students be damned.
Yes, there isn’t a lotta room after taking off at Montgomery to try and find a safe landing spot if the engine takes a dump. There’s nothing but businesses and restaurants a quarter mile from the departure end of the parallel runways, 28L and 28R. I really don’t like the freeways as an option, even though they’re wider than city streets. There’s usually so much traffic on the freeways, there are overpasses that you’ve gotta try to fly over, or land under, and, worse, there are drivers scurrying to work/lunch/dates/shopping/whatever who most likely are not paying attention and, fershure, ain’t looking for no steenkeeng engine-out airplane. I tell my students that if the engine quits at anything less than 700 feet AGL, on the upwind, that they’re to point the airplane at Balboa Avenue and hope that the traffic lights are in their favor.
But once you’ve made the crosswind turn (the AIM says within 300 feet of pattern altitude), you’ve got altitude and options. From crosswind you’ve only got 90° of turn to get back to a flat spot – at standard rate that’s 30 seconds and you’re already at 500-700 feet AGL. Granted, you’ll be landing downwind – who cares; there’s lotsa runway and lotsa taxiway and lotsa flat terrain.

So … got a little distracted by the engine out on takeoff drama scenario. But, just suppose that your learning to fly at Fleabag Flight Academy and your instructor demands that you fly a cross country flight pattern, just for safety’s sake (sorry, insert really loud SNICKER here). Let’s say that your engine quits on three mile downwind, just before you turn base. Where ya gonna go?
At Montgomery, you’re looking straight ahead at Cowles Mountain (and associated ridge lines heading northwest) and you ain’t gonna put it down there. Ah, you remember Admiral Baker Golf Course just to your right, and you head for it – nothing like 36 grass runways at your disposal. Sure, there are trees to contend with. And you might have 300 yards of landing surface – that’s 900 feet – on the fairways that aren’t doglegs. And there are some fairways that head into the prevailing west/south-westerly wind. And the bodies of water aren’t too deep – probably. Oh … and you instantly set up for best glide speed in your trainer – what was that number again? And neither you or your newbie instructor have ever planned for, nor expected, the imminent forced landing you’re about to experience.
Hell. What could be easier. No problem-o.
A former work colleague who had accumulated 10,000 hours twenty years ago and thousands of hours of instruction experience once told me an interesting tidbit.
“The difference between a recreational pilot, and a professional pilot, is pretty simple,” Roger said. “The professional pilot expects everything to go wrong on any given flight, and is pleasantly surprised when everything goes right. The recreational pilot expects everything to go right, and has no clue what to do when everything goes wrong.” Who do you want to emulate?
Go fly with someone with experience, who knows how to fly a traffic pattern, and knows what to do when everything goes wrong.

Posted in Rants