Category Archives: Competency

Kneeboard Notes: The Traffic Pattern

Hello everyone!

I’m working on developing some easy-to-use resources for pilots that I’m calling “Kneeboard Notes”.  These simple resources allow students to personalize the information covered in ground school to their particular airport and situation. 

This first installment of Kneeboard Notes concerns the traffic pattern.  It helps students think through not only the idea of what a traffic pattern is, but prompts them to think of the altitudes and settings needed in their aircraft, at their airport. 

I hope you find it helpful.  If you have feedback on this or if you have ideas for future Kneeboard Notes, please drop me a line at:

Download “Kneeboard Notes- The Pattern”


Planning Your Descent

In this month’s Flight Training Magazine (1/2011) there’s an easily overlooked tip that I think many people would find helpful.  When teaching new pilots (or even working with some experienced ones) I often find that there is some confusion in knowing how to plan a descent.  This results often in arriving high into the airport area and having to dive into the pattern –which we don’t want to do!

So what’s a good way to plan your descent?

Use the “Rule of Three”!

To do this, multiply the number of feet you have to lose by three.

If you are cruising at 6,500 feet and you have to descend to a traffic pattern that is 1,500 feet, you need to lose 5,000 feet.  Now multiply 5 x 3 and you get 15…start your descent 15 miles out.

Now what should be your rate of descent?

The folks at Flight Training Magazine recommend taking half your groundspeed and multiplying by 10.   So if you are cruising along at 120 knots GS, divide by 2 (=60) and multiply by 10 which gives you 600 feet per minute.

A little number crunching can make for a much more comfortable and pleasant ride into an airport traffic pattern!

Umm…Wrong Runway Dude!

Stock Photo of an Aeronica Champ

by Chris Findley, CFI

Like so many flying yarns, this one could begin with, “There I was….”

Well, there I was on the ramp in Bowling Green, KY (BWG) with another pilot as we readied to depart on the short flight back to our home airport in Gallatin, TN (M33).  We were watching a Cessna 172 land on the runway 3.  There was quite a bit of traffic.  After we landed, at least 2 other planes departed and a few others had landed.  So it was a busy Sunday afternoon as pilots made the most of the gorgeous southern weather.

This 172 rounded out and, patiently waited for the flare.  The pilot made a nice landing.  It was then I heard another aircraft engine coming from a direction that was surprising….the OPPOSITE end of the same runway!

Bowling Green (BWG). Rwy 3 is at the bottom of the picture.

The Aeronica Chump, oops, I mean “Champ” must have discovered his error really late in his own approach.  He made a hard right turn over our heads after flying the first third of the runway.  Maybe it was the Cessna 172 still rolling out that got his attention.  I’m sure it had the occupants of the Cesnna’s attention.  I think I heard them ask the unicom if there was anyone on the field that cleaned upholstery.   The Aeronica converted his missed approach into a midfield downwind (entering from the inside of the pattern) and landed without event on Runway 3– the approach end– the correct end.

We all make mistakes.  I’ve made my share.  Pilots know that we learn from our blunders and later, we share our stories to help others learn.

However, some goof-ups are easily avoidable and committing them can put others at significant risk.  Approaching to land on the wrong end of the runway is one of them.

What could the pilot in the Aeronica have done differently?

1.) Listen— Before he could see the airport, he could have been listening to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency).  If he had done this, he would have heard the traffic landing and departing on 3.

2.) Ask— If in doubt ask.  Ask another airplane in the pattern.  Ask the UNICOM.  Ask somebody.

3.) Observe— If 1 and 2 don’t bring clarification, or if the plane isn’t equipped with a radio, then stay outside of the pattern and observe for a few minutes.  It’s worth the extra time and extra 1/10 of a gallon of fuel.

This is also a lesson for those of us on the ground and in the pattern.  Always keep your head on a swivel!  Look for other traffic, even and especially where you don’t expect it!  Most everyone is taught to clear the final approach as they taxi into position for takeoff and to watch for traffic entering the pattern on the 45 downwind. But be always vigilant at every point in the pattern until you are on the ground and at the ramp.

Be Safe and Fly On!

Personal Minimums

by Chris Findley, CFI

“What is the weather predicted to do while we are flying?  And will the changes that occur be beyond your capabilities?”

My student arrived on time and, after exchanging pleasantries, I asked him about the weather. It was a local flight, but I had been on my student to begin sharing in the decision-making process. I had begun to sense that he simply relied on my level of comfort and advice to make the decision to fly or not.

“AWOS says the ceiling is 3000 feet, with the wind 260 at 6.” he said, already heading for the flightline.

“Whoa…hang on.” I said. “You have to understand that weather is dynamic, not static. It’s always changing. What is the weather predicted to do while we are flying?  And will the changes that occur be beyond your capabilities?”

He looked at my blankly for a minute.  I explained, “Say we take off  and 2 things happen: 1.) The ceiling begins to drop as a warm front begins to pass, from 3000 to 1600 feet and 2.) As it does that little westward wind becomes 12 gusting to 18.  Would you,  particularly where you are in your training, want to take off solo in those conditions?”

“Well, no.”  he said.

I told him that we needed to talk about more than existing weather, but predicted weather.  AWOS is great, but I’ve found that it is sometimes as informative as the rock-gags that say, “If the rock is wet, it’s raining.  If it is hard to see, it’s dark.”  So we have to do more preparation than simply phoning the AWOS on the way out to the field.

All of this brought us to a discussion of personal minimums.  Personal Minimums are exactly what they say they are, they are a way for you and I to think through the conditions of a flight and determine, outside the pressure of the moment, what is safe and reasonable for us.

This obviously be different for different pilots.   It will depend on your training, experience, physical condition and health, atmospheric conditions, aircraft, type of flight to be conducted, etc.  The essential thing is to have thought through these things enough to be able to make a good go/no-go decision.    Flight Instructor and ATP Darren Smith has a great checklist that is broken down into four simple categories:

1.)  Pilot:  How many takeoffs/landings have you had in the last 90 days?  Hours in make/model of aircraft?  Are you familiar with the terrain and airspace?   Physically, have you been ill or are you taking any medication that might impair your skills?  The old “I’M SAFE” acronym comes to mind– Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Emotion.   Have you eaten?

2.) Aircraft:  Fuel reserves in place? Experience in type?  Aircraft performance- weight, density altitude, performance charts?  Equipment on board-functioning properly, updated if necessary, required documents and inspections?

3.)  Environment:  Wind?  Crosswind? Adequate runway?  Weather forecast? Ceiling/Visibility?

4.) External Pressures:  Alternate plans if you can’t complete the trip by air?  Plan if you are delayed?  Other pressures to complete the flight?

You can download Darren Smiths full checklist here>>>

The benefit of personal minimums is that they give us a framework for making good, solid decisions.  How many pilots have gotten themselves into trouble because they simply took off into a situation that was beyond their limitations?

But it might be good to start with a very simple flow chart.  For my students, I ask them to describe for me what they perceive to be the edges of their skills and experience.  For one new pilot I know, whom I’ll call Jim, his personal minimums for day VFR look like this:

Wind:  10 knots headwind, 7 knots crosswind

Ceiling: 2,500ft

Visibility: 5 miles

Thunderstorms:for 15 miles

Experience: 5 Takeoffs and Landings within 30 days.

For him, if these conditions are not present, he doesn’t go.  With experience I’m sure things like the crosswind component will increase and he might feel more comfortable under a slightly lower ceiling.  But this plan keeps him safe.  When he’s ready to go beyond these he’ll hopefully obtain some time with an instructor until he feels like he’s ready to increase his own limitations.

The benefit of personal minimums is that they give us a framework for making good, solid decisions.  How many pilots have gotten themselves into trouble because they simply took off into a situation that was beyond their limitations?  We want to avoid that.  We should all be constantly learning, constantly pushing ourselves to become better pilots, but not at the risk of our safety or that of our passengers.  As the old adage says, “Better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

If you would like to read more on Personal Minimums I’d suggest you check out, the article by Susan Parson available here on the FAA’s website >>>