Standard Airport Traffic Patterns (Part Two)

The downwind leg is a course flown parallel to the landing runway, but in a direction opposite to the intended landing direction. This leg is flown approximately 1⁄2 to 1 mile out from the landing runway and at the specified traffic pattern altitude. When flying on the downwind leg, the pilot should complete all before landing checks and extend the landing gear if the airplane is equipped with retractable landing gear. Pattern altitude is maintained until at least abeam the approach end of the landing runway. At this point, the pilot should reduce power and begin a descent. The pilot should continue the downwind leg past a point abeam the approach end of the runway to a point approximately 45° from the approach end of the runway, and make a medium bank turn onto the base leg. Pilots should consider tailwinds and not descend too much on the downwind, so as to have a very low base leg altitude.

The base leg is the transitional part of the traffic pattern between the downwind leg and the final approach leg. Depending on the wind condition, the pilot should establish the base leg at a sufficient distance from the approach end of the landing runway to permit a gradual descent to the intended touchdown point. The ground track of the airplane while on the base leg is perpendicular to the extended centerline of the landing runway, although the longitudinal axis of the airplane may not be aligned with the ground track when it is necessary to turn into the wind to counteract drift. While on the base leg, the pilot must ensure, before turning onto the final approach, that there is no danger of colliding with another aircraft that is already established on the final approach. Pilots must not attempt an overly steep turn to final, especially uncoordinated! If in doubt, go around.

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The final approach leg is a descending flightpath starting from the completion of the base-to-final turn and extending to the point of touchdown. This is probably the most important leg of the entire pattern, because of the sound judgment and precision required to accurately control the airspeed and descent angle while approaching the intended touchdown point.

14 CFR part 91, states that aircraft, while on final approach to land or while landing, have the right-of-way over other aircraft in flight or operating on the surface. When two or more aircraft are approaching an airport for the purpose of landing, the aircraft at the lower altitude has the right-ofway. Pilots should not take advantage of this rule to cut in front of another aircraft that is on final approach to land or to overtake that aircraft.

The upwind leg is a course flown parallel to the landing runway in the same direction as landing traffic. The upwind leg is flown at controlled airports and after go-arounds.

When necessary, the upwind leg is the part of the traffic pattern in which the pilot will transition from the final approach to the climb altitude to initiate a go-around. When a safe altitude is attained, the pilot should commence a shallow bank turn to the upwind side of the airport. This allows better visibility of the runway for departing aircraft.


The departure leg of the rectangular pattern is a straight course aligned with, and leading from, the takeoff runway. This leg begins at the point the airplane leaves the ground and continues until the pilot begins the 90° turn onto the crosswind leg.

On the departure leg after takeoff, the pilot should continue climbing straight ahead and, if remaining in the traffic pattern, commence a turn to the crosswind leg beyond the departure end of the runway within 300 feet of the traffic pattern altitude. If departing the traffic pattern, the pilot should continue straight out or exit with a 45° turn (to the left when in a left-hand traffic pattern; to the right when in a right-hand traffic pattern) beyond the departure end of the runway after reaching the traffic pattern altitude.

The crosswind leg is the part of the rectangular pattern that is horizontally perpendicular to the extended centerline of the takeoff runway. The pilot should enter the crosswind leg by making approximately a 90° turn from the upwind leg. The pilot should continue on the crosswind leg, to the downwind leg position.

Since in most cases the takeoff is made into the wind, the wind will now be approximately perpendicular to the airplane’s flightpath. As a result, the pilot should turn or head the airplane slightly into the wind while on the crosswind leg to maintain a ground track that is perpendicular to the runway centerline extension.

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