Pattern Work: Touch-and-goes for increased proficiency

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Pattern Work: Touch-and-goes for increased proficiency

In my days as an instructor I spent a lot of time in the traffic pattern doing dozens of touch-and-goes. Today, I still feel like this is one of the best places to refine our craft and maintain proficiency – notice I didn’t say currency, but that’s a topic for another day.

Once you have the basics down, the traffic pattern brings everything together. It’s a profusion of maneuvers all executed with a an element of time compression and relative to a fixed spot on the ground. 

traffic pattern

Let’s break it down

  1. On takeoff you are controlling the aircraft by pitch attitude and that continues as you maintain your climb airspeed. At the same time you are tracking the centerline of the runway, correcting for wind – ground reference maneuvering.
  2. Your crosswind legs begins with a coordinated turn with airspeed still in control with the rollout putting you on a track that is perpendicular to the upwind leg you just flew.
  3. Downwind brings about another smooth turn and a level-off at your pattern altitude. Again your ground track must be precisely maintained. You’ll be accelerating at this point so power begins to come back as you maintain altitude simultaneously. Then the checklist comes out. A downwind radio call would be appropriate, if at an uncontrolled field. You can see there’s a lot going on.
  4. Abeam the numbers power is reduced, flaps are applied at the appropriate speeds and you commence a coordinated turn to base as you decelerate. Again maintaining a track over the ground to put you in the best position on final.
  5. Final approach is all about fine-turning. Airspeed control is critical as well as precise ground track on the extended centerline of the runway. You will have to maintain your vertical path by either power or slipping.
  6. The flare. This is the part everyone focuses on and it’s really just the culmination of everything up to this point. But it does take some muscle memory to do well since you are have to take in a great deal of external inputs and process them quickly to get the correct outcome. Generally, this is within the first 500′ of the runway, at stall inches from the surface, and tracking straight.

If you are doing a touch-and-go, that means you are still focused and you have to keep flying the airplane. The flaps have to be retracted as you maintain centerline. There is some controversy around touch-and-goes and some are preaching that it’s too risky and everyone should do a full-stop.  To me, it depends. There are too many variables to say definitively you need to stop each time. There are times that I feel that is appropriate and other times that I feel a touch-and-go can be executed without significant risk – you have to the arbitrator of that decision, unless you are a student and then it may be the school or instructor’s call. (related avweb article) 

So you can see than in about :06 minutes you can complete most of the elements that are necessary to safely fly the airplane. Doing an hour of these will not only make you more proficient it will increase your confidence as well.

by Brent

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