Flight Simulator Co-Pilot

by Charles Gulick

Flying the Pattern

Eagle Field Training Base (Local)

North: 17418. East: 7449. Altitude: 410. Pitch: 0. Bank: 0.
Heading: 250. Airspeed: 0. Throttle: 0. Rudder: 32767.
Elevators: 32767. Time: 7:30. Season: 2. Clouds: 0.
Surface Wind: 6 kn., 270 deg.

This will be your last regular training session here at Eagle Field before we go out into the big world, but it's an important one.

You're going to learn how to fly an airport pattern—something you'll do often for takeoff and landing practice, as well as for familiarizing yourself with the locale of a strange airport. And just for the fun of it on Sunday afternoons.

The idea of taking off, flying a rectangular route around an airport, and landing again may seem like the simplest of procedures. It isn't. In fact, it's one of the most difficult and challenging bits of airwork you'll ever undertake. In terms of actually handling the airplane, if you can fly a pattern well you're on your way to becoming a genuine expert. And believe me, pattern flying is tougher in the simulator than it is in the prototype.

I'm going to talk you through the entire procedure here, and I don't expect you to get it down pat the first time around. You will find, however, that like everything else in flying, practicing—in this case your pattern technique—will get you the rewards you want.

Get ready for your takeoff now. The procedure bears repeating: 1) check carb heat off; 2) trim for takeoff with two quick notches up; 3) put on 10 degrees of flaps.

We're using Runway 27, the threshold of which is directly ahead. Taxi forward at your own speed, keep moving, line up with the far end of the runway, and smoothly apply full throttle.

Rotate with one notch of back pressure at 80 KIAS. Let the pressure off again as soon as your VSI indicates a climb. Then when you're climbing at least 500 FPM, dump your flaps. But don't trim the nose down as you do when departing a pattern. We want a faster climb and a lower airspeed.

After your flaps are off, Cessna, reduce your throttle four notches to 2105 RPM; Piper, reduce two notches to 2250 RPM.

At 900 feet, without your customary notch of back pressure, bank left and enter a 30-degree turn (that calls for your next-to-steepest indicated bank, remember). Start your rollout when heading about 200 degrees, bringing the wings of the aircraft level on the crosswind leg, 180 degrees. Cessna, reduce your power two notches for 1905 RPM. Piper, reduce your power three notches for 1950 RPM.

Climb just briefly, to 1200 feet, and again with no back pressure enter another 30-degree turn to the left. Start your rollout when you're heading about 110 degrees, anticipating the downwind heading of 90 degrees.

Once downwind you should be at or close to pattern altitude, 1300 feet. Now transition to slowflight, but compress the operation as follows:

At this point—if all went well—you'll be in standard slowflight configuration when things settle down. But don't wait for them to settle down.

Take a view of the runway out your left window, and from this point on keep the runway more or less in sight (or in your mind when it is obscured by the wing) all the way through to the landing.

Opposite the end of the runway where you're going to touch down, put on carburetor heat, followed by 10 degrees of flaps.

Keep your side view. A few seconds after the runway disappears, check the turn coordinator, and enter the 25-degree bank—the one that puts your wing just below the dot. Check the instrument frequently and hold that bank.

As the runway crosses your screen, switch to a 45-degree view, anticipating its reappearance, and be ready to start your rollout 15 degrees ahead of your base-leg heading, which is 0 degrees. So you'll start leveling off when heading 15 degrees.

As soon as you level your wings on base leg, Cessna reduce your power setting by two notches; Piper by one notch.

Right away, start another 25-degree turn, this time to final approach. Alter this bank as needed to keep the runway at an angle—but an ever-diminishing one—as it moves across your view. If it looks as if it will straighten out by the time it's about three-quarters of the way across your 45-degree-view screen, steepen the bank; if not, hold it—or if the angle appears too great, use a little opposite aileron to shallow the turn a bit.

Switch to your out-front view in anticipation of the runway reappearing, and then roll out at the rate which best lines you up for final approach.

Before you exercise any additional directional control, apply two quick notches of down elevator, and put on all your flaps.

Now use some—but not all—of your remaining altitude to get lined up. As in your landing-practice session, you'll want to start leveling off—Cessna with two quick notches up at about 500 feet, Piper with one up at about 550 feet. At that point you are committed direction-wise. Land on the grass, if need be, but don't start wagging your wings a few feet above the ground.

Cessna, flare with two quick notches of up elevator about 20 feet off the deck. Piper, flare with one notch up about 40 feet off the deck. Then use gradual back pressure to keep the airplane flying a foot or so off the ground as long as you can. If you get a stall warning at the moment of touchdown, you landed perfectly. If the warning sounds before touchdown, correct with one notch of forward pressure.

You'll want to practice flying the pattern here at Eagle Field and at your favorite airports often as you perfect your slowflight, approach, and landing techniques. The thing about Eagle Field is that it's very demanding; the challenge is to prevent the runway and hangar from becoming two-dimensional lines, which they will if you extend your crosswind or downwind legs too far. The airport should remain three-dimensional throughout the pattern (you won't be fined if it doesn't, but there's a great satisfaction if you maintain the realism. And with the expertise you gain as a result, flying into other simulator airports will be a cinch).

Will you always have to know exactly at what altitude you're to turn to each leg when you're pattern-flying at other airports? No. After some practice, you'll have a feel for it, and it'll become automatic, like the rhythm of turning a car around a corner or hitting a golf ball.

But you will have to be aware of the headings of the various legs of the pattern. Otherwise you'll find yourself way out of line. Remember that all turns are 90-degree turns, so in left-hand traffic patterns you subtract 90 degrees from the heading for each leg to determine the heading for the next. In right-hand patterns you will add 90 degrees to each leg. The compass roses provided in your manual will help you visualize these turns, and you should have the chart of the area you're flying open on your flight desk anyway to use. It's particularly helpful to refer to a compass rose when the legs of the pattern take you through the 0-, or 360-degree, heading. More helpful still is a pad, with the legs you need to fly and the pattern altitude jotted down for instant reference. A pen and a pad are two important flight instruments. Don't leave the runway without them.

One other thing: Don't get upset if your heading on one or more legs is off by a few degrees. The procedure is infinitely more important than the precise heading. If you spend a lot of time trying to correct for a few degrees, your altitude or airspeed or something else is likely to suffer.

I put your airplane close to Runway 27 as a practice convenience. If I were you, I'd save this mode on disk and fly it often. The challenge of keeping the airport three-dimensional offers just about ideal practice conditions. And it's the only airport in the whole simulator world (at least for the present) that has a three-dimensional reference—the hangar—right alongside the runway; thus I find it the most realistic as well as the most colorful airport of them all. It's only drawback is that, if you're flying Piper, it doesn't recognize such things as dusk, night, or dawn. If you're flying Cessna, however, don't miss the incredible, other-worldly scenics of non-daytime pattern flying here. Use the present mode, and just change the time to a wee hour, like 23:00 for night or 6:00 (in springtime) for dawn. It's lavish.

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