New pilots learn from the beginning how a traffic pattern works. Particularly at non-
towered airports, the traffic pattern offers an orderly transition from flying en route
to landing. The most congested areas and hence the most potentially dangerous
places in the sky are near airports. This is why your primary instructor probably
harped on how important it is to fly the standard pattern.

A frequent occurrence, especially with people who have been flying a while, is to
shortcut or simply ignore the traffic pattern and get the plane down in the quickest
manner possible. Although this is certainly acceptable if your airplane is on fire or
has engine failure, it can prove to be either rude or selfish and frequently dangerous.

There is no regulation requiring you to use a radio to self-announce your position in
the pattern, since some airplanes don’t even have radios. Most planes that are flying
today have at least one communications radio and if it is working, it really should
be used. But it is a safe assumption that once in a while, some aircraft in the non-
towered traffic pattern is NORDO (no radio). This is all the more reason to stick to
the practice of flying the prescribed pattern. It makes your movements and those of
your fellow fliers safely predictable and hopefully boring. In reality it only takes an
additional 2 to 5 minutes to fly a full pattern, a very small price to pay to ensure that
you and your plane will fly again soon.

I was recently doing a pre-purchase flight in a Cessna 182 with a mid-time pilot
from another part of the country. We went to an airport about 10 miles away from
where we launched to do a couple of landings. We entered a standard pattern on
a 45 degree leg and announced over the CTAF each leg of our pattern. Turning
from base to final, we both noticed a Piper Cherokee about a quarter mile away on
a straight in that cut us off and landed. I immediately diverted to an upwind leg
to avoid a collision and got on the radio to see if the Piper’s pilot was
aware of his transgression. After 3 attempts to contact him, I remembered that the
CTAF frequency had been changed at this airport 3 years earlier and I tuned in the
old frequency to hear the Cherokee announce “clear of the active.” I called him to
ask if he was aware he had cut us off and he didn’t respond, then I asked if he was
aware that the frequency had change 3 years ago to which he responded with an
apology as he taxied to his hangar (I couldn’t believe that he was a local!). I will bet
that he hasn’t bought a current chart or A/FD in a while.

The moral of the story is had this pilot followed standard traffic procedures, even
if he didn’t have a functioning radio, the conflict or potential of a collision would
be minimized. A touch of defensive flying will make the skies a lot safer. Fly the
pattern, please.

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