Spotting Traffic in the Pattern

How to ensure that the path ahead is clear of other aircraft.

Chances are you take a certain amount of pride from flying traffic patterns with near military precision, nailing your target altitude and airspeed and squaring off your turns while taking into account the effects of the wind. Not only does this practice demonstrate what a great pilot you are, but it also makes you predictable — and in the pattern that’s always a good thing.

But what if I told you that you’ve been doing it all wrong — that instead of flying a razor-straight downwind, for example, you should be making quick S-turns and raising and lowering the nose as you go?

If you think about the reasons why, it suddenly makes perfect sense. When climbing on the crosswind leg, for instance, it can be difficult to spot traffic ahead of you. Same goes for the downwind leg, when your view of other airplanes entering the pattern or already in the pattern might be blocked by your own wing.

That’s why it’s a good idea to rock your wings and lower and raise your nose in the traffic pattern every so often. You don’t need to allow your heading and altitude to wander all over the place, but some gentle maneuvering on your part can help ensure that the path ahead is indeed clear of other aircraft.

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