tailwheeler’s Journal #6
“are we there, Yet?”
From time to time I’m going to digress from purely tailwheel issues. This is one such time. Don’t worry, I’ll be back with columns about truly important stuff like ground loops and wheel landings.
As we operate our glider ride business in the summer, my pilots and I spend more time in the pattern than anyone else. So we can’t help but see how most general aviation pilots enter the pattern for landing at their destination. I think I’ve seen a change over the years. It seems to me that pilots used to use a more efficient pattern entry a few years ago. Now, they all seem to enter on a 45 degree angle to downwind and they will go however far they need to in order to enter from that spot. It’s the principle of the “I.P”, or “initial point.” The principle is a sound one: arrive at an initial point at a certain altitude and you will have a predictable series of steps in order to make an accurate instrument approach, bombing run or landing. This is a very sensible way to arrive at your destination when you are still learning to operate an airplane. There should, however, come a time when you no longer cling to some of the tools with which you learned to operate in this new found world of aviation. Anyone who’s flown with me has heard me rant about one of my least favorite flight training mantras, “the key to a good landing is a good approach”. I feel that one is on the way to true flying competence when a good landing no longer depends on a good approach. My students have heard me proclaim that they will not be competent until they can make a good landing out of every conceivable kind of approach!
The entry on the forty-five is the beginning of that icon of modern flight training, the “good approach”. Thus, it is also the remnant of training days, the pacifier of the pilot who might be ready to spit that thing out and learn to swoop his machine from enroute to landing in a smooth, efficient course that minimizes air time.
Think about approaching from the southeast to land on runway 36 with left traffic. The majority of pilots will alter course to the north or south in order to avoid over-flying the airport. I don’t know where they learned that one. Then they will drone on to a point miles northwest of the field only to reverse course in order to enter on that holy 45 degree entry leg.
Why not just fly directly to the center of the airport (it is, after all, our destination), hook a left turn and bingo, you’re on the left downwind for 36. Wasn’t that simple? You’ll even have a nice view of the windsock as you cross over the top of the field. I like to be a little higher than pattern altitude, especially if I’m in a high wing airplane. That keeps me above the gaggle and I watch for any traffic as I descend into the downwind.
I’m not advocating that everyone abandon the forty five entry. If you love your forty-five and see no reason to change, you’re certainly not bothering anyone by doing it. If your inbound course puts you close to the forty-five it makes sense to enter on it. But I do think that by designing more efficient pattern entries and landing approaches, we can improve our flying skills and that’s kinda what I’m about.
I know that I’ve just criticized about three quarters of the fliers out there so I’ll remind you that this column is opinion.
Fortunately, this little journal isn’t a forum, otherwise it would open the floodgates of everyone’s opinions and it would go on forever. But it isn’t. It’s just the place where I say what I think.
tailwheeler’s Journal #6