Teaching pattern alt and descents ...

Snakum

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In the last year or so I've noticed that I'm not really thinking about set procedures/numbers when landing VFR and am working by feel (with a close eye on the ASI, of course). So for teaching others I wanna 'relearn' and establish my own methods, as far as they are compliant with applicable guidelines and common sense.

When I started flying in 1995 I was taught pattern altitude equals field elevation + 1000', turns initiated at field elevation + 700', and 500 fpm descents for landing were commenced when abeam the numbers on downwind. However, the CFI that I finished my PPL with taught pattern altitude equals FE + 800', turns were FE + 500', and descents commenced at the turn to base (along with the second notch of flaps). I've noticed recently durng a checkout that many CFIs teach this, as well.

So, realizing that the AIM isn't law, per se, merely suggestions for good operating practices ... what do/did you guys teach and why? Are these new pattern procedures becoming a a bit of a trend?

Minh
 

avbug

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Minh,

Why not look up the published pattern altitude for the field in use, rather than guess? Teach students to do the same. Check your airport facility directory; this should be part of the preflight planning when taking a student to a different airfield than the one where you normally train, such as cross country training.

Rather than trying to reinvent yourself, try analyzing what YOU do in the pattern right now. Chances are that your flying isn't wrong, so rather than make yourself over in the image of a fromer instructor, why not teach a student to fly the way you know how to do it? You don't need to relearn, you only need to learn to explain what you already know.

One of my biggest frustrations is hearing a pilot opine, "But, that's the way I was taught!" I am always tempted to ask, "Yes, but what have you learned?"

How someone was taught isn't really relevant; I'm much more interested in learning about their experiences, and what that experience has taught them. Perhaps the former instructor was wrong, perhaps not. But what about you? Do you know how to fly an airplane in the pattern, and land it? Does it work for you? There are many ways to do it; you can fly incrementally with airspeeds and flap settings. You can use one airspeed and one flap setting. You can turn at fixed geographical positions, use various speeds, configurations, descent angles, trim inputs, whatever. There is more than one answer to the question.

The only answer that counts is weather or not what you do works, and weather or not you can explain it. If it works, you're mostly there. Now put it on paper. Be able to explain what you do, and you're all the way there.

The only thing that remains is to be able to spot errors a student might make, and offer meaningful corrections in a way the student will understand. Trust yourself, not your former instructor. Good luck!!
 

bigD

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I use whatever pattern altitude is listed for the airport, and if nothing is noted - I use 1000' agl. I don't like the idea of using the VSI or setting specific altitudes you should be at for different legs - I use one power setting once I'm abeam the numbers, and hit specific airspeeds for base and final. If I stick to the power setting, nail the airspeeds, and of course assuming I turn base at the right point, I'll be right on target every time without ever worrying about my altimeter.

I haven't found an instructor that teaches otherwise yet....
 

Timebuilder

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For the descents part of your question, search for a thread titled "landings suck, ouch!" or something like that. It was several months ago.
 

bobbysamd

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Pattern Altitudes

I should probably qualify this somewhat because I haven't flown or instructed since 1993, and maybe the AIM has changed. However, seeing that you learned how to fly after I was out and was taught a 1000-foot TPA, I suspect it has not changed.

I agree with your first paragraph. I learned how to fly twenty years ago and was taught a 1000-foot TPA. I continued to teach that procedure, absent published TPAs in the A/FD which would control.

I agree with the second notch of flaps on base, but that is technique more than anything. I never taught much about referring to the VSI in the pattern. I taught students to set power, pitch by visual reference and configuration, set and hold airspeed, i.e. 1.4 Vso on base and 1.3 Vso on final, or school or POH recommendations. I know that some airline schools teach a specific profile for a visual pattern.

Of course, the AIM isn't regulatory or law, but I always believed that if the FAA publishes it, the FAA was suggesting very strongly that the AIM is how it wants you to do business. Moreover, the PTS and other quasi-regulatory FAA pubs reference the AIM. Therefore, if the AIM said how to do something, it was good enough for me.

Hope that helps.
 
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tarp

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Definitely teach your students to use the A/FD. Around our parts we have numerous TPA's. 1000 and 800 are common but there are exceptions and you should be warily looking out for them. Flew into one airport where TPA was 750 for "light and/or single engine aircraft" and 1250 for "heavy and/or multi-engine aircraft"!

The world of landing an airplane looks different starting from these extremes. Get your students used to thinking.

As to teaching, I'm a strict numbers guy on teaching just like one of the other posters before. For a C-172, my students know the 1-2-3 of downwind, base and final.

Downwnd = 85kts. 2000RPM 10deg.flaps(one notch)
Base = 75kts. 1600RPM 20deg.flaps(two notches)
Final = 65kts. 1200RPM 30deg.flaps (full flaps)

They can learn to throttle jockey later on their own. With me its smooth, stable and repeatable performance. They have to learn to visualize the keys points of when to turn base and when to turn final (for xwinds) but everything else stays as a repeatable set of numbers until they are comfortable "trying" other things.

I don't bug them with "target" altitudes, because they will spend more time trying to make the airplane be "precisely" at xxx feet to make the base turn when they should be more concerned with the performance of the airplane and where they are in the pattern. The only thing I help reinforce is the feeling of "too low" or "too high" using the relationship between the nose of the airplane and the target spot.

But above all, you need to learn from your students and teach them what they need to "fix" problems. You have three control surfaces, a set of drag/lift devices, and a powerplant. That's a lot of things to juggle for the new pilot. Be patient but learn.

I have always lived by the rule of threes - I find that if the student does the same bad thing three times and I have told him/her the same thing three times to correct the problem then what I'm saying is not making sense. It is MY responsibility to find a NEW way to teach the same skill. So even in the above "hardline" stance on the numbers, if the student isn't getting it, we'll change to a different style. I've been known to pull out all my IFR coverups and completely removed every dial on the instrument panel asking the student to land "by feel".

Help your students anyway that you can.
 

Timebuilder

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Thanks, Tarp. That's the reason I came up with this "nonstandard" procedure to prevent either staying too high for too long, or descending too rapidly and approaching the runway at treetop level.

I used the VSI as sort of an early indicator that the student could use to monitor his rate of descent after his power reduction and initial flap setting (in the Skyhawk, 110 knots or less, just above the white arc). By adjusting pitch to maintain roughly a 400 fpm rate, he will in a 172, acheive the flap range as he rolls out on base, allowing him to deploy the second notch of flaps. He'll also learn to recognize the altitude he should have for that position in the pattern.

After becoming familiar with the process, the student begins to acquire the Big Picture, and adjust pitch and power as necessary without any reliance on the VSI.

Sort of like "training wheels" for the initial descent.
 
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flydog

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The pattern altitude should also take into account the aircraft and the type of operation

If I am out shooting touch and goes in a Cub I will use 400-500' for a pattern altitude. No sense in climbing to 1000' in an airplane that takes all day to get around the pattern.

In a 172 and most general aviation airplanes 1000' works well. In most jets 1500' works and in fast moving military jets 2000' might be a better choice. The distance from the runway while in the pattern should also complement your pattern altitude. In the Cub I may stay inside the airport boundary while in an F-16 you may want to use more room.

My general observation is that most CFIs and student pilots stray too far from the airport in the pattern. If an engine quits (and its happened before) they wouldnt make the airport. I can generally fly a tighter pattern in a Westwind than I have seen most 172s fly while shooting touch and gos.

In any case the traffic pattern altitude per the AFD may be governing unless the local controller authorizes a different altitude. Nothing is more frustrating to a controller than to have 5 172s in the pattern ranging from 800 to 1500' especially if he is combining inbound jet traffic and transitioning traffic
 

flydog

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There is nothing wrong with a student relying on a VSI as long as they also learn the big picture and look outside as well

The VSI will become very important later on in their career when they start flying IFR in jets where at 150 knots your VSI may read +4000 FPM or -6000 FPM (ouch)

Remember that for a 3 degree glideslope you can figure your rate of descent by dividing your groundspeed by 2. In a 172 if you are doing 70 knots on final or during the approach your rate of descent should be about 350 FPM.

This is a good way for a student to initially learn the proper power setting for a stabilized approach and learn the pitch-power relationship to make glideslope corrections
 

avbug

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If a published altitude is given for the traffic pattern for a given airport, use it. Don't vary it because it takes longer to get there in a J-3. If that were the overriding criteria, then a learjet in the pattern would be at 8,000 AGL on downwind.

The purpose of having a published uniform TPA is to put all airplanes in a uniform position to see and avoid. Sometimes it's modified for overlying airspace considerations, or underlying noise abatement requirements.

Adhere to the traffic pattern altitudes, and don't vary them. Flying near an airport is a dangerous place; it's where traffic congregates, where people may be erroneously heads-down doing checklists and configuring the airplane, where they're doing all manner of looking at windsocks and other things...except for other airplanes. Hence a high percentage of mid-air collisions near or over airports.

Fly standard patterns. People will be looking for you at the same altitude. Improve your odds of being seen by being in the place you're expected to be.

Certainly at private short rural airstrips I've used a 200' TPA a lot, especially when doing ag work and other such flying when we seldom climbed much above a few hundred feet. However, the rest of the time, be at the place you're supposed to be, even if it takes a little longer to get there. Doing this is far more important than making radio calls and announcing position. Be visible and in the right place, and then talk.
 

Caveman

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I don't teach power settings and there is no magic formula. I teach them to fly the airplane and quit spending so much time looking at the tach, VSI, and airspeed indicator. If they can recognize what slow flight feels like, know how to recognize the early signs of approaching a stall, and can point the airplane where they want it to go they'll never have to look at a VSI, tach or airspeed indicator to fly the plane. An occasional glance at those instruments will confirm what they should already know, feel and see. Setting some magic combination of numbers on a series of flight instruments is a poor basis for airmanship. Enter the pattern at whatever the published altitude is and then fly the danged airplane.
 
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Snakum

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With all due respect to Caveman's experience, when I started out I could only learn by the numbers. It seems I almost had to have a formula for everything. So my last primary CFI let me develop settings and configurations for each phase of flight and then I learned from there. By the time I went for the checkride I was more 'seat-of-the-pants' but initially I had to have numbers. The IR was the same ... settings and configuration for each phase of flight for each different kind of aircraft. I had numbers for precision descent, nonprecision, inbound, holds, etc. for the L-model, the SP, etc. I still adhear somewhat to the numbers - or at least use them for a starting point - when in actual IMC. But that's just how I learned best.

My feeling is that if I start a student out 'by-the-numbers' ... the 'feel' will come as he gains experience.

Thanks for all the feedback. All points of view are valid ... and helpful!

Minh
 

avbug

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Also worth noting is that for larger airplanes and turbine airplanes, operation is very much by the numbers. Target airspeeds, power settings, the works. For pilots intending to go this course, having the ability to remember and use target settings isn't a bad thing. In fact, in any aircraft, it's not a bad thing.

A student should be taught to be deliberate and precise. A student should never be taught to have the habit of only considering maximum manifold pressure and RPM limits as the only setting to pay attention to when managing the powerplant. A student should always make airspeeds and power settings precise.

How someone teaches that is a very individual matter, but there is nothing wrong with teaching target settings.

My own preference is to teach seat of the pants initially, and gradually work into integrated use of the instruments. A student should be able to fly using the instruments, and without them. In a light airplane, a student should be able to set power approximately by sound, airspeed, by feel and sound, and determine how he or she wants the airplane to react and respond by what he or she sees out the window.

It's all a personal matter in deciding what is the best way to approach it. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is the student. If we teach one way, but the student learns best another, then it's time to alter our technique for that student. The only issue that really matters is the welfare of the student.
 

Caveman

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avbug wrote:

"In a light airplane, a student should be able to set power approximately by sound, airspeed, by feel and sound, and determine how he or she wants the airplane to react and respond by what he or she sees out the window."

Amen.

Snakum wrote:

"With all due respect to Caveman's experience, when I started out I could only learn by the numbers."

Most students do need some starting point, but I try to emphasize that they are just ballpark numbers to get them started without being initially too high or too fast. If they aren't starting the descent to land from some reasonable point they probably don't have the skills to make a stabilized approach and landing. BTW, I've never been called 'experienced' before. Old, maybe, but not experienced. :)

I also agree that every student is different and they all learn differently even though most of them fit in the middle somewhere.
 

Clearsky

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Help me out here. What do you guys consider to be a typical interval of time that a pilot scans his airspeed in the pattern, especially on final. I tend to scan the airspeed within a 5 or 6 second internval at the most. Included in that would be looking for traffic and aligning with the runway etc. Also, how do you fly just by feel in gusty conditions. Don't you want to aim for a gust factor?

Wouldn't you want to emphasis airspeed to a student since they don't have a "feel" for the plane yet? Just curious because I would like to instruct someday and find this a very interesting thread.

Additionally, could you tell me if this is bad technique. I don't concern myself with the VSI or altitude after I'm at the TPA. I just have a feel for being too high or too far out. I set the power in a 172 for downwind then pull to another setting at the numbers to start a descent. After that I don't have a specific power setting. I gradually reduce the power as needed and try to avoid re-applying it. I do 10 flaps on downwing, 20 base, and 30 final when the runway is made.

Thanks much.
 

snoopy

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I basically have the same approach as a lot of others on this thread. I originally talk about "the numbers" approach on the ground, then I caveat this by saying this isn't a perfect world -- no wind, no other traffic, etc. Then in the air we work with the numbers as a basis.

HOWEVER, I present the rest as "points of decision". Of course there are many decision points, but the main ones I try to enforce are at downwind to base, base to final, and right before landing. At these points we will evaluate how the approach is looking. If we are high, we might go ahead and add all flaps to slow down. If we are flying a wide pattern or look a little low we wait for flaps or slow the descent. On the turn to final we decide if need a little extra speed for gusts or turbulence. Then right before we begin roundout and flare, we decide whether to continue (do we have enough runway, is the plane under control, etc).

We do reference the instruments to double check that the airplane is were we think it is -- speed, altitude.

I find that presenting the points of decision make it clear to the new student that things can be different and that they have to start thinking as PIC. I get better approaches this way and thus better landings.

--- Snoopy
 

Timebuilder

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I think you have it!

A good landing starts with a stabilized approach.
 

bobbysamd

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One other thing I just thought of . . .

A lot of instructors will cover all the instruments after pattern work has been practiced extensively as a student is "getting it" and is close to solo. The instruments are uncovered at various points in the pattern to show the student how close he/she is to hitting the parameters, especially at pattern altitude. It is surprising how close to the numbers the student will be and is great reinforcement and a confidence-builder. Also, it is good training just in case a bug or something blocks the pitot.
 

Snakum

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I'm amazed at how basic questions can turn into such a tremendous learning experience on here. The wealth of knowledge available to the neophyte is unbelievable, and rest assured ... I have made much use of the discussions here over the last two years. I have alot of stuff from here - like the recent discussion of air density - printed and placed into my PPL/IR notebook (along with everything Jedi Nein and Steve Whitt have ever put on the net).

Thanks for graciously sharing your time and experience, guys. It is MOST HIGHLY appreciated. I hope to be able to return the favor one day for those less experienced than myself.

Thanks again ...

Rev. Thich Minh Thong
(Pronounced "tong" ... not like the underwear.)
 
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