Ask the CFI

Ask the CFI2021-02-04T21:49:57-06:00
What is the difference between CTAF, UNICOM and MULTICOM?2021-09-26T09:48:23-05:00

The VFR sectional information block for any airport may indicate one or multiple radio communications frequencies, including control tower, CTAF, UNICOM and MULTICOM. Here is an explanation of what they are all used for.

UNICOM is a frequency pilots use to request airport information from a ground station which is monitored by FBO staff (not air traffic controllers). They can provide “airport advisories” which include such information as wind, weather, recommended runway, and other traffic in the area. Additionally UNICOM can be used to request FBO support services such as refueling, tie downs, hangars, transport, catering, etc. Although the majority of non-towered airports have this frequency on the VFR sectional chart, these days they are rarely monitored by anyone. They are generally more widely used at larger, controlled airports with FBOs that cater to business aviation. The UNICOM frequency, if there is one, will be indicated in italics on the VFR sectional chart.

At controlled airports there will be a tower frequency which is used by air traffic controllers and pilots to communicate with each other within the specified airspace for each airport. For class D airports this is generally within a four mile radius and for class C it is usually a five mile radius of the airport. On the VFR sectional chart the control tower frequency will be prefaced with the letters “CT.” Control towers at busy airports may operate 24/7, but many are part time and shut down overnight. If there is a star after the frequency it indicates that this tower operates part time. Pilots can determine the exact hours of operation in the chart supplement or, if you use ForeFlight the hours are shown in the frequencies section. When the tower is closed pilots must use the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) for traffic advisories.

A Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) is a designated frequency used at, and in the vicinity of, non-towered airports by pilots to self-announce their position and intentions to other pilots in order to avoid traffic conflicts. The CTAF will also be used at towered airports when the tower is not operating. The letter “C” inside a solid circle immediately after any frequency means that is the frequency to use for CTAF self-announcing. When you see this symbol after the tower frequency it means that when the tower is closed the tower frequency should be used for CTAF communications. When this symbol appears after a UNICOM frequency it means the UNICOM frequency is used for traffic advisories as well as to request an airport advisory.

The MULTICOM frequency, 122.9 MHz, may be designated as the CTAF on the VFR sectional for some small, non-towered, airports where there is no UNICOM. This frequency should also be used for self-announcing procedures at any airport where there is no published frequency mentioned on the chart or in the chart supplement, including private/restricted airports.

Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

Can I still fly by myself if my flight review has expired?2021-08-28T17:05:35-05:00

Two things are necessary for a private pilot to act as Pilot in Command (PIC) of an aircraft even if they are flying alone; a current flight review and a valid medical qualification.

To fly with or without passengers, your most recent flight review must have occurred within the past 24 calendar months. This means that whatever day of the month you completed your last flight review, it will expire at the end of the same month 24 months later. After this date you may not act as PIC. If your flight review has expired you cannot even log the flight time as PIC during your next flight review.

There are a few exceptions to the requirement for a flight review. If you take a pilot proficiency check or a practical test for an additional certificate or rating with an examiner you will have 24 calendar months from the date of the exam until you need another flight review. Also, a completed phase of an FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency program, such as WINGS, satisfies the requirement for a flight review.

You also cannot act as PIC without a valid medical qualification. There are several options that meet this requirement. You can get a first, second or third class FAA medical certificate from an Aeromedical Examiner (AME), or you can follow the requirements for BasicMed (14CFR Part 68). There is an exception to this rule for Sport Pilots who can fly light sport airplanes with a current and valid U.S. driver’s license.

For the full details of the Flight Review regulation, see 14 CFR 61.56 at https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/61.56.

You can find more information about FAA BasicMed at https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/airmen_certification/basic_med/

Beth Rehm, CFI

JB Aviation Flight Training

How do you calculate a crosswind component?2021-07-26T17:20:46-05:00

Crosswind landings and takeoffs are required any time the wind is not directly aligned with an available runway heading. Even at larger airports with multiple runways the winds are rarely exactly aligned with any of the runways.

But why do we care? Compensating for crosswinds with aileron correction is necessary to prevent an aircraft from being blown sideways on takeoffs and landings. It is important to know how much crosswind you are dealing with in order to determine whether it exceeds your experience and capabilities and whether it is within your aircraft’s limitations. Even light crosswinds can be challenging for some aircraft and for pilots who are not proficient with crosswind takeoffs and landings.

Let’s look at an example at an airport with runways 33/15, 10/28 and 2/20 and the winds are from 240 degrees at 11 knots; there is a crosswind on every runway. Runway 33 has the highest crosswind component of 11 knots and 20 and 28 both have a 7 knot crosswind.

There are various ways to calculate the crosswind component and the best runway for the wind. These days the easiest way is to use an app on your smart phone or tablet! If you use ForeFlight you will know that this app calculates the headwind and crosswind components for each runway based on the latest METAR and suggests the runway with the best wind. However, this may or may not be the most appropriate runway for your aircraft, if for example, the best wind is aligned with a shorter runway and you require a longer takeoff distance. But if an airport does not report weather, this information will be missing from the runways tab.

There are other apps, such as HMC Crosswind Calculator for iPhones and iPads or FlightWinds for Android phones, that allow you to manually enter runways, wind direction and velocity to determine a crosswind component.

If you are old school, you can still figure it out with the headwind and crosswind component graph* by using the runway heading and the wind direction and subtracting the larger number from the smaller number to find the angular difference. The next step on the graph is to find the intersection of the angular difference line and the wind velocity arc, then read straight down to find the crosswind component and read across to the left to find the headwind component.

If your airport does not report weather information you can estimate the winds based on the windsock or a weather report from your nearest airport and use that data with your crosswind calculator or graph.

It is important to always know the expected crosswind component before you fly and diligently apply the proper correction to prevent an unexpected exit from the runway followed by an awkward conversation with your A&P and the FAA!

*You can find the crosswind component chart in the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3B) – Chapter 8, figure 8-19 on page 8-18.
https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aviation/airplane_handbook/media/10_afh_ch8.pdf

What is pilot transition training?2021-07-06T14:22:48-05:00

Transition training in general aviation is necessary when you are going to fly with new or unfamiliar equipment or aircraft. It could be as simple as upgrading avionics or other equipment in an existing aircraft or as complicated as moving to a different make and model within the same category and class.

Due to the variety of options for transitions, there is no specific FAA syllabus for transition training so the details will need to be discussed and agreed upon with your flight instructor. For some transitions, however, your insurance company may require a minimum number of hours of training or even expect you to attend a formal training program with a company such as Flight Safety International.

There are no minimum number of hours for ground or flight training, and no tests, checkrides or endorsements required for transitions, except when the training is part of a formal training program.

For almost all transitions there will be some required reading in addition to flight training. Some equipment manuals can be very tough reading but sometimes you can find a great article or even a book that explains things better.

Transitioning to a new aircraft will cover the basic characteristics of the aircraft systems, normal, abnormal and emergency procedures, performance, and limitations, all while emphasizing how this aircraft differs from aircraft you have flown before.

The most complicated transition is from one aircraft make and model to another. For example, I got my complex rating in a Piper Arrow III and later purchased a Mooney M20J. Both aircraft were single-engined, low wing, with retractable gear but there were very few similarities beyond that! The Mooney had different avionics, a different autopilot, pull-type throttle, mixture and prop controls, the switches, gauges, gear handle and circuit breakers were all in different places. And the Mooney had speed brakes, which the Arrow did not, and this was a totally new system for me. In addition to differences in equipment, the performance, speeds, power settings and aircraft handling characteristics were not the same and of course, the operating procedures and limitations varied as well.

It took a significant amount of reading, training and practice to feel comfortable and competent flying the Mooney, perhaps more than I had anticipated. But it’s important to take all the time and training you need for your transition and not to set an expectation of a finite number of hours to get it done. When you discuss your unique training plan with your CFI its unlikely they will be able to give you a timeframe or a specific number of hours because a lot depends on your currency, experience, learning style and how much you study on your own.

~Beth Rehm

What happens when an aircraft alternator fails?2021-07-06T15:22:45-05:00

Private and commercial pilot training includes some basic information on systems failures and what to expect in case of an electrical malfunction but there is no substitute for experiencing the real thing. I can now speak from experience after an alternator failure on a recent cross-country flight and it wasn’t quite what I expected.

On the ground, before the flight, there was some debate about whether or not the ammeter was actually showing a discharge or not. The ammeter is an indicator that shows if the alternator is producing enough electricity and whether the battery is receiving that electricity. The problem is the needle points to zero when the alternator is functioning correctly and during the run up for this flight the ammeter needle seemed to be, maybe, the width of a gnats fingernail to the left of zero which was so imperceptible that I put it down to my imagination.

Some aircraft have a low voltage light but in this Cessna 172 there is only an over-voltage sensor and warning light on the panel. This light will only illuminate when the over-voltage sensor automatically shuts down the alternator after detecting an over-voltage condition. So if the alternator fails for any other reason this light will not come on. In my humble opinion, it would be a lot more useful if the light illuminated whenever the alternator was not working for any reason!

Our route for this flight took us eastbound via the Northbrook VOR, to the coast of Lake Michigan and then south along the lakefront under the class Bravo airspace, with flight following. The first indication we had of any real problem was on the ground at Gary (KGYY) trying to contact the tower after landing. It did not appear that the controller was receiving our transmission so we switched to the number two radio and tried again. That worked perfectly so we continued with that radio.

Soon after our departure from KGYY the Garmin 430 GPS began flickering. No biggie though, we were VFR in daylight and a GPS was not essential so we turned it off. With good visibility and two iPads and an iPhone, all with ForeFlight, we were confident we could find our way home. My quick-thinking student-powered off his iPad so we could save the battery power on that one just in case mine ran out.

At this point I was convinced we had an electrical malfunction that was most likely related to the alternator. On a day VFR flight outside of controlled airspace this is not an emergency so I didn’t see any reason to land immediately and we continued onwards to Galt. We checked the circuit breakers and switched off the alternator master switch and looked for non-essential electrics we could switch off to reduce the load on the battery. But the only one we could come up with was the strobe lights. I didn’t think they would make much difference but we switched them off anyway.

One by one the remaining “essential” electrics began switching themselves off! Seven miles west of Gary we got a message on the transponder that it was no longer receiving ADS-B In data and the display began flickering. That meant that we no longer had traffic information on ForeFlight so we had to be extra vigilant about looking outside for traffic. I switched the transponder off at that point because it seemed like it wasn’t working correctly and would die soon anyway. I made a call to Gary tower to let them know we had a problem and they very kindly asked if we needed any help but I said no and explained our intentions were to return to Galt avoiding any class Bravo or Delta airspace. I did not request flight following because I was sure our radio was going to quit any minute and there was no point in dialing in 7600 on the transponder because that wasn’t working anymore either.

We briefly headed south to get out from under the mode C veil because we were without any transponder or ADS-B equipment but we changed our minds and decided it would take far to long to get back to Galt if we went around the outside and a more expeditious route was the best course of action in this situation.

In anticipation of the radio quitting I made a call to Galt 44 miles south of the airport, just in case anyone was interested, and explained to Galt traffic that we would most likely be NORDO (without radio) by the time we arrived in the pattern. I don’t even know if our transmission was strong enough for anyone to hear us at that point but I thought it couldn’t hurt.

A few miles north of DuPage the number two radio quit and right around I-90 the intercom stopped working and we were reduced to yelling and hand signals. I was honestly surprised how long all of these systems lasted on battery power alone.

There was other traffic in the pattern when we arrived and they were probably thinking why the heck we weren’t making any radio calls, but at a non-towered airport, they are not required so we weren’t breaking any FAA rules. But we were extra careful to keep our approach and pattern as predictable as possible and tried to stay out of everyone else’s way.

Abeam the numbers, even though we had briefed the no flap landing (long before the intercom died), my student still reached for the flap lever out of habit and we both had a good laugh about that! No flap landings are not easy if you don’t practice them a lot on account of the additional groundspeed, unusually low angle of attack and the tendency to float, so this was a great learning opportunity for my student.

After landing safely the airplane went to the shop and is now the proud owner of a brand new alternator! All around it was a very interesting and useful experience for myself and my student. There truly is nothing like real-life, scenario-based training to gain a level of understanding about what it means to be a pilot you just can’t get from reading a book.

Practical tips for flying at night2021-04-30T20:03:47-05:00

Spring is finally here and not a moment too soon if you ask me. We are all tired of being cooped up in our houses and eager to get outside for some fun aviating with friends. To kick start the “flying season,” EAA Chapter 932 organized a fly out to Rochelle (RPJ), which was very well attended. They are now planning a second fly out from Galt (10C), this time to Prairie du Chien (PDC) for dinner at the fabulous Jones’ Black Angus Steakhouse, on May 15. The sun will set around 8:08 so you will be able to fly there in daylight and have a wonderful opportunity to get in a little bit of night flying on the way back.

A lot of pilots avoid flying at night, perhaps because the private pilot training only requires three hours of night flying and that is not enough to make most people feel comfortable and proficient. After passing the check ride pilots tend to fly mostly when the sun is shining because that is when most social activities take place and it’s what they most familiar with. Before long several years have passed and they find haven’t flown after sunset in all that time so now they are even less comfortable with the idea.

As with most aspects of flying, night piloting skills atrophy when not used for a while and it might take a little bit of effort to get up to speed on the particular regulations, techniques and systems you need to use at night. So, if you are one of those pilots who doesn’t regularly fly in the dark, here are a few tips on how to get ready for your next night flight:

  • If your night currency has expired and you intend to take passengers you will need to get current ahead of time. You can do this solo, but if has been a very long time since you last flew at night it might be a good idea to fly with your CFI to brush up on those night landings. For night currency, the FAA says you need three takeoffs and landings to a full stop and they all have to occur between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise.
  • Your preflight preparation for every night flight should include a review of everything you would normally investigate for a day flight but also cover airport lighting systems, especially how to operate pilot-controlled lighting systems, if available, equipment required at night, a flight plan using well-lit landmarks, plan for a 45 minutes or more fuel reserve and a obtain a good understanding of terrain and obstacle clearances along your route of flight.
  • Additionally, you will want to pay special attention to the weather because conditions need to be significantly better to fly at night. For example, haze or low scattered cloud layers can easily obscure the horizon and flights over rural areas with few lights can also create dangerous conditions for VFR-only pilots.
  • When flying at night, protect your night vision by avoiding white lights and using only red lights in the cockpit. You will want to lower the brightness of your (and your passengers’) electronic devices and avoid using flash photography. Protect other pilots’ vision by not using your strobe lights during taxiing and don’t taxi towards other aircraft on the ground or landing traffic with all your landing and taxi lights lit up.
  • Remember to take at least two or more flashlights—you can never have too many flashlights—and plenty of spare batteries, and I highly recommend a headlamp with a red lens so that you can see and still have both hands free.

When you log your flight time as “night,” the FAA’s definition says night-time begins at the end of evening civil twilight, which is usually about thirty minutes after sunset. This means that on May 15th you will only be able to log time flown as “night-time” after 8:38 p.m.

If you needed a reason to fly at night, a group fly-out is just about the best opportunity there is to do that.

Does anyone still monitor the distress frequency 121.5 MHz?2021-03-29T21:46:49-05:00

The answer to this question is yes and no, because there are different kinds of monitoring of this international distress frequency.

In the U.S., air traffic control towers, FSS services, national air traffic control centers and other flight and emergency services continuously monitor the 121.5 MHz frequency. Many commercial aircraft also monitor this frequency which is also known as “Guard.” This frequency is still used by pilots in distress for radio communications during emergencies.

The 121.5 MHz frequency is also used by many emergency locator transmitters (ELT’s) which are battery-powered devices that transmit an audio alert to locate aircraft involved in accidents. This equipment is required in most U.S. general aviation aircraft.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite destress alerting system that detects activated distress alerting devices. However, due to the high number of false signals on 121.5 MHz they discontinued their satellite monitoring of this frequency in 2009.

Existing 121.5 ELTs still meet the FAA regulatory requirements but newer ELTs transmit on 406 MHz and are much more reliable with fewer false-alarms. COSPAS-SARSAT satellite monitoring now only monitors the 406 MHz frequency. Once activated COSPAS-SARSAT provides the owner’s information and position to the appropriate U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center or U.S. Coastguard Rescue Coordination Center. Because 406 MHz ELTs must be registered with NOAA, the first thing they will do is to contact the owner to verify if the signal is a false alarm.

Due to the poor performance of the older 121.5 MHz ELTs, I recently decided to replace the one in my Mooney with a new ACK E-04 406 MHz ELT. (This is a lightweight replacement for the E-01 model ELTs). This model accepts GPS position input data from a panel mounted or a handheld GPS device and the position data is updated once per second. It uses a lithium battery with a 5 year battery life and will transmit on 406 MHz for 24 hours and on 121.5 MHz for 48 hours.

406 MHz signals are detected almost instantaneously and when connected to a GPS their exact location will be downloaded to search and rescue (SAR) organizations within ten minutes of activation with a position accuracy of several hundred feet. Without the GPS input location can take up to three hours and is only accurate to a 1 to 5 km radius.

I hope I never have occasion to use it, but in the eventuality that I experience an emergency and need to be located I feel better knowing that through satellite monitoring the response will be quicker and more accurate.

~Beth Rehm, CFI

Not flown much (or at all) since the COVID-19 pandemic began? Here’s how you can get safely back in the left seat.2021-03-01T19:49:31-06:00

I think we can all agree it’s been a most unusual year and the Coronavirus has kept many pilots firmly on the ground for a lot longer than they would like. Piloting skills atrophy pretty quickly if not used on a regular basis. So when you do feel comfortable getting back in the air it will be a good idea to get some expert guidance from a flight instructor to help you blow the dust off.

Your CFI can refresh your memory on forgotten regulations, be an extra pair of eyes during your preflight, and give you some expert tips on everything from basic stick and rudders skills to perfecting your crosswind landings. And as an added bonus if the timing is appropriate this training should qualify as an FAA-required flight review.

If you rent from a flying club or flight school, you may even be required to fly with an instructor if your 90-day currency has expired. For example, JB Aviation Flight Club requires a minimum of three takeoffs and landings with an authorized instructor in one of their airplanes to maintain currency for day VFR rentals. However, if you haven’t flown in the past several months three trips around the pattern may not be enough to become proficient again.

When you haven’t flown for a long time you need to be extra methodical and take your time. Before you fly, look over your POH and checklists again and spend some time reviewing your paper charts or your electronic flight bag. You could do a practice flight plan with a weight and balance problem and download and review a full weather briefing.

If you do use an electronic flight bag take a moment to look at all the updates since the last time you used it. I use ForeFlight and they have introduced a whole bunch of interesting new features over the last 12 months.

Another useful tip is to be sure to use your checklists carefully for every stage of flight. This is a good habit anyway, but particularly useful if the procedures aren’t fresh in your mind.

After all the recent snow and frigid temperatures we are all looking forward to some milder spring weather and more opportunities to fly again. I look forward to seeing you all in the air in the near future!

~Beth Rehm, CFI – JB Aviation

What does the term ʺstabilized approachʺ mean?2021-07-06T14:24:25-05:00

The term ʺstabilized approachʺ often appears as something of a buzzword in articles and incident reports, as in, ʺThe pilot failed to establish a stabilized approach.ʺ  I get the general idea, but when is an approach actually considered ʺstabilized?ʺ

The concept of a stabilized approach was first introduced by the airlines in the 1950s and has since that time become standard operating procedure for commercial operations. Stabilized approaches are equally important to general aviation and an understanding of a stabilized approach, including energy management concepts, is required by the Private Pilot Airplane Airman Certification Standards (ACS).

There are several obvious cues that indicate if our approach is stabilized or not. For example, if our airspeed is too fast, if we are descending too rapidly or we are having trouble staying aligned with the runway centerline, these are all signs that we will not be able to execute an ideal touchdown in the center of the first third of the runway.

The stabilized approach concept gives us a more specific set of criteria as well as a decision height for judging when we should execute a go‐around.

The best way to achieve a safe landing is when all of the following criteria are maintained from 1,000 feet height above touchdown (HAT) in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and from 500 feet HAT in visual meteorological conditions (VMC).

The airplane must be on the correct track. For VFR flights this means aligned with the correct runway centerline and for IFR this means no more than normal bracketing corrections. The airplane is in the proper landing configuration, which means gear extended and flaps and trim set as required. The airplane speed is consistently within the acceptable range specified in the approved operating manual and no excessive pitch changes are required. The rate of descent is less than 1,000 fpm and +/‐ 300 fpm deviation from target. Your power setting is appropriate for the landing configuration selected and is within the permissible power range for an approach specified in the approved operating manual.

The airplane is within the desired glide path profile (usually a 3 degree descent angle) and requires no more than normal bracketing corrections.

All appropriate briefings and checklists have been accomplished.

The runway is clear and at a towered airport, you are cleared to land.

An immediate go‐around is recommended if you are not stabilized by the appropriate altitude. You should not try to “salvage” the landing from an approach that is outside of any of these tolerances within 500 feet of the ground.
Many things can contribute to a destabilized approach such as maneuvering to avoid traffic or complying with last minute air traffic control (ATC) instructions as well as other distractions or poor flying technique. Pilots should always be prepared and willing to execute a go‐around if necessary and the stabilized approach criteria provide a common set of reliable standards we can all use to make that decision.

Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

When you are flying into or at an airport with a control tower and ATC says you are “cleared for the option” just exactly what are your options and what do you have to tell them?2021-02-04T21:47:07-06:00

“Cleared for the option” is a common phrase used at tower‐controlled airports and an option approach permits the pilot to do any of the following; a full stop landing, a touch‐and‐go, a stop‐and‐go, a low approach or a missed approach. Here is what they all mean.

  • A full stop landing means that you intend to land and exit the runway. You may want to taxi back for another take off or you might be taxiing to an FBO or a hangar.
  • A touch‐and‐go is a landing followed by an immediate takeoff without stopping or exiting the runway. You will be expected to touch down only briefly without slowing down and configure for takeoff on the go.
  • A stop‐and‐go is a landing which comes to a full stop on the runway and once you have configured your airplane for takeoff you can start your take off from where you stopped. The point of the stop and go is not to rush the procedures needed for takeoff and is appropriate for complex aircraft when you need a few extra seconds to reconfigure. It is also useful for night currency landings when you must come to a full stop but you don’t want to waste time taxiing back to the beginning of the runway. This takes a li􏰀le bit more time on the runway but is often safer and more efficient, assuming there is sufficient runway length.
  • A low approach would be a deliberately planned go around maneuver when you don’t intend to actually touch down on the runway.
  • A missed approach is a procedure used by instrument pilots when an approach cannot be completed to a full stop landing or during training when the pilot deliberately plans to fly the missed approach procedure. If you plan to fly the missed approach procedure you should let ATC know your intentions after passing the final approach fix (FAF) inbound at the latest. After reaching the decision height (for a precision approach) or the missed approach point (for a non‐precision approach) and you have initiated the missed approach procedure or alternative ATC instructions, you should let ATC know as soon as practical.

Whichever option you choose, let ATC know as soon as you can what you plan to do so they can plan for other traffic accordingly. It’s worth noting that if any approach to land isn’t working out perfectly you can and should make the decision to go‐around at any point in the pa􏰀ern. Just tell the controller you are going around and what you’d like to do next.

~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

What is the correct pattern altitude I should use when approaching an airport for landing?2021-02-04T21:43:30-06:00

The answer to this question is whatever is published in the Chart Supplement for any given airport, unless there is no specific traffic pa􏰀ern altitude (TPA) established for that airport. Contrary to popular belief, there is no standard 1,000 foot above ground level (AGL) pa􏰁ern altitude that applies to all airports or all aircraft.
Some confusion may have arisen from the FAA advisory circular AC 90‐66B dated February 2019 in which the FAA recommended that “airplanes observe a 1,000 foot above ground level (AGL) traffic pa􏰀ern altitude.” However, this document also acknowledges that airport owners and operators, in conjunction with the FAA, are responsible for establishing the traffic pa􏰀ern at any given airport. The AC encourages airport owners and operators to adopt the recommendations contained in the AC, but there is no rule that forces airports to update their traffic pa􏰀erns.
Pilots should be familiar with 14 CFR §91.103 ‐ Preflight Action, which requires pilots in command to become familiar with all available information concerning the flight before they fly. AC 90‐66B reminds pilots to check appropriate publications, such as the Chart Supplement, where they will find information about traffic pa􏰀ern altitudes for their intended destination airports.

A brief search of the Chart Supplement reveals that most airports (including Class D airports) do not actually specify any TPA, and when they do, they are generally not TPAs that align with the FAA’s recommended 1,000 feet AGL. Pilots flying out of Galt should know that the 10C published traffic pa􏰀ern altitude is 800 feet AGL. But did you know that Brookfield Capitol Drive (02C), Schaumburg Regional (06C) and Grayslake/Campbell (C81) are all other local airports with 800 foot AGL traffic pa􏰀erns, Bolingbrook’s Clow International (1C5) has a TPA of 830 feet AGL and the TPA at Harvard/Dacy (0C0) is only 600 feet AGL.

When there is no published TPA for an airport is when the FAA’s recommendations on pa􏰀ern altitudes should be followed. According to the AC, light aircraft should use 1,000 feet AGL, heavy and turbine‐powered aircraft should fly the pa􏰀ern at 500 feet above the established traffic pa􏰀ern altitude, and ultralights should operate no higher than 500 feet below the powered aircraft TPA.

If you use the flight planning tool ForeFlight, you might have noticed that for some airports there is a designation of “est.” after the pa􏰀ern altitude value and an arrow symbol you can click on for a drop down list. This means there is no published TPA and the list shows the various altitudes for different types of aircraft estimated by using the field elevation and applying the FAA’s recommendations.

There is one other situation when it is appropriate to fly at a different altitude in the pa􏰀ern and that is when you are performing an IFR circling approach. Many airports have instrument approaches to only one runway or an approach that is not aligned with any runway. For example, the only instrument approach procedure to Galt is the RNAV (GPS)‐B which is straight in for runway 27, but if the winds favor landing on runway 09 aircraft must “circle” the airport to get there. It is necessary for the circling altitude to be lower than the usual TPA, and in some cases it varies for different categories of aircraft. At Galt, the circling altitude is 1,480 feet MSL (605 feet AGL) for all aircraft categories. VFR traffic will most likely never see anyone do this except for instrument training flights.

One last recommendation from AC 90‐66B which applies at all airports. Once you have identified the correct TPA for your destination airport remember that this altitude must be established before entering the traffic pa􏰁ern and maintained until you are at least abeam the approach end of the landing runway.

~Beth Rehm, CFI
JB Aviation Flight Training

Go to Top