Uncontrolled airports

Bob Turner

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I am all for not clogging up the frequency, but violently opposed to mindless frequent transmissions at the expense of flight safety. If I ask where you are and you do not answer, you are missing an opportunity to avoid a midair. That is the only reason for Unicom.

I too listen for about five minutes - then I call four miles out. Most of the time, if someone else is there, they will tell me "look for a white cessna downwind 23". Think about why you do stuff in an airplane - leave the mindless procedures for folks not doing stuff that can hurt you.

I think mindlessly asking for an airport advisory is lots worse than asking if anybody is around. When was the last time a Unicom operator answered you?

Opinion. My first seven years flying was exclusively at uncontrolled airports.
 

aftCG

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I don’t answer the “anybody in the pattern” question but will call my next move soon after. So instead of saying yes I am here and then 20 seconds later call turning crosswind, I’ll just not answer and call crosswind. Kinda proves that if you just listen out, you don’t have to make that call and clog up the frequency.
Agree. It answers their question without talking directly to them.

I'm in the habit of tuning into CTAF of destination airports WAY out so I can visualize the zoo before I can see the animals. I also do this for airports along my route
 

Bob Turner

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Just finished reviewing my valued copies of the ASF. Safety Advisor #3, "Operations at Nontowered Airports". They are pretty good - changed little between 2005 and 2007. I ought to get a more recent version. These are good handouts.

I obviously disagree with some of the tenets - they recommend that ten mile call, no matter whether you are an Aeronca C3 or a Gulfstream. They recommend multiple calls with multiple repetition of the airport on each one. And they are horrified by anyone asking an obvious question like "anyone home" and yet espouse the query "Wings Unicom, Conquest Three-Nine Alpha, 10 miles south, request airport advisory." Seems to me the two querys are identical - except that you are far more likely to get a response from pattern traffic.

I could go along with starting and ending a call with the airport name, but, and this is just personal preference, I would vastly prefer that you say it once, slowly, at the end of your transmission. Here is what I often hear, like every ten seconds from the same aircraft: "Mphlfgt traffic, this is 123 downwind Mpriiffic". No help at all.

But get this: page 5 "2. Be brief - It is more important for pilots to know what kind of airplane you are flying than to know your complete call sign." On that, I completely agree. Get one of these fine handouts. AOPA gives them away.
 

Bob Turner

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Embarrassed myself today - "red and blue champ eight out on the 45 (etc). Some guy said "what's your N-number?"
My smart-ass answer - if you can see it you are too close. Somebody else told him what it was.

This is new stuff for me - I have been into uncontrolled airports with an ADS-B aircraft exactly twice, and forgot that folks now use iPads instead of looking out the window.

I remain unconvinced that an N- number is an important part of an uncontrolled airport call, but there is a valid reason for using it. I am going to have to reconsider.

If a pilot is using an iPad for traffic sequencing, how important is it for him to know that the aircraft calling downwind is in fact the same airplane he sees on the iPad in that location? There could be a non-ADS-B aircraft on downwind too - and maybe knowing that two airplanes are on downwind and the ADS-B aircraft is not making callouts would maybe cause him to look out the window?

It is a new ball game - I will think about it.
 

Bruce

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Flying mainly from an uncontrolled airport that is under a class c vail (we have a cut out on chart so not in there airspace TN98) and with many other uncontrolled fields within radio range and using same frequency I find the field name used on start as wake up and listen the last call of the field name just confirms where they are at. I have heard 3 fields Called out at same time or within seconds of each other as for looking outside we have several planes without radios so we always look Happy flying and be safe radios are great eyeballs are better.
 

BB57

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If a pilot is using an iPad for traffic sequencing, how important is it for him to know that the aircraft calling downwind is in fact the same airplane he sees on the iPad in that location? There could be a non-ADS-B aircraft on downwind too - and maybe knowing that two airplanes are on downwind and the ADS-B aircraft is not making callouts would maybe cause him to look out the window?

It is a new ball game - I will think about it.
I understand why another pilot in the pattern wanted to know your N number. If I hear an aircraft approaching the pattern and see an aircraft in that same area on my ADS-B "in" display, it's helpful to know if there is one aircraft in that area, or two and/or if the one I am seeing visually is the one I am seeing on the ADS-B "in".

I took 23 years off from aviation and a lot of things changed. However, on the plus side that rapid immersion into the new environment has made it easier to adapt.

There are pros and cons.

I have a Statux and a 9.7" i-Pad with Flight Plan Go that I use for the charts, the moving map display, inflight weather and traffic, with a big caution and caveat on that last one.

On the "pro" side:

1) Having inflight weather and in particular the radar mosaic makes like much easier when navigating around afternoon thunderstorms as you can pretty well see what is behind the CB currently in front of you and you then better plan a round around CBs without getting dead ended. I'd have loved to have had that 30 years ago.

2) Also like the electronic charts in terms of more frequent updating, the ability to resize the image, and the ease of flight planning capability and the ease of adjusting the course enroute if you need to divert around weather.

3) ADS-B "In" traffic is also a plus. If an aircraft has ADS-B "out" it'll show up well beyond normal visual range, and I can tell pretty much exactly where to look for that particular aircraft and I can usually see them sooner, especially if it's one of the idiots with an over all dark paint scheme that serves as very effective camouflage.

There have been a few cases where I have not seen aircraft at all, other than an ADS-B indication. For example I flew into Wilson a couple weeks ago and despite ADS-B, the PA-28 calling his position on base and final, and knowing exactly where he was/should be, I didn't see the solid dark gray aircraft until it crossed the threshold of the concrete runway. He was only about 1.5 miles away at that point.

On the "con" side:

1) ADS-B traffic poses an increasingly significant threat as pilots are becoming increasingly dependent on it to spot traffic for them. As noted above it is a big aid in helping pilots spot aircraft farther way. On the other hand that only works if the other aircraft has ADS-B out. Pilots still need to scan for other aircraft, and I'll argue we need to scan *more* than before due to the higher probability the other pilot isn't looking outside at all.

Looking back over the last 6 months, I've had or seen 4 close encounters.

I had a close encounter at KRBW when an executive jet reported being 3 miles SW of the field we'd just departed. I didn't see him in that quadrant and on a hunch lifted a wing tip to see him curving toward us with zero relative motion about a half mile to starboard (west of the field). He obviously didn't see us and was obviously head down in the cockpit doing something else - probably looking for ADS-B traffic on a display. I did not have ADS-B "in" at the time, and it would almost certainly have alerted me to the fact he wasn't where he reported himself to be, and that we were on a potential collision course.

I also had a near miss (200' vertical separation, 0' horizontal separation) with a hangar mate who had departed from our home field without transmitting anything, while we were approaching the field about 8 miles east and flying into the setting sun. The only warning I received was a bit red circle on the ADS-B in from a skin paint on a ATC radar. I don't know how that works, but I have noted that if a non ADS-B equipped aircraft is on a potential collision course with me and we are both being painted by an ATC radar, in some circumstances the other aircraft does show up on mu display giving me at least a few seconds warning. However, at long range, radar isn't all that accurate, and it only updates every 10 to 12 seconds so the data is imprecise and slow to show a conflict. That kind of warning will ALWAYS be very limited.

In this case he was at fault for being radio silent. He also knew I was out flying as we share bays in the same row of hangars. I wasn't without sin either however as I was approaching the field into the sun and more or less on the extended center line of runway 7. It's not the smartest way to approach an uncontrolled airport.

I also had one of the helicopters from the regional hospital cross about 1000' in front of me east to west at the same altitude (1000' AGL) just after I called 7 miles south of a county airport. I saw him coming in at my 2:00 and kept him in sight as we closed. It's possible he also saw me as well and saw that while we were close we also had sufficient relative motion. But I wouldn't bet my life on it. He was no doubt ADS-B equipped but was not showing on the ADS-B in display. It was either off, or not functional, or the ADS-B traffic system wasn't up to speed.

The last was at this same small county airport where a C-172 on descent overtook me with maybe 100' vertical separation, after I'd broken into a right turn to spot him as it was obvious from his report he was behind me. From the angles involved I doubt he saw me. He continued on course going well below pattern altitude and cutting off an aircraft on final who made a hard right turn out of the pattern. That pilot requested a radio check to ensure he was transmitting and I advised I could hear him just fine.

In short, visually scanning for traffic is more important than ever, especially here in eastern NC. We have a combination of a lot of uncontrolled airports, both registered and unregistered, as well as a lot of MOAs and restricted areas that serve to concentrate traffic, and a large concentration of non ADS-B aircraft, with at least a couple flown by real idiots.

2) ADS-B is based on GPS information and requires *accurate* GPS information to work. Here in eastern NC we've had periods where the Navy and or Marines have been running exercises involving GPS interference with resulting widespread areas where GPS isn't accurate. NOTAMs are issued and GPS approaches are closed, but I suspect most pilots don't realize the GPS / ADS-B traffic they have become reliant on is now also less accurate.

3) Pilots should still be using ATC traffic separation services and should regard ADS-B as backup. The same goes for ATC, but based on what I'm seeing and hearing that doesn't always seem to be the case.
 

BB57

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Flying mainly from an uncontrolled airport that is under a class c vail (we have a cut out on chart so not in there airspace TN98) and with many other uncontrolled fields within radio range and using same frequency I find the field name used on start as wake up and listen the last call of the field name just confirms where they are at. I have heard 3 fields Called out at same time or within seconds of each other as for looking outside we have several planes without radios so we always look Happy flying and be safe radios are great eyeballs are better.
That's one of the things I've had to adjust to, but it makes sense to start and end the transmission with the field name. That's especially true here on the east coast there there are usually at least 3 fields using the same frequency, and when reception is good you can have aircraft transmitting from a half dozen patterns that are more or less intelligible.

In that environment however brevity and clarity are important:

- More pilots need to think about what they need to say, then press the PTT, say it, and then shut up. It's annoying when a pilot starts with "ahhh..." adds a few more in the transmission, and or rambles off on a tangent and takes 10 seconds to say a 4-5 second message.

- Similarly, on a busy day I see a lot less benefit in calling every leg in the pattern when you are the only plane in the pattern, and the frequency is busy with aircraft at other fields. Announcing downwind and final (while listening for aircraft approaching the field and scanning for traffic) is usually sufficient.

- Biz jet pilots calling an FBO on the CTAF and going into a long narrative about what they want for fuel, how many passengers they have, how long they well be on the ground, etc is also annoying and blocks the frequency at airports all over the area as they invariably make these transmissions on decent, but still from significant altitude.

- Everyone needs to keep in mind announcing position on the CTAF is only half the requirement. Pilots also need to actually *listen*.

- Brevity needs to be balanced as speed talking will cause a lot of pilots to fail to understand what you said, and that makes what you just said useless.
 

Big Ed

N50247 - '79 Super D
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Gonna horn in here with some non-CFI opinions, if you will excuse my lack of qualifications. 99% of my flying is into uncontrolled airfields, with about 50 hours of XC in the last 2 months. I have visited at least 10 uncontrolled fields in the last week. Honestly, I have the opposite problem, anxiety with ATC and controlled airspace, so I always pick an uncontrolled airfield over a towered one when given a choice.

The recent FAA AC on pattern entry confused me at first, especially the teardrop entry, but after looking closer, I get it. They did not change the basic maneuver. They just got a bit more specific on the details. I haven't actually read the AIM in many years, but as I recall, the old process was "overfly 1000 above, fly 5 miles away, descend and circle for entry". The details on when and how to descend and circle were vague, resulting in a lot of aircraft randomly doing their own thing at the 5 mile radius. Also, that takes you farther away from the airfield than necessary. Murphy being Murphy, someone is gonna run out of gas while circling.

The new so-called "teardrop entry" in the AC is really just a tighter and more predictable variation on the previous AIM procedure. IMO the government graphic poorly communicated the discrete steps by combining two actions in step 4. The graphic should have read:
  1. Overfly 500 feet above pattern.
  2. Fly 2 miles clear.
  3. Descend to pattern altitude.
  4. Teardrop turn.
  5. Downwind 45 entry.
pattern.PNG
The key to safety is doing the steps separately. It is a descent, THEN a level teardrop turn. You have plenty of wings-level time on the descent to scan the inbound 45 for traffic. When you reach pattern altitude and start your teardrop turn, you are at least 3 miles from the airfield, with plenty of room for a gradual 225 degree turn to establish a 45 entry to the downwind.

It is NOT a descending teardrop turn. You could quite easily descend on top of an aircraft already in the 45 entry without either seeing the other, especially if you also shortcut step 2. If pilots start chopping throttle right over midfield and doing tight descending 270's into the downwind, midair collisions will result.

The alternate midfield entry alarmed me at first, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. You know exactly where traffic is coming from at the entry point, so you can easily see and avoid. IMO this is much safer than a crosswind entry. It is also fuel and time efficient, and follows the principle of staying within gliding range of the airfield once you reach it. The only downside is that other pilots are not used to watching for it yet. I did this some on my most recent trip, and I am going to start doing it more.

IMO the most problematic entries are long base and long downwind. Long base entries in particular bug me. Pilots on downwind abeam the numbers are looking left towards the runway threshold to gauge their descent and time their turn. They are not in a good position to scan for traffic coming from the other direction. Long base entries are just lazy. Turn a few degrees left and do a proper 45 downwind entry, or turn a few degrees right and circle for a long straight in to final.

Same for long downwind entries. Aircraft taking off and climbing into the pattern are focused on flying their planes and are not in a good position to scan for traffic. Turn a few degrees right and set up for a proper 45 downwind entry like everyone expects.
 
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Bob Turner

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Those two are being resurrected from olden days. The best and safest, in my opinion, is the upwind entry. It can easily be done entering midfield - a right turn north of the runway in your second figure.

When all airports were uncontrolled these were the standard. Then folks who fly desks got the job of re-writing stuff.

Long downwind entried don't bother me, but I agree - long base and straight-in approaches are problematic. As to descending in the pattern, it freaks me out! I do it at my tower-controlled airport, but I do not leave my higher altitude until I have spotted all traffic beneath me. If I don't see them I let the tower know.
 

Helo pilot

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What really makes me mad is when people don't enter the pattern properly, namely doing a right hand pattern when only left is authorized. I have several people tell me that the AIM is only advisory so they can do a right hand pattern if they want. They don't believe me when I tell them it's a FAR and mandatory.
 

aftCG

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If anything it alarms me that people are unfamiliar with the teardrop entry or think it is new. I've been flying 25 years and it has always been published that way. I do descend in the turn (was taught that way and today is the first time I have seen someone interpret it as descend then turn) because keeping the nose down allows you to turn tighter. It is not hazardous because descending and turning gives me better visibility of what I'm turning towards. In retract planes I'm also burning off airspeed to put me at gear operating speed. In a C182RG I can cross midfield at TPA +500' at 140 knots and have the gear out as I roll wings level on a very short 45. Easily.

You've been listening to the CTAF for several miles so you have an idea of where the non-NORDO planes are and have eyes (not tablet) on them. If someone is calling on the 45 I'll extend past them and then turn. If someone is three miles out it's a judgement call, with sufficient cushion for max safety. If they're really 5 miles out (very common) I'll have my chocks in before they turn midfield downwind. I'm still watching for NORDO/wrong freq targets.

I have never one time had a conflict or even terse words in the traffic pattern. Just like my statement about tail number vs color, I don't care if you enter on the wrong side, upwind, long base or whatever, just be where you say you are if/when you key the mic.
 

Bob Turner

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Sure agree with that. I have observed many reports where airplanes are not where they say they are. Some are mistakes, but how can you miss a mountain or a lake, or even a water tower?
 

Big Ed

N50247 - '79 Super D
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I do descend in the turn (was taught that way and today is the first time I have seen someone interpret it as descend then turn)
It's not an issue of interpretation. The FAA language is explicit:

"3. Descend to pattern altitude, then turn"
 

aftCG

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It's not an issue of interpretation. The FAA language is explicit:

"3. Descend to pattern altitude, then turn"
I chose my wording poorly, and agree that is what it says there. Not attempting to start an argument at all, just pointing out there is nothing new or unnerving about tear drop entries. I've seen enough internet battles over the subject that I have omitted any reference to "teardrop" on the radio.

I'm "over the field at 2000', eastbound", to "1/2 mile east of the field descending" to "turning inbound on the 45". Again, zero conflicts in 25 years. There's room for everyone.

Sure agree with that. I have observed many reports where airplanes are not where they say they are. Some are mistakes, but how can you miss a mountain or a lake, or even a water tower?
And yet it happens dozens of times per hour. The very first one that caused me alarm was a reporting point for approaching Boeing Field (KBFI) from the west. The canned procedure for the arrival is to call in over the north tip of Vashon Island. Literally dozens of times I was about to key the mic because that is where I was, and someone else breaks in reporting there. Some of these clowns were still a mile or more out. To this day I can't imagine why there isn't scrap aluminum raining down on North Vashon every day.
 

Big Ed

N50247 - '79 Super D
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What really makes me mad is when people don't enter the pattern properly, namely doing a right hand pattern when only left is authorized. I have several people tell me that the AIM is only advisory so they can do a right hand pattern if they want. They don't believe me when I tell them it's a FAR and mandatory.
Definitely agree with this. Just because you CAN do something does not mean it is smart. Right pattern sets up head-on closure situations.

IMO everyone should always fly as if everyone else is NORDO. I've been that guy enough to know that guy is always out there. Last month my radio crapped out and I flew 4 hours of XC home NORDO, landing at 3 uncontrolled airfields. Thinking you are OK because you self-announced is a false assumption.
 
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Big Ed

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I don't have a problem with straight in arrivals. Seems like a common sense solution if the active runway is known.
 

Bob Turner

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Think about it a bit longer. If you need to come straight in, use an upwind entry. That gives you a chance to spot the NORDOs. Straight-ins have always been discouraged for safety reasons. They are not illegal, as noted above.
 

BB57

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I prefer to call it wisdom, or it might just be a case of being old and set in my ways, but either way I'm with Bob on most of this.

Straight in approaches? Just "No".

Long straight in approaches are necessary for most instrument practice, but way too many pilots seem to thing reporting in on the CTAF 6-7 miles out AND calling it a 6 or 7 mile "final" approach is acceptable. It really isn't, especially when there are other planes approaching or in the pattern.

Most pilots are notoriously bad at estimating distance. Worse, if the expectation is to call in 6-7 miles out and they forgot, there is a temptation to call it 6 or 7 when it's really only 3 or 4 miles. That makes a difference to a pilot on downwind thinking he has time to make his base turn and come down final and land before the other plane is in the pattern. Worst case you have a mid air. Best case, the guy on downwind, who is technically closer to the runway than even if the guy reporting "6 mile" final is only 3 miles out, has just been cut off by a jerk who thinks a long final is ok.

It's both safer and much more courteous to do an upwind entry and see for sure who's in the pattern and where.

Extended base to landing? An even bigger "No".

Again it's a set up to cut people off in the pattern, especially aircraft that are no radio that you may not know about.

Instead of calling in on base 6-7 miles out, maneuver 45 or so degrees left, descend to pattern altitude, turn 90 degrees right and and enter at a 45 degree angle to the downwind, yielding and adjusting if needed to any traffic on downwind.

IMHO, both lead to other bad habits.

I was always taught to fly the pattern in a single engine airplane close enough that I could make the runway if I lost the engine. Yet I see at least half the traffic at most uncontrolled airports with long runways flying the downwind leg a mile or two away from the runway, and flying the downwind leg 2-3 miles past the runway threshold. In the event of an engine failure in the "traffic pattern" (and I use that term loosely in their case), they are landing off the runway and quite possibly entirely off the airport.

It's annoying to take proper sequence behind an airplane on downwind, and then watch that plane fly 3 miles past the runway before turning base for a 3 mile final. I end up having to fly well beyond my own safe gliding distance in the pattern ti stay behind them, even if I slow way down. Slowing way down would also create a cascade effect if there is anyone behind me.

Don't get me wrong, there is a place for the 3 mile final. For example, with a 3 degree glide slope you descend about 300' per mile, and for a non precision approach or at night in less than stellar visibility, knowing when you are on the glide slope and can start the descent to the runway on final can be handy to prevent a premature descent into an intervening object.

However, way too many pilots seem to think they need to roll out of their base turn onto final and be on glide slope in severe clear VFR conditions. That leaves them turning base 2-3 miles past the threshold.

The fact is, in a light aircraft in an uncontrolled airport traffic pattern in VFR conditions, you need to pretty much ignore the VASI/PAPI lights.
 

BB57

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I don't have a problem with straight in arrivals. Seems like a common sense solution if the active runway is known.
It is until a no radio aircraft on base and focused on the runway, turns final just in front of you and at the same altitude, while you've been focusing on the runway as well. Add in a little sun light at your 10 or 11 o'clock and the resulting loud noises then cause people on the ground to look up. That's bad.

Again, it's a lot safer to stay at pattern altitude and enter the upwind leg, which will keep you above and outside of anyone on base or final (even an illegal right base turn) and gives you plenty of time to spot all the sadio and no radio traffic and sequence in with them without cutting anyone off.