THE GOLDILOCKS APPROACH

We often see pilots begin their downwind legs far higher than the standard thousand feet above ground level, or from some non-standard place, and we generally discourage that for several reasons.  First, more than half our flights at Crystal are for training, whether with an instructor or solo, and it’s tough to get predictable results, or evaluate them, if we begin the process from a different point each time.  Meanwhile other pilots may see us but simply not believe we’re really in the pattern, and commit to their own approach…  And obviously we need to avoid having multiple gliders on final!

True story: the student entered downwind indecisively and three hundred feet higher than standard. I called him on it, so while pulling spoilers he protested that it didn’t matter. By then though, someone else was gliding under us at the proper height and on a line more parallel with the runway. (Quite likely we stepped on each other’s radio calls, so neither could hear the other.)

It’s good to be flexible of course, and able to adapt when necessary.  But think of it like a hand of cards.  Entering the pattern, you have only so many options left and should not discard any before necessary. During the couple minutes of downwind, base leg and final, the air has plenty of time to complicate things, so you need to be able to adjust in unpredictable ways.  Consistency in landing pattern entry leaves all that other space available for improvisation in genuine emergencies.

Of course we encourage rated pilots to practice unusual approaches as well, when it doesn’t interfere with standard training, and only with appropriate communication beforehand.