This morning I went flying. I didn’t go far, just up to 1800′ MSL or 800′ AGL which is the traffic pattern altitude at St. Cloud Regional Airport where I was flying. After reaching the end of the runway after takeoff I made a 90 degree left turn and then turned another 90 degree turn to downwind, traveled the entire distance back to the other end of the runway, turned another 90 degree left turn to base and then turned 90 degrees to final and landed.
This is what is called the traffic pattern. Picture in your mind a large rectangle to the right or left of the runway with the runway as one of the long legs of the rectangle. The control tower will designate which direction they want you to go after takeoff, either left or right. Today he surprised me with left traffic on my first trip around the traffic pattern. Most of the time at the St. Cloud Airport you make all right turns instead of left in the traffic pattern. It was good practice to expect the unexpected.
The next time around the tower called right traffic for my trip around the airport so after takeoff I turned to the right and made all right turns back to the runway. This morning I made eight trips around the airport, taking off and landing for each trip. I needed to do at least three take offs and landings to be current to carry passengers for the next 90 days. I flew my patterns this morning with a purpose beyond currency. I wanted to work the numbers.
Part of flying is accuracy. When you take your private pilot test or any other piloting test there are standards that you must adhere. If you are flying an altitude like in the traffic pattern, to pass your test you must stay within the standards or you fail that part of the test. So when I say that I wanted to work the numbers I mean that I want to pursue accuracy. I want to hold a specific altitude, airspeed, heading and attitude. In the traffic pattern the altitude that we are to be at except when turning to base and final is 1800′ MSL at the St. Cloud Regional Airport. The traffic pattern altitude is different at each airport. It is one of the things you need to know before you fly to another airport.
When I was flying the 152 I was working each pass to be better at maintaining my altitude not at 1700′ or 1900′ which would have been just within standards but right on 1800′ msl. Each pass I worked on maintaining my specific airspeed for each leg of the pattern. 80 knots for the downwind leg, 70 for base, and 60 for final are the airspeeds that I try to maintain for the pattern. If my numbers were off on one pass I worked on what adjustments needed to be made to keep my numbers right on 80, 70, 60 not wanting to accept anything more or less than that.
Another skill I worked on was landing the airplane in a specific location on the runway. This meant that I had to be set up perfect on final with my airspeed, alignment, attitude (nose high or low) and throttle. This part of flying has been the most difficult for me. Judging where I needed to touch down to stop by a certain distance. I fly at an airport that has the luxury of a long, wide runway for the Cessna that I fly. It is not the case at other airports in our area. Most of them are half the distance and width than KSTC so it is important to be able to land in the shortest distance possible as near to the beginning of the runway. At the end of my flying today my accuracy had improved but it is something I need to keep working on.
Just as an athletic works to improve his or her skills at their sport through practice, a pilot needs to do the same, always striving to do it better than the last time.