Learning to fly, or thinking of learning? Post your questions, comments and experiences here

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#1818610
Hello,

Is there an easy/correct way to join circuit in Downwind or Baseleg or long final? During my training I have always been trained to join overhead and I could fly without any issues. However, I never got chance to join downwind or baseleg or direct (long final). Reading about it on the internet, most preferable choice seems to be other than overhead join.

I'm trying to get my head around this, For eg- Joining Downwind, how to identify the Downwind leg in a new airfield ? During my pre-flight planning time, I could spend time using Skydemon and google maps etc to identify landmarks where the Downwind starts and I could fly to that location. However, there is a possibility of Runway getting changed and the downwind will be in a totally different location. Or what if I had to do a diversion and land at an airfield that I didn't plan to land and they ask me to join Downwind or base leg? Is there an easy way to identify the legs and join them ?

Thanks
Sai
#1818629
Hi Sai,

I’m a student pilot so everyone please correct me if I’m wrong!

Skyway code states the most common and recommended type of join is the ‘overhead’, the advantage of which is that it allows you to observe the traffic circuit below without being in conflict with it. This is probably why you were only taught this way!

Personally I’d only join straight in or baseleg when I know the airfield really well, which I do all the time at Lee on Solent (from Bournemouth).

If I was requested to join anything other than overhead and I wasn’t fully aware of the area, I would request join overhead.

I’ve written a blog post about this here:

http://studentpilotguide.co.uk/how-to-a ... erodromes/
#1818642
At Thruxton I joined overhead. So flying directly over the runway in the direction of landing, but at 1800ft (from memory...) above aerodrome height as circuits are operated at 800ft. Then turn crosswind and descend to circuit height while keeping a good lookout and listening for others.
#1818646
Some people really don't like the overhead join (threads elsewhere on this forum about that) - but that isn't the discussion on this thread. It also isn't possible in some places due to airspace or other circuit constraints.

On each of the join locations mentioned, you don't survey the airfield first but enter the circuit in the direction you would fly on that named part of the circuit, at the beginning of that named part of the circuit.
Some airfields have specific places you need to join and due to noise sensitivity, you must follow a certain ground track.
Generally you can get used to being able to enter a circuit based on relative locations to the runway rather than ground features, but it does help to be familiar with an airfield to do that.
#1818648
Saisworld wrote:During my pre-flight planning time, I could spend time using Skydemon and google maps etc to identify landmarks where the Downwind starts and I could fly to that location. However, there is a possibility of Runway getting changed and the downwind will be in a totally different location. Or what if I had to do a diversion and land at an airfield that I didn't plan to land and they ask me to join Downwind or base leg? Is there an easy way to identify the legs and join them ?


I would just identify the runway, rather than landmarks around it*. Then the circuit is just relative to that, and so the downwind leg is parallel to the runway on the live side. There should be no need to identify circuit legs based on any landmark apart from the runway you're using.

* The exception is when a circuit is adjusted for noise abatement, which is common. I find it really difficult to brief these when there are multiple possible runways that might be available on arrival, and rely heavily on SkyDemon.
#1818651
Experienced pilot view

Where possible I like to fly straight-in. It saves a lot of fannying around and is very neighbour friendly at strips out in the boondocks where I'm based. On non-gliding days it's my preference at the home airfield. On gliding days a conventional downwind is advised.

SkyDemon shows 'feathers' extending the centreline of each runway making the identification of the downwind leg easy (as long as you know the circuit direction)

Least favoured is an overhead join, luckily I haven't been based anywhere an overhead is permitted in the last fifteen years.

Rob P

Other experienced pilot views are available.
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#1818665
If the airfield you're looking to visit has a website, check that for the joining procedure. Usually there will be a map showing ground features and areas to avoid, print the map if you want to have something to refer to in the air. EG: https://www.anglianflightcentres.co.uk/arrivals-departures/

If you have the map printed for both runways, you're in good shape. That said, most airfields are PPR also so when you ring them for permission they can tell you the landing runway. You'd be unlucky if it changed on route..

The Skydemon depicted circuit pattern isn't always correct, I think Turweston's was incorrect for a while but may have been resolved now!

For a long cross country I'd brief myself on likely diversion airfields and any specific procedures, and if all else fails, ask! Whoever is on the other end of the radio will be aware you're diverting and assist you in complying with noise abatement. The join may well be overhead, but if it's downwind ask if the downwind leg is in the "usual location" and if there are any towns/villages to avoid. As long as everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet you shouldn't have any problems!

I'm sure you were taught about the aircraft's position with reference to the runway, angles/where the runway is with respect to the wing or strut etc. Don't forget that stuff, and make sure you turn the right way :D

Good luck, enjoy visiting new places when we're allowed out again!

@Rob P gives good advice, despite his nosewheel being on the wrong end of his aircraft 8). Glider and Parachute airfields often discourage overhead joins.
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#1818681
Experienced pilot view. If I can join downwind or straight in, that's my preferred option - especially at over £4 a minute in my own aircraft.

I also operate for a commercial ATO and the management preference if operating as a single is to take the most efficient option (usually downwind) subject to safety. That said, we will always join overhead at our home base and fit in as appropriate if there is other traffic to conflict. I also fly periodically in the USA where you join at 45 degrees to downwind unless otherwise instructed.

UK standard is an overhead join at 2000' AAL. My home airfield at White Waltham requests an overhead join at 1200' AAL for airspace reasons. Other civilian airfields differ (especially those with full ATC) and if you go to a military airfield, they have their own procedures (initials join - also used at US towered airfields).

In short, brief yourself properly and do what you feel is safest. At an uncontrolled field, straight-in, downwind or base leg joins are perfectly safe and acceptable provided you don't interfere with circuit traffic. Listen out on the frequency to build a picture of where anyone may be in the circuit. If there's any doubt, keep it standard.
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#1818685
If you fly into a bigger airport in controlled space such as Liverpool you'll route to the airfield via a VRP and when visual with the airfield mostly cleared to join left or right base as, like mentioned before by others overhead isn’t possible.

I hate overhead joins, only done a couple but you gotta have eyes in the back of your head but that likely my inexperience and me joining when very busy.
#1818688
For a licenced airfield like Thruxton your first reference should be the aerodrome section of the eAIP. AD 2.20 onwards will detail the standard precedures for that airfield. Some airfields will have an ATIS, a continuously looping message relaying airfield information at that time such as runway in use, joining information, QNH etc. You will see the ATIS frequency in AD 2.18 of the eAIP for that airfield. At any non-ATIS airfield you just ask for joining information during your initial call.

However, if you listen out for a minute or two before your initial call you can get a sense of how busy the airfield is. If it's quiet there's no harm in requesting a join that suits you either during the initial call or when aknowledging the airfield information given to you after your initial call. Once you and ATC have agreed how you are going to join the circuit you position the aircraft relative to the airfield so that you can join in the agreed manner.

So, if it's runway 27, left hand circuits, you're approaching from the north west and have agreed to join downwind you fly to somewhere just west of the airfield, outside the ATZ if there is one, before turning left and flying parallel and to the right of the extended centre line, calling downwind once abeam of the upwind threshold. If you have agreed to a crosswind join, fly to the north of the airfield, turn right outside the ATZ and aim to fly over the upwind threshold perpendicular to the runway, just as if you had done an overhead join.

Don't worry too much about landmarks. Identify the airfield, gps helps, position the aircraft and as you get closer identify the correect runway, gps and the DI help here. From then on just eyeball the appropriate distance from the runway during the downwind and base legs. The downwind leg always starts abeam the upwind threshold so once you have identified the runway, you know where to start the downwind leg.

You are very unlikely to get a runway change mid-circuit. It will usually be changed before you arrive at the airfield or ATC will wait until after you have landed. If they absolutely have to then ATC wil tell you what the new runway is and tell you what to do. So if you're downwind for R27 and it's changed to R18 left hand ATC will tell you to join downwind for R18, if it changes from R27 to R36 you will be asked to fly a crosswind join to R36. It's up to you to identify the new runway and position accordingly. If it's a FISO or A/G airfield, you won't be told what to do but you may be given some advice.
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#1818692
Saisworld wrote:
I'm trying to get my head around this, For eg- Joining Downwind, how to identify the Downwind leg in a new airfield ? During my pre-flight planning time, I could spend time using Skydemon and google maps etc to identify landmarks where the Downwind starts and I could fly to that location.


Whilst there is a Standard Overhead Join, there will be variations of it for different airfields so you cant really assume they will all be the same and you will be expected to have worked it out for that airfield during pre-flight briefing.
If the airfield is in the AIP, the details should all be in there. Flight guides, nav apps and the airfield website can all be consulted and compared (they might not always agree).
(If unsure, ask the destination airfield and they will explain their local rules and noise abatement and they can also keep a better eye on you as you arrive.
Note other visiting pilots/instructors and based pilots can get it wrong so be careful who you ask. :wink: )

So, if you can do an Overhead Join for airfield X, how do you find the downwind leg for that circuit? Also an Overhead Join for somewhere non-standard?
If you can work that out, you know which point to aim for at the start of the downwind track at circuit height to do a downwind join. How to get to that point for a downwind join could vary. It might simply be arrive at that point at circuit height already on the same heading that you need to fly downwind, or you may need to adjust it for noise abatement if there is some house/farm/village/town etc they dont want you to fly over.

Similarly for a base join: If you had done an overhead join you will have worked out how to get from downwind onto base leg. So to do a base join it might simply be arrive at that point at circuit height already on the same heading that you need to fly the base leg of the normal circuit, or you may need to adjust it for noise abatement.

If there is other traffic in the circuit think carefully before jumping in with a downwind/base/final join. They wont be very happy if you make them do a go-around with your 'queue jumping'! You will be on the receiving end of that one day! (Not sure if it is more annoying if the joining traffic cut up the only aircraft in the circuit, or if the joining traffic made an aircraft go around in a very busy circuit resulting in more than one go around for one or more aircraft).

Saisworld wrote:However, there is a possibility of Runway getting changed and the downwind will be in a totally different location. Or what if I had to do a diversion and land at an airfield that I didn't plan to land and they ask me to join Downwind or base leg? Is there an easy way to identify the legs and join them ?


During pre-flight planning you should think through what you would do at that airfield if they change runway.

If it is single runway, it may be really obvious from the weather forecast that they wont be changing runway. If the wind is straight across, there is more of a chance of the active runway changing if aircraft start landing with tailwinds. I have been in a circuit with 3-4 other aircraft and the active runway was reversed. That was interesting!

Similarly if the airfield has multiple cross runways, the weather forecast gives a clue whether the active runway might change, and the airfield may switch if they have a preference for the longer runway or a hard runway rather than the grass runway, and noise abatement considerations.
I have been in a circuit with cross runways and the active runway has changed as the wind changed.
I have been in a circuit and the active runway became blocked by a landing aircraft with a burst tyre so a cross runway became the active runway (eventually).

For a bit more fun, there are airfields with cross runways and noise abatement procedures, and for busy events they might have two active runways - one for take off and one for landing.

Remember there can be non-radio aircraft in the circuit.
Remember that people make mistakes. Someone can go through a circuit in the opposite direction or for the wrong runway or at the wrong circuit height if they have got really confused so always keep a good look out inside/outside the circuit patterns.

For diversions, you really ought to have done the same pre-flight planning for the alternate airfields as for the destination.

Eventually it takes less planning as you get familiar with specific airfields you use more often. They do change their procedures sometimes.
As you gain experience it will become easier to adapt to changes of runway and faster/slower circuit traffic.
#1818694
In many ways this is a matter of practice and once you have a licence and will be using aids like Skydemon routinely it becomes very easy. In the meantime you need to get the picture of relative position of the runway to the aircraft fixed in your mind as you fly the circuit, then you'll be aiming for that picture as you join. Much like you have the picture of the runway in the windscreen as you approach on final.