Non-Towered Airport Traffic Patterns… …Like Lincoln’s

The FAA, bless their little hearts, released an updated Advisory Circular last March entitled Non-Towered Airport Flight Operations. This circular, technically AC 90-66B, provides the latest and greatest FAA thinking on flying traffic patterns at non-towered airports…like Lincoln. Any and every pilot flying from non-towered airports…like Lincoln…should take fifteen minutes and read this circular to refresh old memories and perhaps change some old habits. Unfortunately, as is true in most things aviation, the ones that need to read this document are the ones who won’t.

Our traffic pattern at the Lincoln Regional Airport is normally a fairly ordered affair with everyone going around generally in the same direction and all the participants generally being nice to each other. These guys and gals are aware that the pattern has a few local recommendations like RWY 15 departures not turning into the powered-parachute area, or not making right base entries to RWY 15 through the skydiving jump zone. These guys and gals may have read the Chart Supplement, as all good pilots do, to familiarize themselves with such things.

They know that the calm wind runway is RWY 15, and that in general a calm wind runway is considered applicable for any wind speeds up to 5 kts. Many of them also probably think that Mavericks should be F-14 drivers flying Top Gun, so the guy wanting to use RWY 33 to land when everybody else is using RWY 15 should maybe go find an aircraft carrier instead. Or the guy who enters the downwind at 4000 feet dropping like a rock into the pattern expecting everyone else to clear out of his way is not playing nice. So, just to provide a few pertinent pointers from the AC and maybe just a bit of opinion, we’ll mention a few things from this advisory circular.

The AC provides some general information. So, if you do not know what an overhead break is, or what an short approach looks like, or how IFR traffic is supposed to blend with VFR traffic, it’s in there.

There are some diagrams in the AC that describe and clarify pattern entities, particularly the cross-over the field to enter the pattern entry.

Some of the other changes are that pattern altitude has been standardized as 1000’ agl for small aircraft, 1500’ agl for large aircraft, and 500’ or less for ultralights. It also clarifies that IFR traffic does not have priority over VFR traffic, and all IFR circling maneuvers should be with left traffic unless other specified on the approach plate.

Not really changes, but reminders are that pilots are expected to overfly the departure end of the runway on takeoff or low approaches before turning. Also, pilots should be listening on the CTAF frequency within 10 miles of the airport, either inbound or outbound.

Radio discipline is also mentioned, and that is particularly necessary at busy non-towered airports…like Lincoln…that have other nearby airports also using the same frequency. The Advisory Circular specifies that transmissions “may include aircraft type to aid in identification and detection, but should not use paint schemes or color descriptions to replace the use of aircraft call sign.”

And, of course, asking that “ANY AIRCRAFT IN THE AREA PLEASE ADVISE” is never in good form and does not add value to the traffic pattern.

The AC doesn’t say it, but it should, that calling inbound “OVER BILLY BOB’S HOUSE” or “OVER THE LOGPILE” does not help the pilot from Wichita, Kansas, figure out where you are. Distance and direction from the airport is much preferred and is the basis for the examples in the AC.

For those rare occasions where disagreements occur in the pattern, the AC has a whole paragraph on the subject which basically boils down to: fly your airplane and talk about it on the ground. The CTAF at a busy airport is no place for an argument.

The take-away: basic and helpful information about flying the airport traffic pattern at a non-towered airport….like Lincoln…is just a click away. It’s in there.