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Thread: Traffic Patterns - big airports

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2020
    Houston, Texas

    Default Traffic Patterns - big airports

    Hi, Newbie with dumb question here, thanks in advance for your patience.
    So, Traffic Patterns. I have read about what they are in multiple places, and I get the concept.
    My FSX book on real world training says: "Do it like this, but at big airports it may be different." How do you know and where would you find that out?
    I am familiar with runway ILS Charts. And of course, there are diagrams of airports. Yet, I have not seen - "and this is how the pattern works." I am not willing to assume that Houston or Boston or San Francisco wants me flying 1/4 mile from the concrete downwind. But, maybe so <?> How does one find out?

    I know very well on IFR vectors from the various big-airport control towers they often have me 20 miles out from the runway on what would be a downwind and a final . And that makes perfect sense to me.

    This happened to me both at Boston and at Houston. i got instructed to land on a piece of dead concrete. (the dud runway that has no electronics next to the good ILS runway. (in Houston that would be dead one = 33L, good one = 33R) I cant find approach information for Dead Concrete runways.

    I'm sure this is all quite simple. I'm just new, and have not discovered the correct resource.

    Any help will be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 1996
    FlightSim.Com World HQ
    Blog Entries


    In a nutshell, a standard traffic pattern is what you fly, unless instructed otherwise. At a field with no control tower most aircraft will fly a standard pattern. At the large airports you are asking about the control tower operator will provide instructions. Flying a standard pattern at a large, busy airport is much less common. The tower will provide instructions on how to approach the airport, using their knowledge of where other planes are to fit you into the traffic. If things are not busy, they will tend to give you the shortest approach possible.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Westminster, CO


    As Nels says, that standard pattern is the basis for what is flown at any airport, and ATC will use terms such as downwind and base when giving instructions. In addition to Nels' good information, you can find all manner of good information on the FAA's website. Here's a page that lists many manuals, such as the Aeronautical Information Manual, the Airplane Flying Handbook and the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge:

    In those manuals there will be a tremendous amount of information (and it's all free) about flying, airspace, patterns, navigation and much, much more. And this is not to discourage you from asking questions here, but rather to give you a place to find more than we can possible give you here about a variety of flying subjects, if you are as curious about things as I was before I learned to fly long ago. Note, too, that Wikipedia can answer many questions (often quite in depth), and there are also the FS Wiki (button near the top of the page) and the Real Aviation Tutorials & FAQs section of the forum (below) where more answers are available, perhaps to questions you didn't know you had.

    Best of luck.

    Larry N.

    As Skylab would say:
    Remember: Aviation is NOT an exact Science!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2020
    Houston, Texas


    Thank you for the help. I have looked this up in my FAA book. I understand the basic pattern concept.
    Since I originally posted this, I have been in the situation numerous times after requesting a VFR full stop landing. Most of the time they say enter traffic downwind left. So, I get positioned to do that before I radio them. I have taken my clues for how far from the airport (runway) I ought to be for a downwind left, and how far past the end of the runway to go before going final -- by noticing how they vector me on ILS approaches. Nobody has yelled at me yet. Of course, I'm not sure a canned ATC program knows how to yell at anybody. :-)
    thanks again.

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