I learned to fly in a 1962 Cessna “Skyhawk” 172. It was a trusty airplane leaning towards the older side of aircraft populating the skies today. Two things made it unique among other training aircraft: its carburetor and its engine.
The old Skyhawk was equipped with a 180 horse power engine which gave it just enough oomph to stand out from its stock 160 hp brothers. This extra power proved to be a very good thing in most every situation including stall recovery, short field takeoffs with obstacles, and steep climbs. However, the slight modifications tweaked the overall performance just enough to make it difficult for me to gather useful specific information from external flight training resources.
I have decided to make public my quick reference guide for power settings in a closed traffic pattern. It is brief and informal, but it is something that I review every single time I fly. I took these notes as a student and they have never let me down. This being said, every airplane has its sweet spot. If you decide to use this guide in a similarly powered airplane of your own, be sure to take mental notes while you fly of any changes you need to make so that it will work perfectly for you, too.
A variety of factors such as the velocity and direction of the wind affect how I fly in the pattern. I treat this as a mental exercise to direct my thoughts to practical measures of preparation. If you choose to use this information, you should treat it the same way.
- Takeoff and climb
- Turn crosswind at 700′
- Turn downwind
- Pull power back to 2,000 RPM at 950′
- Trim to 1000′ at 100 MPH
- Abeam the numbers: add flaps, reduce power to 1600 RPM, add carb. heat
- Fly 80-90 MPH, trim
- Turn base, fly 85 MPH
- Roll wings level to get a look at the runway
- Turn final, fly 80-85 MPH
- Add more flaps, adjust speed to maintain glideslope
- Keep runway in same spot on windshield (aim for numbers)
- Flare at just the right time, pull out power
- Hold-it, hold-it, hold-it
- Let it fall
- Hold the pressure off of the nose wheel
What a great chair-flying experience! I could do it all day.
Everyone loves a good landing. A precision flight around the pattern is a great way for me to get back into the swing of things after spending a week or two away from the cockpit.
Let’s talk! Contribute to the conversation in the comments section!
- How does your aircraft handle in the pattern? What do you fly and how do the power settings differ?
- If you are a student pilot being taught the circular pattern technique, how do your notes differ from mine?
- What flight-ops exercises do you do to get back in the groove after a break from flying?
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