The Teardrop Pattern Entry

Photo shows airplane on approach to airport. It is flying downwind and parallel to active runway. Pilot will descend to pattern altitude and then turn left. Flight path will be over top of airport at mid field and enter a right downwind on a 45 degree angle.  Perhaps you would do it differently and fly a “teardrop” as referenced in AC90-66B.
Photo shows airplane on approach to airport. It is flying downwind and parallel to active runway. Pilot will descend to pattern altitude and then turn left. Flight path will be over top of airport at mid field and enter a right downwind on a 45 degree angle. Perhaps you would do it differently and fly a “teardrop” as referenced in AC90-66B.
If you approach an uncontrolled airport from a direction that requires you to fly over the airport to intercept the active traffic pattern you might fly a “teardrop”. This subject will generate strong and vigorous discussion whenever more than one pilot has gathered. I will use the occasion of this Hangar talk to venture into the subject with what I hope is definitive logic.

First I want to address the term “teardrop” commonly heard as follows in a pilots arrive announcement: “I will fly over the runway at 1500 ft. and teardrop into the downwind”. That term is almost as egregious as “anyone in the pattern please advise”. “Teardrop” is a specific term associated with flying using reference to instruments. The term is not used in the FAA reference for traffic pattern procedures paragraph 11.3 AC90-66B.

The following (shown in italic) is copied directly from FAA AC90-66B. (I have assigned bold type for emphasis).

11.3 Traffic Pattern Entry. Arriving aircraft should be at traffic pattern altitude and allow for sufficient time to view the entire traffic pattern before entering. Entries into traffic 8 3/13/18 AC 90-66B patterns while descending may create collision hazards and should be avoided. Entry to the downwind leg should be at a 45 degree angle abeam the midpoint of the runway to be used for landing. The pilot may use discretion to choose an alternate type of entry, especially when intending to cross over midfield, based upon the traffic and communication at the time of arrival.

Figure 1. (Preferred and Alternate Entry When Crossing Midfield) appears in this same paragraph of the AC. It clearly displays two diagrams labeled Preferred Entry and Alternate Entry. The preferred entry shows a descending “teardrop” shaped path, while the alternate entry shows intercept at pattern altitude. Why is the more complex, descending teardrop entry preferred to a simple straight and level entry at pattern altitude? Preferring complex over simple appears to be a contradiction in general logic. The paragraph 11.3 continues emphasizing the importance of pattern altitude.

Note: Aircraft should always enter the pattern at pattern altitude, especially when flying over midfield and entering the downwind directly. A midfield crossing alternate pattern entry should not be used when the pattern is congested. Descending into the traffic pattern can be dangerous, as one aircraft could descend on top of another aircraft already in the pattern.

Again, there appears to be a contradiction. Figure 1 clearly shows the airplane at pattern altitude during a midfield crossing alternate pattern entry. Descending into traffic must be avoided, but it is not suggested by the alternate pattern.

All similar types of aircraft, including those entering on the 45 degree angle to downwind, should be at the same pattern altitude so that it is easier to visually acquire any traffic in the pattern.

Figure 1 from the AC specifies the teardrop descent to be 1 or 2 miles beyond the intended downwind. In practice that point is subjective and presents descending traffic as a real and present danger to other approaching aircraft. Additionally, flying a proper safe distance before executing the teardrop requires a “return trip”. On the positive side, when you finally get back to downwind, the “congestion” could be gone. (That’s humor, but it make a point)

I think AC90-66B is contradictory with reference to saying over flight at 1500 ft, is the preferred method to enter downwind; however the AC is very clear on the fundamental message. When appropriate, I will always fly over the airport at pattern altitude and enter the downwind mid-field on a 45 degree angle. Risk management is primary as specified in AC90-66B:
• Aircraft should always enter the pattern at pattern altitude
• Arriving aircraft should be at traffic pattern altitude and allow for sufficient time to view the entire traffic pattern before entering.
• The pilot may use discretion to choose an alternate type of entry, especially when intending to cross over midfield,

Click here to see this month’s feature video Look, See and Avoid.

My two books, in paper back or E-book, and both Key Point videos are available from Amazon.com. Search “Jim Alsip” at Amazon or click here.