If I am close to the end of downwind, can I commence a descend first or I must make a turn first, e.g. leaves downwind and enter base, before I can descend?

Is there a official reference to support this?

  • $\begingroup$ Assuming you're in the US and asking about helicopters (as per your tag), this question is very closely related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Dec 30, 2016 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with the answer below of 'depends on kind of aircraft' but believe there's many other factors. $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2016 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


See Chapters 7 and 8 of the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook.


The descent point for the approach is going to be largely based upon the handling characteristics of the specific type or model of aircraft you are flying in. In general it's commonly taught to pilots that you begin your descent from the traffic pattern to land when you are on the downwind leg and abeam the threshold of the runway you are going to land on. You will select a descent power setting at this point, configure the aircraft for landing and begin the descent. When you turn base or final is going to be up to your discretion but in general should be no more than 1-2 miles from the airport. This turning point may also be given to you by ATC at a towered airport for aircraft spacing e.g. "Cessna 1 2 3 X-ray yankee, extend your downwind; I'll call your base." You may also have to do the same thing at "beehives" or busy, non-towered airports for traffic spacing in the pattern as well.

  • $\begingroup$ Unless there is other traffic to follow or I am asked to extend my downwind, when I am beam the numbers I add the first notch of flaps and pull the power to begin a 500' per minute descent. Then begin slowing to final approach speed. (70 to 90 mph depending on airplane) If you do it like the book says, you'll fly a good pattern every time. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Dec 30, 2016 at 16:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note the OP's "helicopter" tag - does this affect the answer? $\endgroup$
    – IanF1
    Jan 1, 2017 at 19:58

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