Joined the left traffic pattern at a controlled field downwind. Controller informed me I was number three for landing. Saw traffic on final, turned base, reported to tower "following cessna on final". Controller comes back a minute later and realizes I cut off a plane on final and I was now number two (my mistake here. I realize now, I think, I should have not maneuvered at all unless I was 100% sure I could see planes 1 and 2 on final). Controller tells me to rejoin the downwind. At this point, I was still on the base, so I turned right to rejoin the downwind and the plane behind me that was on final passes too close below me while I am executing a turn from base back to the downwind. Didn't seem safe. In fact, as soon as the controller told me to rejoin the downwind, that didn't seem safe. I am not sure what I should have done. I could have A) had more situation awareness and turned left to get back to the downwind B) called for a go around (on a base?), moved to the upwind leg (not departure) and rejoined the pattern. C) the controller should have told the plane on final that was behind me to get out of the patter by going around to the upwind leg.

I realize I caused this issue by maneuvering to base following the wrong plane. Like most aircraft incidents, it is usually a combination of factors. I caused the first, did I cause the second? Should I have called for a go around. What should the controller have done?

In the future, I can fix my issue. But what do you do if you are cutting off for whatever reason a plane on final, while you are on base. What is the safe way to get out of the situation. Ideas? Thanks

  • $\begingroup$ Control or no control, If I'm told that I'm number three, I won't make any turn before having 1&2 in sight. Otherwise, I'll prolong downwind (or base), leave the traffic area, and make a very wide turn before entering again downwind. $\endgroup$
    – xxavier
    Dec 18, 2017 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I think that pretty much sums up my initial mistake. Now assume you made it already OR the controller made a mistake and you need to leave the base leg, how do you safely do it assuming there is an aircraft on final to your right? I guess it isn;t that hard, and you just have to turn left and tell the controller $\endgroup$
    – Bryan S
    Dec 18, 2017 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ How about climb back to pattern altitude, turn final offset in the direction of traffic by a few hundred feet, fly to the departure end (keeping traffic on final in sight), and then turn cross wind, and then turn back to downwind? $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2017 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


Interesting, but you're not the first to encounter this situation. I understand from what you say that you were going to wedge in between the no 1 and no 2 traffic already established on final. Given the circumstances and not time to think about this, the preferred option would be to turn left to rejoin downwind. Assuming no other traffic in the pattern. Then you are turning towards the other traffic. A left turn would have given you a full 270 degree and time to regroup

Should there have been other traffic on the left base then they would be positioned further downwind from your position. You may become a conflict for them then by turning right. Equally there may have been traffic joining downwind like you did in which case a left turn could become a conflict to them.

This is just assumption. I'm just pointing out the need for full on situational awareness particularly in the circuit. Need to know where all traffic is relative to you.

Finally, I would say it would have been more reassuring for the controller to specify “turn left/right now to rejoin downwind”. If you had made it to final then a missed approach would be the way out and continue rwy heading until advised.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you offer a more definite answer there instead of the stream-of-consciousness thoughts on the original post? $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ "the preferred option would be to turn left to rejoin downwind." -- do you mean "turn left to rejoin the upwind?" $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2020 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Wayne, from a left base one could turn 90º left to join upwind or turn 270º left to re-join the left downwind. Or even fly through final and turn 90º right to join the right downwind, if the controller asked. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Feb 16, 2021 at 3:37

I think that calling for a missed approach for a go around would be the appropriate action. This would necessitate an immediate climb over the runway. Statistically, this is the safest place in the pattern. I would preferably side step slightly right of the runway (assuming that I am in the left seat). So that I can keep an eye on any arriving or departing aircraft below me while staying approximately directly above the runway.

If the controller clears you for left or right closed traffic, then you could rejoin the traffic pattern upon reaching the DER at the appropriate Traffic Pattern Altitude. If ATC requests an immediate turn back to downwind, continue the climb while in the turn, in the same direction as the traffic pattern turns. Consider it under the same argument as all turns in the traffic should be in the same direction of the traffic pattern except the actual initial entry from outside of the traffic pattern.

Try not to turn to rejoin the downwind (and definitely not the base) until approximately midfield. Give way to all other traffic established in the pattern. As per AIM 4-3-5, “ Except when requested by the controller or in emergency situations, a 360 degree turn should never be executed in the traffic pattern or when receiving radar service without first advising the controller.

If you do not get clearance to rejoin traffic, leave the traffic area. Then, rejoin the traffic pattern using the proper radio calls and 45 to downwind procedures. Either way, take your cues directly from the controller.

In my opinion, this would be the safest option while giving you time to re-establish yourself for a stabilized approach.


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