If I want the shortest traffic pattern to play touch and go or I got a emergency right after liftoff but the engine is still working, I just want to get back to ground as soon as possible, what is the best flight profile to get back to the takeoff runway?

Question 1: Is the below lateral path(that is there is no straight segments during the two 180 degrees turn) the best route to do a quick return to the original runway after takeoff, considering the time and safety? I think it is because it helps avoid taking off traffic, fully utilize the runway length to do a headwind landing.

Question 2:How to fly the vertical profile, like to climb to what height? I think should climb to the pattern height to clear the terrains and other traffics.

Question 3: At which point should I start the descent? Should I deploy all drag devices like full flap and idle the thrust to maximize the descent angle as soon as I start the descent?

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  • $\begingroup$ Are they engines running? Is there wind to consider? How long is the runway? What plane are you flying? There are a lot of variables here that will change the answer you may want to specify the situation a bit more. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Jul 20, 2021 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Dave, the engine is still running, and I want to fully utilize the runway length to do a headwind landing. $\endgroup$
    – VvV
    Jul 20, 2021 at 3:09
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    $\begingroup$ Climb to pattern height, do a 180, land down-wind. What is the emergency? If it isn't an emergency and you just want to get down, fly a normal pattern. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Jul 20, 2021 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Ron Beyer: Is there even an emergency involved here? Looks to me like practicing touch & goes. (When I was doing that, I'd make it to pattern altitude about midfield on the downwind leg. C-150s don't climb all that well :-)) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jul 20, 2021 at 6:04
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't you just fly the pattern? Unless you're on fire just stick with what you know. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jul 20, 2021 at 8:22

2 Answers 2


With an emergency, the objective is not to fly the quickest pattern possible, it's to be back safely on the ground as soon as possible, with the greatest probability of success. If you save 10 seconds by doing something that substantially increases the risk of wrecking the aircraft because you flew it into something, that's probably a poor tradeoff.

In the pure "minimum time possible" scenario, you want to minimize distance flown & maximize speed (up until the point you're slowing down to land), which means things like steep angles of bank, minimum time spent climbing, rolling out of your final turn right over the numbers, and so forth. So you fly the pattern at full throttle at a really low altitude, with a continuous turn to final at a high angle of bank, chopping power and descending so that you simultaneously roll out of the turn and reach your target landing airspeed all right over the numbers at minimal altitude, with no left/right offset. Cool airshow trick if it works, but an awful lot of opportunities for things to get off the desired parameters, at which point your choice is to go around & try again (false economy in time "saved" with the aggressive pattern there) or else to try to salvage a bad setup, which - especially with the added stress of the initial emergency - is a recipe for destroying the airplane yourself and achieving the worst possible outcome from the emergency situation... which might well have been survivable with a more controlled, less aggressive flightpath.

Unless it's something you're highly proficient in, (i.e. you regularly practice exactly this for your airshow routine), the absolute minimum-time pattern described above is not what reasonable pilots would choose, even with a cabin filling with smoke and screaming. They probably wouldn't fly a leisurely, wide pattern like initial training, but avoiding things like stalling, flying into the ground in a moment of distraction, or being so high on final you land long & overrun the pavement are all higher priorities than saving those last few seconds.

If the situation really is so dire that you absolutely must land right now, then (in a light aircraft, at least) perhaps it's time to consider landing straight ahead on a road or a field or a body of water, rather than returning to the departure runway. Scenarios requiring that much urgency, though, are more the stuff of imagination than of common occurrence.


The quickest and safest way is to fly the standard pattern, especially if you are at an uncontrolled airport. Why? Because that is where everyone else is looking for you to be. Per the Airplane Flying Handbook Chapter 7 states:

compliance with the basic rectangular traffic pattern reduces the possibility of conflicts at airports without an operating control tower. It is imperative that a pilot form the habit of exercising constant vigilance in the vicinity of airports even when the air traffic appears to be light. Midair collisions usually occur on clear days with unlimited visibility. Never assume you have found all of the air traffic and stop scanning.

If you are near an airport you don’t want to be somewhere where other pilots aren’t looking for you or expecting you to be!

On your upwind leg you should climb to between 800 - 1,000 MSL before starting your turn to crosswind. Continue climbing to your pattern alititle (Field elevation + 1,000 feet). Turn to your downwind leg so that the runway is off of whatever reference point your CFI has told you for the aircraft you are flying. (About ⅓ of the way up my wing in a PA-28-181).

In a normal pattern you should start your descent when the runway is about 45 degrees off your shoulder. How many flaps you should use and when to deploy them depends on the situation. Gusty winds land with less flaps or even no flap, calm conditions use full flaps. General rule is you do 10 degrees on downwind, 25 degrees on base and full on final. But depending on the conditions, use your flaps to help you control your speed as necessary.

If you’ve done short approaches with your CFI you can do those as well instead of flying the standard pattern. Keep in mind, if you are at a tower controlled field a short approach is not part of your option clearance you must ask the tower to do a short approach. In that case when you are abeam the numbers, you put your power to idle, start turning to the runway and trim for best glide. Drop in your flaps as needed to help you maintain proper glide speed and descent angle. Should try not to put in full flapt till you're on final and have the runway made.

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    $\begingroup$ "climb to between 800 - 1,000 MSL" I guess you meant AGL? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Jul 20, 2021 at 17:14

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