Citing the FAA from Airplane Flying Handbook
On the departure leg after takeoff, the pilot should continue climbing straight ahead and, if remaining in the traffic pattern, commence a turn to the crosswind leg beyond the departure end of the runway within 300 feet of the traffic pattern altitude
I am wondering why this would be the procedure, compared to something like standard distances (like a half-mile radius, which is a loose guideline in GA pattern spacing). Or maybe published ground references, like when there is a noise abatement procedure.
Seems like this suggestion causes a hot spot for collision where crosswind meets downwind. I have a real example from a controlled airfield.
tl;dr - A low power plane takes off just before a higher power plane. Both turn crosswind at 700' AGL and downwind at 0.5 miles. Near miss where crosswind meets downwind.
Busy class D airport. 2 Cessna 172's ready for departure. Call the first one 172A. I'm second in 172B.
172A is a 4 passenger 160hp. I'm in a 180hp solo. During run up I hear 172A for straight out departure (this is wrong, I heard incorrectly). I'm a right downwind departure. 172A is cleared for takeoff. I line up and wait. Then my 172B is cleared for takeoff. There is a thick cloud layer 2 miles out at 1000 AGL. I climb to 700' AGL and about 10 seconds into my crosswind turn, 172A appears above near the cloud layer flying directly at me, about 100' above, 500' away. The cloud layer is close ahead (not risking VFR to IMC), and there's a busy class B less than a mile out crosswind, so I round out to downwind early, stay to the right of their track, full power to remain ahead, but pitch level to stay under their track incase they have much higher speed.
I ask traffic on downwind if they see me, and tower comes on screaming that I've cut off downwind traffic, and to increase speed and leave their airspace. They thought I was trying to save myself time, but I thought I was just flying my pattern. Funny thing is, so did the pilot in 172A.
I could have:
- Listened better to #1's departure clearance and kept him in sight
- Asked for more spacing or clear my crosswind since it was a close departure anyway
ATC could have:
- Spaced us more
- Call my crosswind
ATC didn't notice me on crosswind until after, but I don't believe ATC was being lazy, they were probably just dealing with inbound traffic or ground. I did later ask them where is a good point to turn crosswind, but they said that's not how it works and I should read the rules. I did, seen above. I met with the other pilot afterwards, and he said the same thing, just flying the standard pattern.
I'm worried that I'm still the idiot here, but I just want to put this out there for consideration and public review in case there is more to learn here.