Where is the upwind leg?

I had taken off from a small airport in southern Arizona, when the tower asked me to extend my upwind leg. “I’ll extend departure leg,” I acknowledged. I just happened to be flying with my CFI, who is also a controller at the same airport.

My CFI gave me a quizzical look. I asked, “why do controllers use incorrect terminology to describe the departure leg?”

“Incorrect? I have been an FAA controller for 30 years, and I have never used the phrase departure leg,” he said.

Next day, I showed him the FAA airport traffic pattern diagram from the 2017 Aeronautical Information Manual. He dismissed it as “something we don’t use.”

I am based at a non-towered airport, where pilots self-announce their position in the traffic pattern. Nearly 100% of the time, the “departure leg” is called out as “upwind.” In fact, I had a conversation with a pilot based at the same field who announced he was on the upwind leg, whereas he was on departure. He was not happy when I corrected him.

I was determined to get to the root of this glaring inconsistency in how pilots see themselves in the traffic pattern. It seems the main source of this misinformation is CFIs. I have been asking CFIs I meet, both in person and online, about the difference between the departure leg and the upwind leg. Most have professed never using the phrase “departure leg.” They also wrongly believe the departure leg is the upwind leg. One even went as far as saying, “I don’t care what the AIM says. I teach my students what pilots actually say.”

The Aeronautical Information Manual defines these legs as follows:

  • Departure Leg: The flight path which begins after takeoff and continues straight ahead along the extended runway centerline. The departure climb continues until reaching a point at least 1/2 mile beyond the departure end of the runway and within 300 feet of the traffic pattern altitude.
  • Upwind Leg: A flight path parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing.

The Pilot Controller Glossary defines the upwind leg correctly. Interestingly enough, it does not mention departure leg at all. This may be the root cause why controllers are not using the term departure leg.

I implore CFIs to teach the correct terminology to their students. The FAA needs to do a better job in teaching controllers the correct terminology as well. The FAA has done a good job in focusing on runway incursions. They need to focus their attention on making sure we all use the traffic pattern terminology correctly, and not make it up as we go. This will ensure a safer flying environment for all.

 

Epilogue: I was able to get the attention of senior FAA management, and they have promised to revise the pilot controller glossary, as well as the Aeronautical Information Manual, to emphasize correct usage of traffic pattern terminology. Read their letter here

83 Comments

  • It would seem to me that the main difference is altitude – if you are cicling in the pattern similarly it might be reasonable to call final another “upwind” rather than final. Also if making a wide pattern it seems that departure segment would eventually become an upwind segment.

    If somebody is doing low approaches and staying 600-1000 AGL I’d rather them also refer to upwind rather than departure to let pilots know they will be near pattern altitude and where to look.

    Not sure this is a big deal but sure, terminology can be important. Much better to emphasize having pilots have a good mental picture of what is happening in the pattern and who is where, than argue about nuances in terminology.

    • Here’s another point of view. The upwind leg for a traffic pattern is defined in the Pilot/Controller glossary, the departure leg is not. The FAA manual for Air Traffic Control (JO-7110.65) also has the identical description. That is how controllers are taught and why we use that phraseology. So your statement and assertion “The FAA needs to do a better job in teaching controllers the correct terminology as well. The FAA has done a good job in focusing on runway incursions. They need to focus their attention on making sure we all use the traffic pattern terminology correctly, and not make it up as we go.” is flawed. And to quote the Pilot/Controller glossary “This Glossary was compiled to promote a common understanding of the terms used in the Air Traffic Control system. It includes those terms which are intended for pilot/controller communications.”. Pilots call it the departure leg, controllers call it the upwind leg. Neither is wrong, it just depends on your audience on which you’ll hear and maybe want to use. Maybe a change to the AIM or Pilot/Controller glossary or both is needed.

      • Bill,
        You are correct in identifying the issue. The FAA is in the process of updating both the AIM and Air Traffic Control Manual. See the letter they sent me.

        I hope they will not only insure that the terminology is the same throughout, but also require it be a part of BFRs to go over basics of communication so that there is no room for interpretation.

      • When I learned to fly it was expected that pilots knew the traffic pattern terminology. I remember one day when the landing-runway was changed following a shift in the wind direction and the controller used the upwind, downwind and crosswind legs to change the direction of nine aircraft in the circuit.

        I trained at a small airport with four flight schools on the field. It was the norm when practising touch-and-go landings to hear “You are number 9 to the red & white Cessna 152 downwind ahead.” On the day in question the tower-controller broadcast to all aircraft that the landing runway was going to be changing from a right-hand pattern landing to the east on RWY 08 to a right-hand pattern landing to the west on RWY 26. I was anxious about the manoeuvre and I remember it to this day. How was I going to turnaround to land in the opposite direction in an orderly fashion without running into someone else? Well, it turned out that the controller changed my direction for me and all I needed to do was understand the meaning of upwind leg and crosswind leg.

        The controller used the upwind leg and downwind leg to separate the aircraft while changing the landing direction as follows. He instructed each aircraft independently and waited until the aircraft progressed in the RWY 08 traffic pattern to the downwind leg before singling it out with further instructions. He changed the direction of each aircraft – one at a time. As an aircraft reached the midpoint of the RWY 08 downwind leg the pilot was told “You are now established on the upwind leg for RWY 26. Continue straight ahead to join the circuit for RWY 26 on the crosswind leg.” So, it was important that all pilots in the pattern be able to understand and visualize the upwind leg and crosswind leg relative to the new runway, RWY 26.

        This experience continues to be the best use of the upwind leg that I have ever encountered. To me there is no confusion about the meaning of the upwind leg and never has been.

  • THANK YOU!!!! This drives me crazy and early on I found myself looking for aircraft on the upwind leg when in fact they were on the departure leg. It actually can make a significant difference. I don’t know why so many teach it incorrectly and continue to insist on using the wrong phraseology.

  • Oh – is that the intent? I doubt it – I thought the diagram was drawn that way because otherwise it would be difficult to superimpose the labels. I don’t think that most people purposefully fly too much lateral to the runway – in airports with parallel runways (R+L) and opposite direction patterns this would be an extremely bad idea.

  • Yes, that is the intent. Why else would they define it that way and draw it that way? Primarily the upwind leg is useful at uncontrolled fields which tend not to have parallel runways. In the event that you are cut off on final you can simply climb and stay in the pattern on the upwind leg. This way you can keep the departing traffic in sight and simply turn crosswind to try again.

    If you are calling “upwind” while climbing on the extended centerline of the departure end of the runway, you are wrong. Why not just call final upwind too? If its not downwind it must be upwind right?

  • Not to come off as rude… but, honestly… this sounds like a personal crusade…

    *departure and upwind could be the same thing if you are flying pattern; Some of this is up to interpretation.

    IT ALSO goes back to all the different ways to enter a pattern, if you are on the worng side of the pattern you could fly the “pictured upwind” and turn crosswind. But you could also just fly 500ft over the top of the airport and the turn around to join the downwind leg while come down to pattern alt. (You could fly 500 under the pattern alt and climb while turning a round to join downwind
    Leg too).

    There are so many ways to approachs and so many ways to interpretation…. I am not going to lock myself into a singular definition or action.

  • So if I wanted to join on the upwind leg and an aircraft departing announces he is upwind, I spot the traffic on the departure leg, but since its not consistent, I now have to ask “departing traffic, did you really mean departure leg or are you parallel the runway opposite the downwind?” or fear there is another in the pattern on the same leg that I’m trying to join that I can’t find. Simply put, there is only one right answer for the departure leg, and its NOT the same as upwind. Its documented clearly in the aim, yet many choose to ignore it and add confusion.

  • >If you are calling “upwind” while climbing on the extended centerline of the departure
    >end of the runway, you are wrong. Why not just call final upwind too? If its not
    >downwind it must be upwind right?

    Final also notes a location relative to the runway and descending. That was my original point.

    Many airfields even without parallel runways do not want traffic on one side of the runway due to airspace, noise, terrain, or city restrictions (that is why some are right pattern). Staying a wee bit to a side to see the runway is fine, but I would say purposefully flying far to that side of the runway is generally inadvisable.

    >Not to come off as rude… but, honestly… this sounds like a personal crusade…
    >
    >*departure and upwind could be the same thing if you are flying pattern; Some of this
    >is up to interpretation.

    I agree with you. This whole “discussion” is a bit nutty and sounds like somebody who wants to argue semantics to be “proven right” rather than just look at the big picture.

  • Jose, departure has a meaning too, and that meaning is climbing on the extended centerline off the departure end.

    The discussion is simply about using consistent and clear communications to convey location and intent. Most of us who use it correctly are used to pilots who can’t be bothered to do it correctly so we know to ask and focus on two locations rather than one. It does not make the use of the upwind call while on departure appropriate. I also would not want to imply that the upwind leg useable at all airports and situations. Your examples proove that. There is always a departure leg though.

  • Hmmm… If you aren’t departing the airport area, how can that be the “departure” leg?
    Most people who fly an “upwind” are either staying in the pattern, or flying just to the right of the centerline to check the runway for stuff that shouldn’t be there before they come back around. I honestly don’t see that this is all that confusing, or that it’s a problem if ATC wants to use the term “upwind” if you are going upwind.

  • If I hear someone call that they are on the UPWIND, I’m gonna be looking for them at pattern altitude, slightly right of runway centerline, flying runway heading.

    If I hear someone call “departing rwy xx” or DEPARTURE LEG (never heard that term used on the radio before), I’m gonna be looking for them below me, climbing, and flying runway heading.

  • Intent doesn’t define the leg, the location does. Just like you can go around or intend to go missed on a final approach. Upwind is opposite the downwind and parallel the runway. Departure is on the extended centerline and climbing… just like final is centerline and decending on the approach end.

    If they are flying to the right of the center line to inspect the runway, then that would be proper use in a normal left hand traffic pattern. If they are using it on tge centerline climbing before turning crosswind, then they are on the departure leg.

  • Evidently the pattern definitions are not up to interpretation if the FAA is going to get involved. Or am I allowed to define aviation terms as I see fit? I wonder how well I’ll score on my AGI exam?

  • IMHO, the “departure” leg is what your callout when you take off from a standstill, as in “departing runway xx straight out”.

    I have to admit, I never make a radio call on the departure leg when I’m doing touch-and-goes. The aborted landing is a high activity/high priority time to be flying the airplane, not making routine radio calls. On the other hand, I make a point of stating the intention on the turn to final, as in “turning final, touch-and-go, remaining in the pattern.” If it is an unplanned go around, I will make the “on the go around” call, but anything else waits until I turn crosswind.

    TLDR: I never make a radio call on the “departure leg” because I should be busy flying. Any radio call about my intention on that leg can be done on turn to final before or on turn to crosswind after

  • A lot of opinions here but the fact remains that the AIM seems to be pretty clear regardless of what we are in the habit of calling them. This came up during my PPL training years ago. I looked it up and have been calling departure and upwind correctly since, although I would agree most I hear are not.

  • I learned to fly 50 years ago and what I was taught is exactly what this article says. Unless there has been an official change in terminology (as in “line up and wait”) then the writer is correct and those who make up their own terminology are creating a hazard. Incorrect terminology leads to misunderstandings and increases risk. We should all be singing from the same hymn book.

  • Nobody is “making up their own terminology”.

    From the story description, the tower told the pilot to extend upwind. In a typical light plane one is pretty near pattern altitude shortly after the end of the runway, and per the Airplane Flying Handbook and other FAA publications, one could step over a bit to see the runway. At pattern altitude, he is on upwind, and should extend that segment.

    Asking somebody to “extend departure leg” is incorrect, as the departure leg becomes upwind by the time it needs to be extended. It would also be needlessly confusing to those other pilots in the pattern. Unless you have a dangerously slow climb, other pilots should also look for you near TPA, again in the upwind segment.

    This would even get sillier if somebody did a low approach, where again we would be back on upwind before needing to be extended, and at or very near TPA.

    This again sounds like silly arguing by a pedant who wants to be right instead of looking at the overall picture.

  • Jose F. wrote: “Asking somebody to “extend departure leg” is incorrect, as the departure leg becomes upwind by the time it needs to be extended.”

    This is not true. Departure Leg never becomes Upwind Leg. Upwind Leg is on the other side of the runway from the downwind Leg. It is parallel to the Departure leg and never merges into Departure Leg.

    The FAA agrees that many pilots and controllers are confused about this terminology, and they have informed me that both AIM and Controller’s manual will be updated to clarify the fact the Departure Leg and Upwind Leg are NEVER the same thing. Please see the FAA letter in the article.

  • Just imagine, if the controller would have said, “fly runway heading”, this whole article and the ensuing discussion would have been moot LOL!

  • It seems odd to me that, after more than 22,000 flying hours, I’ve never heard either term. It’s always been “runway heading” for me . . .

  • I use both terms. I’ll enter the pattern on the upwind leg sometimes if my alignment with the runway is more straight-in. The bad terminology that irks me most is “left final” or “right final.” If you are turning left base to final say “left base to final.” If you are final for left runway it would be something like “final for 35 left.” This is becoming so common that you know CFIs are teaching it.

  • Mike E: If you’re “entering the pattern on the upwind leg”, you’re on the wrong side of the active runway! You are certainly NOT entering the traffic pattern, which, from your position, will require a lot of strange maneuvering to properly enter the downwind leg.

    • Mort, actually no strange maneuvering at all. You fly the upwind leg until reaching the departure end of the runway and fly the crosswind leg to the downwind leg just as depicted in the diagram above.

  • Half of you are correct and the other half are trying to convince us your bad habits are gospel and in common usage.
    Jose you are 100% wrong on many levels. First most small aircraft are not anywhere near pattern attitude by the end of the runway. Second upwind is a totally different position parallel to the runway not on it , over it or departing from the runway.
    Years ago this was a question in my oral test prior to my PPL.
    I have never used or heard the term departure leg, I have the term “runway heading”. This is not the same as upwind. Upwind is adequately defined in the drawing, article and a number of posters.
    Look at the drawing, if one were at the 7 o’clock position on the upwind leg where would you say you are? Certainly not on a departure or runway heading!
    All positions in the pattern are defined.
    I wonder how many of the posters that don’t define upwind also ask “any traffic please advise”?
    At an uncontrolled field if you announce departure, “Piper XX departing on runway 5” it is yours until you make another call such as “turning crosswind” or “”departing straight out” etc. So you would never say upwind because the upwind leg is PARALLEL to the runway on the upwind side. Flying upwind can be useful when approaching from the side of the airport opposite the downwind side, allowing you to see all aircraft in the pattern and pertinent information such as the windsock, then turn crosswind then downwind in the pattern.
    It’s all about proper phraseology and safety. If we understand and use the correct phrase and position reports the safer the flying will be.

  • Well done Shyam. It is an important point. The exact style diagram was used by the examiner in the oral portion of my check ride. He was adamant about the proper identification of the departure leg, not to be confused with the downwind leg. He flies heavy metal, and has over 27,000 flight hours. So, again, well done…..

  • If you win this semantic debate, it will be a hollow victory. For the sake of safety and organization, we must be able to understand each other. This fact is of vital importance. Language evolves. To me the upwind leg is the leg that we fly upon taking off until we turn off. If it means the same thing to the controller, then we will be able to communicate. If it does not, people may be exposed to unwarranted risks or dangers. Nothing else matters to me.

  • Joe, I guess thats the point. Those of you who don’t follow the published standard are confusing and unclear to those of us who have bothered read and use it correctly. Its not hard, you should try it. Don’t we all strive to make each flight better than the last?

    • “Those of you who don’t follow the published standard are confusing and unclear to those of us who have bothered read and use it correctly. [It’s] not hard, you should try it.”

      The pedant in me must agree that decades of acceptable/common practice does not conform to the current AIM depiction. But come on down from your high horse. I bet you don’t say “TREE” and “FIFE.” I don’t. Do you scold pilots and controllers for that transgression? Is your safety compromised by this omission?

      CTAF frequencies are pretty congested in my neck of the woods. For that reason, I typically ONLY make a downwind call, often eschewing my N number for “red and white Super Cub.” There are exceptions. If I decide to make an overhead break, I’ll report “X mile Initial.” Initial is not depicted on the AIM diagrams, and yet the controllers at my home airport know exactly what I want. And those rascals use both left and right hand traffic simultaneously…heretics!

      You posted that intent doesn’t matter, location does.

      Let me ask you…if you are on the current AIM definition of upwind as depicted (offset slightly from the runway), but drift over and fly along the runway in a crab. Are you no longer flying upwind? Should you announce you’re now on departure then upwind as you correct your track?

      How about…you take off but drift off to the side of the runway due to the winds. Are you now upwind once you drifted outside the lateral boundary of the runway but have not flown beyond the departure end? I have encountered this whilst towing gliders or when flying runway heading during my Part 121 experience (30 knot crosswinds will do this to you). As a GA pilot I accept this drift in case I need to make the impossible turn.

      And to add to your consternation, when I flew in the USAF we were on the departure leg IF we were leaving the pattern, but we were on upwind IF we were staying in the closed pattern. And upwind could be from takeoff, touch and go, low approach or carrying straight through on Initial at TPA. So to us, intent mattered, location in this particular set of circumstances did not. I adhere to this practice.

      Bottom line, I’m with Ginny and Jose. I don’t rely on CTAF position calls, I look out the window. And I fly really tight patterns, I’ll be inside of your downwind and base leg.

      • No high horse. Just trying to point out that it does make a difference and is used correctly and incorrectly at airports I fly in / out of. It can add confusion. I look but we all know the radio helps at uncontrolled fields and accurate position reports (with intent too) are truly helpful. Non standard traffic patterns should be expected at controlled fields as far as I am concerned.

        Some here simply deny that the AIM depicts it this way. And insist that upwind for departure is correct. The faa drew all of us a picture to make it clear even. I don’t see how there is any debate. I know for sure that the definitions aren’t new and have been there for at least 10 years.

        I’m used to enough people getting it wrong to look both places in the pattern, but it does not make it correct. There are plenty who use the AIM version of traffic pattern legs for position reports correctly despite claims to the contrary. The ones who are using the incorrect term create the confusion, not the ones using it correctly.

        • “Some here simply deny that the AIM depicts it this way. And insist that upwind for departure is correct. ” and an earlier statement, “If you are calling “upwind” while climbing on the extended centerline of the departure end of the runway, you are wrong.”

          I must point out your ignorance again (not in a pejorative sense, you just don’t know any better), to a segment of highly trained pilots, it’s departure leg if you’re leaving the pattern. It’s upwind if you’re staying in the pattern. Just like there is a segment called Initial that is NOT depicted in the AIM, and it has the exact same ground track as Final. The point in case you’re missing it, is there can be TWO valid names for the exact same ground track, the only difference being the intent. Ask any fighter pilot or warbird pilot at the next airshow you attend.

          I get your and the OP’s frustration. I don’t share it. The decades of common/acceptable practice by controllers and pilots doesn’t conform to the AIM diagram. I don’t get too spun up about this disconnect because my experience extends beyond reference to the AIM.

          “There are plenty who use the AIM version of traffic pattern legs for position reports correctly despite claims to the contrary.”

          You routinely hear folks report upwind and departure leg (the two legs in dispute)? You must fly into some interesting uncontrolled airfields with no congested or overlapping CTAF freqs. The only time I hear “upwind” is when a tower controller uses the term. I’ve not met a pilot that didn’t know exactly what that controller meant. Clearly even the OP.

  • Wow,
    Could it just be that some hot shot in the FAA wanted to fiddle with things. Just for clarification. The illustration shown is for airports with an operating control tower.
    Interestingly, none of the other illustrations even show an “upwind” leg. And, interestingly, the original poster didn’t distinguish the difference.

    The Aircraft Flying Handbook states ” The upwind leg is flown at controlled airports and after go-arounds.”

    Controllers can provide separation between departing traffic and maneuvering traffic. The instruction to fly upwind on the non traffic side of a runway in a controlled environment is VERY different that doing this at an uncontrolled field.

    Upwind, Downwind, Base, and Final were labels for traffic pattern positions. Have been for at least four decades. If someone asked where you were, that’s what you would use. That someone in DC would decide that “upwind” was not specific enough and that a “departure” leg was needed to differentiate position is not surprising. They seem to do that alot.

    Newbys (relative) would do well to learn a little aviation history. Class B airspace used to be called something that actually told you what it was. Flight instructors used to teach the evolution of a procedure, process, or rule. If you aren’t getting that, you are likely to get called out when you make a point of demonstrating your superior knowledge. Crusade…maybe just a little.

  • Mike E: One normally enters the downwind leg on a 45-degree angle. How does your upwind pattern entry accomplish that? You’ve just decided to ignore the published traffic pattern, and that’s dangerous. What about takeoff traffic who might not me looking for you on the wrong side of the airport and its pattern?

  • Mort first of all you make a call, Piper XXX upwind, pattern altitude. Then when you get to the end of the runway do a normal crosswind leg, making your call. Everyone should know exactly where you are. You should be able to see every aircraft in the pattern.
    You are not ignoring the normal traffic pattern, you are entering it on the upwind to crosswind to downwind leg.
    When you do a go around do you fly away from the airport or do you make the normal turn upwind, crosswind, downwind?
    What Shyam is saying is the term upwind has been used wrong as it it in fact a very different position than the position on a departure leg.

  • Shyam, I think you are correct to bring this up and correct in your assessment of the situation. Upwind and Departure are not the same leg. I learned how to fly back in the 1970’s am a corporate pilot, CFI, and former air traffic controller. When I learned to fly we regularly entered the pattern either from a 45 degree intercept to the downwind leg or by entering upwind (check traffic), crosswind (close enough to the departure end of the runway that you were above any departing traffic) and downwind. In the AIM there are 3 different diagrams for airport traffic components and operations. One shows a single runway, one shows crossing runways, and one shows parallel runways. The comment earlier about the diagram you are using being a controlled airport diagram is not correct. The diagram is on the page with the explanation of Airports with an Operating Control Tower, but it does not say it is a diagram for such airports. The note under the diagram says it is intended to illustrate terminology used in identifying various components of a traffic pattern. It should not be used as a reference or guide on how to enter a traffic pattern.
    As a controller we typically used the phraseology, continue straight out – I will call your crosswind, and then told the pilot why. A lot of controller are not pilots, so what we do and what they do don’t always mesh. And, as you have identified, if their manual says one thing and ours says something else it creates confusion. I try to take controllers flying when we have an out and back or a deadhead leg so we can identify and discuss these kinds of issues.
    Good job addressing it and carrying the issue forward.

  • “For the sake of safety and organization, we must be able to understand each other … Language evolves. To me the upwind leg is the leg that we fly upon taking off until we turn off. If it means the same thing to the controller, then we will be able to communicate. If it does not, people may be exposed to unwarranted risks or dangers. Nothing else matters to me.”
    The internal contradictions in this statement are startling. Accurate, efficient communication rests on a foundation built of calling things by their right — and agreed upon — names. The reason we have a pilot-controller glossary is so that we can ALL understand each other, not just “me and the controller”. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is a midair collision waiting to happen, and would make us all safer by just squawking 7600.

  • Wow, such an interesting exchange! I believe the upwind leg does indeed differ from the departure leg, as previously discussed. However do many pilots actually have the ability to fly the departure leg. Most that I have witnessed usually drift off of the extended runway center-line. One additional observation is from Jeff and he states: At an uncontrolled field if you announce departure, “Piper XX departing on runway 5” it is yours until you make another call such as “turning crosswind” or “”departing straight out” etc.
    Bad perspective to feel that any airspace at an uncontrolled airport “is yours!” All of these calls are only advisory to others who “may” be monitoring your frequency. Too many pilots, students and others subconsciously feel that because they made the call, that airspace is theirs. Very bad assumption! Some in the traffic area may be NORDO or might not even be tuned in. Your eyes and SA are your best weapons to avoid trouble! I personally like the up-wind leg as my first choice of pattern entry.

  • Bill I think you read too much into what I said. Yes we all must keep our eyes open, however if you are calling a position you are advising others of where you are and your intentions. Such as “turning base or turning final”. The direction can be assumed as the runway is either right or left hand traffic at a single heading runway.
    My point was if you make your call that you are departing on 05, everyone would assume you are taking off and climbing using that same heading until such time you make another call, “turning crosswind 05” or “departing the pattern straight out”. By saying it is yours did not mean possessive, rather is was advisory and was pertinent to your direction of flight.

  • Jeff: Let’s see if I can answer your questions . . .

    1. When you make your first call as you note, you could be anywhere within 50 miles. You can’t really say you’re entering the upwind, since there is no such leg in the pattern noted for that airport.
    2. Since you’re not within the published pattern, everyone will certainly not know where you are. Why would they even look over there?
    3. That you can see everyone in the traffic pattern is a very selfish observation. You know where to look, of course, but those in the pattern won’t know to look out for you.
    4. You are CERTAINLY ignoring the “normal” traffic pattern, since you’re not a part of it.
    5. Unless your “go around” is really a missed approach, it must be a touch and go. If it is truly a necessary go around but you wish to remain in the pattern, you must pull up to pattern altitude, then turn 180 degrees to again enter the downwind leg at pattern altitude.
    6. If your “go around” is really a departure, you will notify the tower of your intentions, and request either a straight out departure or a turn on-course. There is really no departure “leg”.

    • Mort, Mort, Mort. Just look at the original drawing and info in both the AIM and Airplane Flying Handbook.
      Sorry if you don’t know where the upwind is, maybe you need a refresher from a CFI.
      There is no required published pattern. FAA simply says all turns must be to the right or left depending on the pattern as published in the AFD. But even there they are ambiguous because you have to make a right turn to enter the 45 for a left downwind…
      If I call I’m on an upwind leg I would hope the pilots know where to look. That’s what gets us into trouble when someone doesn’t even know where an upwind leg is.
      No I’m not ignoring a normal traffic pattern, I’m simply on an upwind leg parallel to the runway.

      • Jeff,

        In more than 22,000 flying hours, I have been to hundreds of different airports. I have NEVER been to an airport that didn’t have a published traffic pattern , along with its written explanation. Whether or not these have been “required” would seem academic. They are in place, and are to be followed for safety reasons.

        My spending time with a CFI is good advice, and I spend at least one day each week with a 30,000 hour CFII. My FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award attests to my more than 50 years of contributions to General Aviation, so you may expect that I’m not just a cow pasture pilot. My four books on flying have all been published by traditional publishers; the most recent of them published by Air Facts/Sporty’s and due out this month; and my articles have appeared in several of our GA periodicals.

        Finally, I’ll give up and accept that there is an “upwind leg”, though I cannot bring myself to agree with your use of it. Moreover, you should be able to see everything you need to see from a properly entered downwind leg, even those you weren’t able to see while on your misused upwind leg. This includes those perhaps on a long straight-end approach from behind you.

  • Jeff,

    I just get riled when I think of any pilot thinking that they “own” any given airspace. You used the expression, “it is your’s,” and to me that implies the same as “owning.” We all know they definitely do not own any airspace. Many low time pilots appear to think that if they call out their intention first, than they have the right-of-way, or are claiming that next leg.
    A lot of this discussion involves semantics and verbiage. Most of us are not English Professors, and frequently what we mean does not always go down on paper precisely.
    “Blabbing” one’s way around the pattern is not always helpful, particularly if you do not say what you really mean. Succinct brief transmissions can help others determine our intent and facilitate safety. Lastly, no one should put 100% confidence in what they hear, as it may not be accurate, or may not have even been said at all!

  • For those still not convinced that the Upwind Leg is different from the Departure Leg, I would like to draw your attention to this excellent document: “Operations at Non-Towered Airports” by AOPA’s Air Safety Institute.
    https://www.aopa.org/-/media/files/aopa/home/pilot-resources/asi/safety-advisors/sa08.pdf?la=en
    Please see the diagram on Page 2. I continue to be amazed that those who are wrongly using the terms tell others: “Never mind if you learned it correctly. I learned it wrong, so you should say it wrong as well.” Safety in airspace depends on precision in communication. This language is not supposed to “evolve” to whatever you wish it to mean, like Alice in “Through the Looking Glass: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    I have requested the FAA to make it part of recommended BFR curriculum to enhance safety at non-towered airports.

  • The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is a non-regulatory Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) publication containing basic flight information and Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures for use in the National Airspace System (NAS) of the United States
    Can be found digitally on the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/aim/index.htm
    Additionally, you can purchase a paperback copy of the Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR/AIM)
    The AIM contains information of interest to pilots, such as health and medical facts, flight safety, a pilot/controller glossary of terms used in the system, and information on safety, accidents, and reporting of hazards

  • By virtue of the following information it appears most have a misunderstanding regarding the dictates if the AIM. The FAA might better serve all the aviation community by regulating and clarifying what is and isn’t correct elsewhere. Maybe FAR would be far better. BT

    The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is a non-regulatory Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) publication containing basic flight information and Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures for use in the National Airspace System (NAS) of the United States
    Can be found digitally on the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/aim/index.htm
    Additionally, you can purchase a paperback copy of the Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR/AIM)
    The AIM contains information of interest to pilots, such as health and medical facts, flight safety, a pilot/controller glossary of terms used in the system, and information on safety, accidents, and reporting of hazards

  • As a retired pilot and air traffic controller, I say there is no such thing as departure leg . It is called Take off leg. The controller will ask pilot to extend his take off leg before making a turn

    • You must not be flying in the US. The term “take-off leg” is not part of pilot controller vocabulary. See AIM.

  • I would like to use an aviation term and “hijack” this thread and complain about pilots not using the words, left and right, when announcing downwind and base.

    • Every runway has a published pattern, so announcing left or right may be redundant. Having said that, I realize that I always announce my intention 5 mile out by announcing I will be entering left downwind at 45 degree for runway 12 at my home field. I also say “left crosswind” and “left base”. But not “left final!”

  • David the pattern traffic is spelled out on both the AFD and the sectional, so the direction is actually redundant on a single direction runway, parallel runways excluded. Although the addition of the direction can’t hurt, particularly for the guy that is going the wrong way, doesn’t care which way the pattern is or never bothered to look it up!

  • David, excellent point! I add left or right to the call myself. I have always felt that the extra time consumed by adding one syllable to the advisory is more than worth it for information conveyed.

  • I was out flying today at the same airport as mentioned in the article, and the controller once again asked me to extend the Upwind Leg. Of course, I replied, “I’ll extend departure leg,” and went about my business. Old habits die hard.

  • Shayam Jha is trying to avoid both communication and execution error, I say terrific, me too. The pilot controller glossary is an outgrowth of there being no common understanding of “cleared for the approach” many years ago. Other misunderstandings, with tragic results, have occurred from “bingo fuel” and even the word “two/too/to” in execution. As instrument students we get bad communication in training such as “reverse sensing” of localizer signals. The localizer has no idea who is receiving its signal and therefore only has one set of behaviors, same with the on board Nav displays unless there is switching. With certain Nav displays we reverse our interpretation of a displaced CDI. The consequence of localizer back course execution error on the missed approach at Aspen could be tragic. Jha’s effort is to avoid execution error from communication and encourage the rest of us to do the same. Bravo! (that’s the word Bravo, not phonetic alphabet reference)

  • I fly out of Addison TX. The “Departure leg” at that airport and at other airports in the area, are referred to by controllers as “runway heading.” Pretty clear and straight forward and yes, the upwind leg is different.

  • In the AIM and PCG the upwind leg is defined as “A flight path parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing.” In the AIM the departure leg is defined as “The flight path which begins after takeoff and continues straight ahead along the extended runway centerline. The departure climb continues until reaching a point at least 1/2 mile beyond the departure end of the runway and within 300 feet of the traffic pattern altitude.” Fig 4-3-1 in the AIM depicts examples of the relative positions of the six named traffic pattern legs. By my reckoning this figure offers low precision, is not to scale, an example only, and to be interpreted based on the definitions offered.

    Given that the upwind leg is defined merely as a leg flown parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing, and given the imprecise nature of Fig 4-3-1, I would understand the departure leg to be a type of upwind leg. Note that the departure leg perfectly fits within the definition given for what an upwind leg is. Likewise, a low approach or go-around leg would be an upwind leg, but would not fit the definition of a departure leg.

    The departure leg is often called an upwind leg. Is this inconsistent with the AIM or the PCG? Not by my reckoning. Instead, given that the PCG only offers the term “upwind leg”, I think that may be the more appropriate term to use in RT.

    I will be interested to see what action the FAA takes in response to this matter, if any. Their letter certainly seemed non-committal.

  • A couple of things…Is it possible that the instruction was to extend upwind? If that is the case, “upwind” is an adverb. Appropriate for both the upwind leg and the “departure” leg.

    From the discussions, it seems that at least several of you consider the “upwind” leg to be a normal part of a traffic pattern. The AIM says that the “upwind” leg may be flown at controlled fields and for go arounds.

    When everyone was entering the pattern on the 45 to the left downwind(or right downwind as published), everyone involved knew where to look for traffic. Pilots expected climbing traffic on the upwind leg (apparently old terminology), pattern altitude traffic on downwind, and descending traffic from the abeam point to base , to final. No one expected, nor should they, traffic turning crosswind from a point that crosses the extended centerline of the runway.

    The distinction of the applicability of the “upwind” leg is important.

  • A few months ago one of my PVT students, who had purchased an online course from a long-time major provider, told me the traffic pattern diagram they used did not comply with the AIM. Sure enough, it labeled the departure leg as the upwind leg, and totally omitted the upwind leg. Their course designer refused to make any changes, so I discussed it with the Washington FAA office that oversees 141 courses and sent images. They also made no changes. So I’m happy to see you were more successful than I was. It is amazing that incorrect terminology by pilots and controllers has occurred for so long involving two traffic pattern segments that can be quite a distance apart and can result in pilots searching in the wrong direction for conflicting traffic. For many events, the arrival procedures are to join the ‘upwind’ – anyone taking my student’s course would not even know what that means. So Shyam, my congratulations to you.

    • Thank you Warren for your kind comments. I think the FAA is to be blamed for not having been explicit in defining the legs, and not being consistent in their various publications. Many CFIs with thousands of hours of experience go on teaching wrong terminology, thus creating a new generation of pilots ignorant about correct pattern terminology.

      I am eagerly awaiting revised FAA documents. I have also requested them to make it part of recommended BFR curriculum.

  • If terminology is so important to Mr. Jha why does he consistently refer to BFR? Has a controller ever taken exception with his reporting of “departure leg” when asked to extend his upwind?

    • I still usually use BFR because I think it is unambiguous. I’ll probably use A/FD for some time for the same reason. Using ‘upwind’ for two different legs in the pattern is a trap a lot of people fell into so why wouldn’t controllers welcome the changes for more accurate communication as much as pilots.

      • Joe – I agree, unfortunately I feel Mr. Jha is being pedantic, which is not often in the best interest of safety or good communication.

        Warren – There is little ambiguity unless some people want to make it so or pretend they have made some unique discovery and become argumentative. Departure leg becomes upwind when you slide over a few feet and are near TPA. If a controller says to “extend upwind”, then that is exactly what you should do. “Extend departure” just does not really make sense, and would be confusing – should you stay under TPA and ACTUALLY extend the departure leg? Why not join upwind by that time?

        Imagine from the controller’s point of view in a class D. He needs to extend spacing for an airplane entering downwind, and another plane has just completed ‘the option’.

        Is the plane that completed the option now extending “departure” or extending “upwind”? What if he only dropped down a tiny bit? What if he did not even drop down at all due to seeing a plane under the runway? Should he get on the radio and “clarify” for the controller that he is on departure, not upwind, because he is 20 feet to the left? Should he correct the controller that he didn’t drop much below TPA and now is “upwind” not “departure?” Should the controller “keep track” of who is doing the option versus touch and go and change his terminology for each aircraft, sometimes saying departure vs upwind?

        “Extend upwind” is known by all and unambiguous to sensible pilots and prevents ambiguity. On individual’s crusade for change in using abnormal and inappropriate terminology will not add to safety or clarity.

        • Jose, unfortunately you are the one being argumentative. For the last time, please understand that the Upwind Leg is on the other side of the Downwind Leg. The Departure Leg is Runway Heading as you depart. You may join Crosswind Leg, or continue straight out or at 45 degrees, or as a controller asks you to proceed. It is NOT the Upwind Leg.

          Please read the FAA letter that is part of the article. The FAA has acknowledged that there is some confusion in the minds of pilots and controllers, and they are in the process of correcting their documentation to remedy the situation.

          Talk to me in 2018, when the new AIM and Controller’s Glossary will come out.

          Fly safe!

          • >For the last time, please understand that the Upwind Leg is on the other side of the Downwind Leg. The Departure Leg is Runway Heading as you depart.

            The other side of what? This is a most poor description. You did not address any of the scenarios on why your fixation on this false distinction is a bad idea.

            I have no doubts you will be proud if you got somebody to change some notation in a regulatory book, but what we all really care about is safety, efficiency, and clear communications, not petty crusades.

            “The upwind is on the other side of the downwind leg” does not make sense.

            Your proposed upwind / departure fixation is insufficient to give meaningful separation of aircraft and is likely only going to generate confusion.

            I have no doubt your efforts and heart are in the right place, but when only you have a problem, often the problem is…

          • Jose, I do not know your level of flying proficiency, or even whether you are a pilot. I would urge you to sit down with your CFI who can explain to you what the “Opposite side of Downwind Leg” means. It is very hard to explain in a comment section without the benefit of an accompanying diagram.
            You may also refer to the AIM diagram I used in the article.
            You seem to be arguing for argument’s sake. There is no debate here. The FAA agrees there is confusion in some minds (like yours), and they are working on rewriting the relevant documents.
            I would be glad to have a phone conversation to explain if you wish.

        • I think with towered operations, you may be making a mountain out of a molehill. We don’t know exactly how controllers will instruct pilots but I’m sure it will be quite clear and unambiguous, but if needed as in any other situation, clarification should be requested. Usually I hear the controller say ‘stay on runway heading’, but if the controller said N##### extend departure leg/upwind leg, really, what’s the problem.

          In a non-tower environment, it is quite a different story. This is just one scenario. An airplane announces entry on the left crosswind (I know it’s not the recommended entry but it is fairly frequently done). Hearing that, another pilot says ‘I’m on the upwind runway ##’. Is that traffic at 11 to 12 o’clock low and climbing, or at 9 to 10 o’clock and level at your altitude? That’s the confusion that has existed with one term having two meanings. Saying your ‘on departure leg runway ## climbing 500’ is the information the entry pilot really needs.

          • Warren. I agree totally. This is not an issue at a towered airport. It is at untowered airports (like where I am based) that it becomes a safety issue.
            I am still astonished how people refuse to accept the fact that Upwind Leg is not the same as Departure Leg.
            Oh well!

    • Nothing wrong in using BFR as a short form for Biennial Flight Review. I understand it is now just called Flight Review, but it still done every two years, hence biennial. And no controller has ever commented on my replying with “continuing on departure leg.” Interestingly, today, the same controller asked me to fly extended runway heading before letting me turn.

  • After almost 20 years of military and civilian flying, I never knew that we were usin the wrong terminology. Thanks for bringing this to light and getting the FAA to address this common misuse of the two terms.

  • One of our local pilots, a 20,000+ hour retired military flight instructor, agrees completely with Shyam. The upwind leg is NOT the same as the departure leg. The terminology is used interchangeably at our non-towered field, but while both the upwind and departure legs are in the same direction and parallel to each other, they are not the same.

    At our airport, 6/24 is the main runway. If I depart from 24 and fly the runway heading, I’m on the departure leg. The upwind leg would also have a heading of 240, but would be located at pattern altitude along its entire length and would be located approximately 1 mile (or so) to the right of 24.

    I doubt that this would be on any FAA exam, though. BTW, the FAA is incorrect in its definition of sublimation (according to my CFI study guide). The formation of ice from water vapor is deposition and not sublimation. The FAA uses sublimation for both phase changes, i.e. solid to vapor and vapor to solid.

    Not trying start another argument… 🙂

  • I’ve been flying for more than 50 years and flight instructing, full time, for 20 years, my students know the difference between upwind and departure legs. I agree with Shyam.

  • The problem is pilots, particularly at non towered airports can be bone headed. Many make minimal calls, call from the wrong direction, do a straight in when 5 other planes are in the pattern, shoot a practice ILS approach from the opposite direction of landing aircraft and then top it off with the “any traffic please advise” because they simply were not listening, or lazy or both.
    So any attempt to clarify bad, wrong, misleading terminology is a good thing.

    Jose, so lets say a aircraft turns base and goes past the runway, instead of turning back towards the runway, always a bad idea, they turn parallel to the runway on the opposite side of the runway, where are they? What call do you make? They are simply on an upwind leg. They will get to the end of the runway and then announce “crosswind” before turning downwind for another attempt.
    You can’t be on the same leg after turning upwind as on the departure leg!

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