When to Make Position Reports in an Uncontrolled Airport Traffic Pattern

Radar Contact is back! In the first show after a months-long break, we’ll talk about when to make position reports in an uncontrolled pattern. You may think you already know the answer, but if you look at the confusing mess in the Aeronautical Information Manual, your confidence may be shaken. No matter. I’ll give you the definitive when, how, and why of position reports.

Now that's a wing flash.
Now that’s a wing flash.

Are you in the market for an aviation headset? Do you have a headset you love, or one you hate with a passion? In this show, we are going to talk about headsets, and specifically headsets that cost less than $300. Is it possible to find a quality headset at this price? We’ll find out.

My latest book, Radio Mastery for IFR Pilots is now available at Amazon.com. I’ll tell you what you can expect to find in the book and help you decide if it’s right for you.

All this plus your Question of the Week.

As Bluto said in ‘Animal House’, “Hey! What’s all this laying around stuff?” It’s time for a brand new edition of Radar Contact! “Let’s do it!”

Show Notes:

  1. If you look in Table 4-1-1 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) it says to “report entering downwind, base, and final approach” in an uncontrolled airport traffic pattern.
  2. The text in AIM 4-1-9 h. Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers says “Report on downwind, base, and final approach.”
  3. Even though the table says to “report entering” and the text says to report “on”, I strongly recommend following the guidance in the table, not the text.
  4. When you roll into a turn as you enter a leg of the traffic pattern to the next leg, the roll into a bank creates “wing flash”.
  5. Wing flash happens when the tops of your wings reflect sunlight towards an observer. Wing flash draws attention to your aircraft.
  6. By transmitting your position report as you flash your wings in a turn, you give other pilots in the traffic pattern the best chance of spotting your aircraft and identifying your position.
  7. Example position reports:

    “Frederick Traffic, Cessna 801TF, entering downwind for Runway One Niner, touch-and-go, Frederick.”

    “Frederick Traffic, Cessna 801TF, entering base for Runway One Niner, touch-and-go, Frederick.”

    “Frederick Traffic, Cessna 801TF, entering final for Runway One Niner, touch-and-go, Frederick.”


  9. If you are entering the traffic pattern at the midfield downwind entry point I recommend, as a technique, saying,

    “Frederick Traffic, Cessna 801TF, entering a midfield downwind for Runway One Niner, touch-and-go, Frederick.”


What You’re Missing with an ADS-B In-Only Display


  1. If you are using ADS-B In but do not have ADS-B Out installed in your aircraft, you are not getting the full display of all traffic in your area.
  2. ADS-B Out transmits a separate data package that grants access to traffic data rebroadcast by ground-based ADS-B relay stations. Systems lacking ADS-B Out will not have access to traffic relayed from these stations.
  3. An ADS-B In-only unit is limited to displaying traffic flying within 15 nautical miles and plus or minus 3,500 vertical feet of your aircraft. This envelope of range is called the “puck”.
  4. You may be able to “borrow” traffic information from another aircraft flying within your puck if that aircraft has the full ADS-B In and Out suite.
  5. Of course, your ADS-B unit will not display traffic that is not equipped with ADS-B Out.
  6. All this means you cannot rely on your ADS-B In-only unit to display all of the traffic in your area. Keep your eyes outside and clear for traffic.


All About Aviation Headsets


  1. Is it possible to find a quality headset for less than $300 that provides comfort, good audio quality, and durability? I’ll need your help to answer that question.
  2. If you use a headset that cost you less than $300, please tell me about it.
  3. Use the list of questions below to guide you as you tell me about your headset. Use the comment section below these show notes to respond.


Get My Latest Book


  1. My latest book, Radio Mastery for IFR Pilots is now available at Amazon.com. *
  2. The book’s content was vetted by pilots, certified flight instructors, and air traffic controllers.
  3. To make it compelling and easy to understand, the content is presented in real-world scenarios. It’s a you-are-there approach to learning.

* I receive a small commission when you use this link to order from Amazon.com.

Your Question of the Week:

You are number 1, holding short of Runway 6, the active runway, at Petersburg Airport. Petersburg is an uncontrolled airport. You plan to depart VFR and your initial heading will be approximately 330 degrees. Here is your question: What would your next self-announce radio transmission be on UNICOM? Note: I’m looking for the specific words you would say, and when would you make that transmission.

When you think you know the answer to that question, go to ATCcommunication/answers. There you will find a complete answer as well as a full explanation of how that answer was derived.

Tell Me About Your Less-Than-$300 Headset

Use the comment section below to answer these questions. (Click the title of this article–top of page–to reveal the comment section.):

–What is the brand and model of your headset?

–What did your headset cost you?

–Is your headset comfortable?
(If your headset is not comfortable, where does it hurt and how long after you put it on does it start hurting?)

–Rate the audio quality of your headset?

–Has your headset held up well, or did it seem to deteriorate/break sooner than you expected?

–Does your headset have any special features–music hookup, separate audio control, etc.–that you like?

Thank you for answering these questions in the comment section below. If I get enough data from this survey, I’ll make it a permanent feature of the website.


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10 thoughts on “When to Make Position Reports in an Uncontrolled Airport Traffic Pattern”

  1. I have been flying since I was 18. My initial training took place, in the Air Force, Sheppard AFB, in Wichita Falls, Texas to be exact. Since I did not have a degree, at that time, I could not fly military airplanes. I learned through the base’s aero club in a Cessna 150. From March 1971, until this year, I have never owned my own headsets.

    Earlier this year, I purchased my first set and wouldn’t you know it, it is a Bose A20, without Bluetooth $995.00. I have no other personal set to compare it to, just the ones that I have rented from various flight schools throughout the years. All I can say is that it is the BMW of the headsets that I have used in the past. As a flight instructor, I do not recommend it to my students that are struggling with money for flight training. They can secure a good pair for $200-$300. However, I love them and the utter noise cancelling technology built into them. They are superb.

    1. Hey Willie,

      Yes, the Bose is great. I’ve heard that time and again.

      If any of your students use a headset that is less than $300, I’d love to hear what they think about their headsets. We’re trying to find some good solutions for pilots who don’t have or want to spend a lot of money on a headset.


  2. By the way, I am a long way from 18 years of age now. I will be a healthy, wealthy and wise 63 on November 12th. Happy birthday to me. Wow, has 45 years gone by that fast?

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Isn’t it also important when making position reports to include wether your entering a left or right hand pattern, and then reporting ‘left downwind’, ‘left base’ etc? Or is it the case that you would always enter a particular pattern when landing at uncontrolled aerodromes?


    Ed (new UK PPL holder)

  4. Hello Ed,

    Reporting the direction of the circuit is only important if the airport supports both right-hand and left-hand circuits for the same runway.

    Most uncontrolled airports only use circuits (patterns) that travel only one direction or the other for each runway. With a published left-hand circuit for a runway, for example, other pilots using that runway would already know you will be flying on the left downwind and base legs.

    However, there is nothing wrong with reporting the direction in a one-direction circuit, though it’s not required. I spoke about this in Audio Lesson #4: Is it Right to Say “Right Downwind”?

    Thank you for the question.



  5. Hey Jeff!

    Good to have you back! I’m a “not so rusty anymore” private pilot who took a 23 year layoff and just got back into flying again two years ago. Your show has been a big help getting my comfortable with flying again. Thank you!

    I currently use a David Clark H10-20 (not in your list, so not reviewed) but find it comfortable and I like it a lot. I also posted a review of the ASA HS-1. I’ve never tried an expensive headset, so I still haven’t met a headset I didn’t like. Nobody I knew even had headsets when I learned to fly!

    I don’t have a specific question, but I did want to alert you to the challenges of flying VFR in the Phoenix, AZ area. It’s in a bowl, nearly surrounded by large mountains (over 7000′ to the east and north), with a very busy Class B abutting the mountains and over a dozen airports in the mode C veil. In well over 100 hrs in the area, I have been cleared into the Bravo exactly twice, and once only to vector me 180 deg away from my destination for 5 minutes! In defense of ATC, it is a very busy area and Phoenix Approach is extremely busy.

    So the problem one encounters when approaching from the north and east, if not cleared into the Bravo (the usual situation), is how to handle a rapid, often 8000′ descent in a short distance (10-20 miles) in busy airspace while navigating narrow corridors between the Bravo and terrain. Check out the area east of KFFZ, or the corridor around P19 (my home), KCHD, KIWA and KFFZ (my former home)! There is also a lot of flight training here.

    CFIT is an issue in this area, and a review of accident reports finds it happens all to frequently. Mid-air collisions have also happened here. I’m curious as to your take on this situation, and communication and aviating strategies to make it safer for a VFR pilot flying to these peripheral fields.

    Perhaps bringing this issue to people’s (and ATC’s) attention will make flying in this area safer and access to the Bravo more frequent. The FLY chart is OK, but it’s also where you find a whole lot of traffic.


    1. Hey Dale,

      I sent you a private message with some questions. I’ll need those answered before I can reply to your comments.

      I look forward to your reply.


      1. Hello Jeff,

        I’m having email trouble. I sent two replies with diagrams of some scenarios in a pdf and both have disappeared without a trace. I just sent a text-only email a few minutes ago.

        I look forward to continuing this discussion. Thanks for the detailed reply. Your insight into flying issues makes all of your listeners/students better pilots.


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