Pilot's tip of the week

Where is the “Upwind Leg”?


Subscriber question:

"I hear people use 'on the upwind' when they are climbing out from a touch-and-go. I’ve even heard controllers say this. Isn’t that the 'departure leg?' I thought upwind was when you flew parallel to the runway at pattern altitude before joining the pattern." —Ed S.


“This isn’t easily answered. Looking in the 7110.65, which is the ATC rulebook, I can’t find any use of the word ‘upwind’ nor can I find use of the phrase ‘departure leg.’  In the Pilot/Controller Glossary under traffic pattern, we find no use of the phrase ‘departure leg’ but we do see the definition of upwind as ‘a flight path parallel to the landing runway in the direction of landing.’  It’s in the AIM and AC-90-66 that there’s a diagram showing a difference between an upwind leg and a departure leg.

I learned how to be a tower controller at the USAF schoolhouse at Keesler AFB and was taught that the upwind is the leg off the departure end of the runway. I’ve never heard ATC refer to this pattern leg as anything other than the upwind. So it’s no surprise that tower controllers would use ‘upwind’ to mean what the AIM illustrates as the departure leg. If a controller wants you to fly straight ahead past the departure end of the runway for spacing, they’ll likely say something like ‘Continue upwind, I’ll call your crosswind.’   

My advice is this: Report the legs as best as you can, and be aware that others might confuse the upwind versus departure legs. 

And whatever you do, don’t ever say ‘Any traffic in the pattern please advise.’ “

What do you call the position of climbing straight out toward pattern altitude after takeoff?

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