This is an excerpt from a report made to the Aviation Safety Reporting System. The narrative is written by the pilot, rather than FAA or NTSB officials. To maintain anonymity, many details, such as aircraft model or airport, are often scrubbed from the reports.
Accidental cutoff of aircraft in traffic pattern: I had recently gone flying as I hadn’t been up much lately, and maintained closed traffic at the airport to re-familiarize myself with the Cessna 172 and work on my landings.
Since this airport is the main airport for a flight school, multiple aircraft were joining and leaving the pattern, necessitating Tower to have aircraft extend on departure and downwind legs of the pattern.
As I was in a left downwind for Runway XX, Tower instructed all aircraft remaining in the pattern to extend upwind 3 miles after takeoff, and I made note of this as I was planning to do a couple more loops in the pattern.
About 30 seconds later, Tower asked if I had the traffic (a PA-28) on short final for Runway XX in sight. I did, and Tower cleared me for the option.
I performed a touch and go and began climbing on the departure leg. As I was finishing the climb and extending the departure leg, I noted a call from Tower to the PA-28 asking for their position, with the PA-28 reporting they were in the crosswind leg. Tower then called me to tell me to extend upwind 3 miles and do right traffic for Runway XX.
I estimated as having already done about 1.5 miles due to Tower’s notification about doing so earlier, and the delay from Tower informing me again was due to the influx of traffic into the airspace. I continued on for about another minute and then began my right crosswind turn.
While on the crosswind leg, Tower called the PA-28 to inform them that they would be Number 4 in the pattern and following traffic on the left downwind. The PA-28 reported that they had been cut off on crosswind and would follow the traffic in front of them. Tower called and asked for my position, which I reported as right crosswind, and Tower asked the PA-28 if they observed a Skyhawk in front of them. The PA-28 responded with an affirmative and Tower informed them to follow me.
Several seconds later, I turned onto the downwind leg and was able to observe the PA-28 about 3/4ths of a mile behind me and finishing a turn from crosswind onto downwind.
Nothing else of note happened after and I chose to make this my last loop in the traffic pattern, and performed a full stop landing a few minutes later.
At the time, I knew that I had missed whether or not the PA-28 would be right or left traffic. I had heard their report to Tower of being on crosswind as I started my departure leg and felt that they would not be any conflict no matter which pattern they were in.
While I do recognize that it is the pilot’s responsibility to maintain separation in the Class Delta and that Tower’s workload had increased with the amount of aircraft in the airspace, I did not receive any calls notifying me of traffic (earlier in the flight Tower had informed me of traffic ahead of me on upwind and I did not turn crosswind until I was able to verify that they had finished their crosswind turn and passed me on downwind).
Since I had cut off the PA-28, I figured the only possibility was that I had turned into my crosswind turn too early. However, I was confused about this as the PA-28 had reported being on crosswind at least a full minute before I had even started my crosswind turn, and I could not figure out as to how they would then end up behind me.
I did end up pulling both my flight data and the PA-28’s flight data from FlightAware.com and the ATC audio from LiveATC.com to try and piece together what happened, and it seems several factors played a role in this.
For starters, I had missed the call to the PA28 informing them that they would be right traffic. This was something I knew I had missed during the flight, and listening to the audio showed that they were told this after I had been cleared to land initially on Runway XX, meaning that I was likely focused on my touch and go instead of calls to other aircraft.
I recognize that I need to work on listening fully to Tower on this phase of flight if I will be rejoining the pattern, as it is important to have a mental picture of where other aircraft are within the airspace.
I also likely did start my crosswind turn early, as the data from FlightAware seems to pinpoint my turn as having started no further than 2.5 miles upwind. This is likely due to me misjudging my timing and distance in the aircraft after takeoff and is something I will need to also work on.
With those in mind, the data from the PA-28 also shows that it played a major factor in this event. After takeoff, the PA28 extended about 4.5 miles upwind while also drifting left of the runway. As such, their position report to Tower of being in the crosswind was likely when they just started their turn and the amount of time spent in the crosswind would be lengthened due to their drift left. The longer upwind extension would also explain how they ended up behind me once I turned onto the downwind leg.
I am unsure if Tower recognized that the PA-28 had drifted left and extended so far out, but I am assuming that they did not as no call was made informing me of their position or the potential for conflict.
Overall, my own misjudgments of my timing and distance, mistake in missing calls for other aircraft to have an idea of what is going on big picture (as I would have been able to recognize that I would essentially be following an aircraft in the right traffic pattern), and the PA-28’s over extension and drift on the departure leg contributed to this event.
Primary Problem: Environment