5 ISSUES FOR JUST £5 Subscribe to Pilot Magazine today click here

The Overhead Join

PUBLISHED: 13:52 25 June 2015 | UPDATED: 13:52 25 June 2015

WinAir Cessna 525A Citation landing

WinAir Cessna 525A Citation landing

(c) DarthArt

Beyond the PPL – the Overhead Join is one procedure they don’t always teach you at flight school and the subject of endless debate. On both Pilot’s ‘Airmail’ pages and numerous Internet forum threads − the overhead join continues to perplex pilots and, from some quarters, draw criticism.

The standard overhead join poster, available from the CAA's Safety Matters web pageThe standard overhead join poster, available from the CAA's Safety Matters web page

What place is there for this old-fashioned circuit-joining procedure − a legacy of the days before aircraft radio in the 21st century, you might ask? Confusion arises from the apparent lack of documentation: what exactly is a standard overhead join? The Civil Aviation Authority supplies part of the answer in the form of the widely-circulated GA safety poster reproduced at the head of this article, and adds a little more detail in Safety Sense Leaflet 06 Aerodrome Sense, these publications being downloadable free of charge from www.caa.co.uk Unfortunately, both the poster and AIP illustration reproduced in the leaflet show an overhead join from a direction passing over the dead side at roughly 90° to runway orientation: in the real world, aircraft will be coming in from all directions, their pilots all too often struggling to visualise a flight path that picks up with the ‘standard’ diagram.

What do you do when arriving from the dead side − or on runway heading? Should you avoid overflying the live side − and which way should you turn, in picking up that standard descent pattern? Nor is the point of the whole exercise understood by all pilots. Those who have done their training at airfields where overhead joins are discouraged or even prohibited may question the need to go all round the houses when they might otherwise join the circuit downwind, on ‘base’ or on ‘long final’. Others will appreciate that the overhead join is designed to separate inbound traffic from the circuit and ensure that arrivals join the circuit at a known position − crossing the upwind end of the runway at circuit height. This minimises the risk of collision, helps everybody in keeping a good look-out and allows confused visitors and non-radio flyers (of whom there are still quite a large number) to confirm which runway is in use and the circuit direction (remember the signals square?)

A real world situation with which you have to reconcile it (White Waltham aerodrome, viewed from the South)A real world situation with which you have to reconcile it (White Waltham aerodrome, viewed from the South)

Joining from ‘non-standard’ directions

Pooling the wisdom and experience of Pilot’s contributors − all of whom have at some point in their flying career been confused by exactly which way to do it − we’ve produced a set of diagrams showing which way to go when joining overhead from a direction not shown in the standard diagram (1).

Confusion arises from the apparent lack of documentation: what exactly is a standard overhead join?Confusion arises from the apparent lack of documentation: what exactly is a standard overhead join?

When approaching the airfield on a heading close to takeoff direction (2) it is relatively easy to visualise leaving the essential ground feature − the centre of the airfield − off to the left and then turning, as the CAA advises, in the direction of the circuit to pick up the dead-side descent path. As you will be turning toward, and then overflying the live side, the vital thing is not to start descending until you cross the runway centreline to the dead side.

In the real world, aircraft will be coming in from all directionsIn the real world, aircraft will be coming in from all directions

When approaching from the takeoff direction on a downwind heading, again keeping the centre of the airfield to your left (3), you will arrive over the live side, a 90° turn to the left allowing you to merge with the flight path shown in the standard diagram.

Many will appreciate that the overhead join is designed to separate inbound traffic from the circuit and ensure that arrivals join the circuit at a known positionMany will appreciate that the overhead join is designed to separate inbound traffic from the circuit and ensure that arrivals join the circuit at a known position

In approaching the airfield from the dead side in a direction at 90° to the runway (4), the important thing to avoid is the temptation to turn against circuit direction and away from the airfield. The correct procedure is to maintain altitude and turn overhead the live side with the circuit direction, again picking up the dead-side descent path shown in the standard illustration.

Others may have done their training at airfields where overhead joins are discouraged or even prohibitedOthers may have done their training at airfields where overhead joins are discouraged or even prohibited

While this all looks neat enough on paper, the workload on doing it for real can sometimes overwhelm the mind’s ability to process simple problems and visualise the correct action, especially when arriving at an unfamiliar airfield. One thing we would say is: never be too proud to make things easier for yourself by rotating the chart or airfield diagram so that it is orientated track-up, making it that much easier to mentally overlay the appropriate join and descent path.

Advice from an expert

David Coe is Chief Flying Instructor at the West London Aero Club, based at White Waltham. Overhead joins are preferred at this Berkshire airfield, where the service is Air/Ground and some of the resident and visiting aircraft are non-radio. David has long experience of both teaching the procedure to students and observing visiting pilots getting it right−or not! “Our students generally have no problem understanding the concept,” says David. “We get them to draw the circuit joining diagram before flying. This works well, especially with the six circuits, both leftand right-hand, at Waltham. The golden rule is this: if it is a left-hand circuit, position the airfield on the left as you approach the overhead and vice versa. All the turns will be made in the same direction as the circuit direction.”

What advice would David offer to pilots visiting White Waltham? “The reduced joining height (1,300 feet QFE ) with an 800 foot circuit catches some out. We remind all pilots of this height limitation, which is our own local situation dictated by Controlled Airspace. I would advise you to draw a diagram beforehand if you are uncertain of what to do. Even experienced instructors get it wrong sometimes!

“Some pilots go straight to the middle of the airfield when joining overhead. This is wrong. You need to turn around the airfield perimeter in order to see what is going on below. Also the only bit of the runway that needs to be crossed in a specific place is the upwind end at circuit height, after descending dead side. There is no need to cross the threshold as well!

“The advantage of the overhead join is that it gives lots of time to assess the existing traffic and to work out where other aircraft are before letting down into the circuit. The only disadvantage I can find is that when going crosswind over the upwind numbers you have to decide where you are going to fit into the established circuit traffic. This is about as risky and challenging as joining directly onto downwind or final!”

We’ll leave the last word on the value of the overhead join to David: “White Waltham can get very busy at times and the overhead join keeps it safe.”

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Pilot visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Pilot staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Pilot account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from News

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pilot’s April issue is out now with a free copy of our 2017 ‘Where to Fly Guide’

Read more
Thursday, March 23, 2017

Since it first took to the skies in the form of a converted DC-8 jetliner donated by United Airlines, the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital has been making inroads to restoring sight to the world’s 285 million blind or visually impaired people

Read more
Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Now in its fourth year, The Sir Geoffrey de Havilland Flying Scholarship sponsored by The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers, is open for applications for the 2017 award

Read more
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The International aviation training organisation Airways Aviation is introducing a new scholarship to prospective pilots at its next Airline Pilot Careers Day

Read more
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

This year The British Precision Pilots Association will be introducing Air Navigation Racing (ANR), a new ‘exciting and affordable’ air sport to the UK

Read more
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tecnam has announced the ‘milestone achievement’ of delivering the 200th Tecnam P2006T Twin.

Read more
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

In the April issue of Pilot magazine, on sale from 22 March readers will find a ‘Safety Matters’ extract from the long-awaited report on the Air Accidents Investigation Branch’s exhaustive investigation of the Shoreham Hunter accident.

Read more
Friday, March 3, 2017

In a statement posted on Friday 3 March in response to the full AAIB report issued on the same day, the British Air Display Association (BADA) says it welcomes the conclusion to the very lengthy AAIB investigation process and hopes that it will now provide a degree of understanding and closure for the families involved.

Read more
Thursday, March 2, 2017

TOPNAV is a visual navigation competition for private pilots, organised by the Royal Institute of Navigation’s (RIN) General Aviation Navigation Group (GANG), and held every year in May.

Read more
Thursday, March 2, 2017

The first production Bell Model 505 Jet Ranger X made its maiden flight on 22 January from the company’s Mirabel, Quebec facility

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most Read


Subscribe or buy Pilot Magazine