How to fly VFR

The VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Circuit

The VFR circuit is the one of the first flying-orientated exercises you will undergo as a PPL student, after learning the basics of flying, manoeuvring etc. It is a very simple evolution which requires a climb, a descent and three 90 degree turns.

Once you have received VFR circuit clearance from a Air Traffic Controller, you will be instructed for take off. The main parts of a clearance you must understand is the orientation (Will you turn left or right), Circuit altitude and the QNH.

A typical VFR Clearance is given in this manner:

N737B, Hold Position. You are cleared into the left hand VFR training Cirucit. Runway 15 in use, not above altitude 1500ft, QNH 1019. Squawk  7010

So, the pilot acknowledges that this clearance is for a Left hand circuit of runway 15 at an altitude of 1500ft or below.

So, what are the circuit legs? For a left hand circuit, You only have 4. The Crosswind, Downwind, base leg and Final Approach. These are illustrated below:


After departure, your aim is to gain a good rate of climb mixed with a good forward speed. The controller will tell you when to report. This may be “Report downwind. Report base” etc. All you need to do is say “Tower, N737W Downwind 15”. The controller will then tell you when to call next followed by the number to land. If you are number 3 to land, Controller will say “N737W, report left base, you are number 3”. Easy eh

Okay, “N737W, Extend downwind”. This simply means continue your downwind leg, there could be an aircraft on final or you may need separation from something else.

“N737W, for spacing, orbit right/left”. This simply means a full 360° turn to the right or left. This is usually done for separation purposes.

You’re clearance when on final should be “Cleared to land runway 15 surface wind 180 @ 7”. Or you may hear “Cleared for the option runway 15, wind 180 @ 7”. This simply means you are cleared for touch and go, low approach etc”. You have the option as to what you want to do.

Okay, so that’s Circuits pretty much covered. Easy eh? It get’s easier! Well, it can be easier providing you understand.

So lets talk about joining the circuit from another airfield. I will assume here that you have contacted the controller and have received your instructions. The terminology for this can get quite in depth, it is best to read the ATC script which can be found in the ATC Conversation section of the site.

Okay, so you have been cleared to enter the zone. You will have been told where to enter, the circuit orientation (left or right hand) and the altitude. Simply enter where told “Join Crosswind, straight in, right base” etc.

In some cases, you may expect an overhead join.


You simply transit overhead the active threshold, descend on the deadside and make your turn onto the crosswind leg before a turn onto base.  You will usually cross overhead 500-1000ft above the circuit height.

The hardest concept for anyone to grasp when it comes to VFR flying is the transit. Aircraft may want to transit overhead your airspace. In most cases this can be denied if the traffic is heavy. But when traffic permits, it can be achieved.

So, what is a transit? Simply put, an aircraft wants to fly into your control zone from one side and out of the other. He may be tracking a VOR, NDB, VRP (Visual reporting point) or simply tracking your airfield visually. It’s completely up to the controller how to deal with VFR transits but you must place the overhead traffic above your circuit traffic. If the circuit pattern is 1500ft, Have your overhead join or transit traffic 500-1000ft higher.

Below is a typical conversation between pilot and the Controllers (Predominantly Radar and Tower).The idea is to get from one side to the other without causing disruption. Although this speech is in depth and rather technical, it’s good to get into the correct habit.

The most important things to remember as a controller:

Clear the traffic to transit overhead when he is a distance out so he can set up. Give him the point that you want him to cross. “cleared to transit overhead the threshold of Runway 33/ centre of runway etc”.

Then tell the pilot to contact when visual with the airfield. He must be able to see the airfield before he can make his move therefore you can set him a clearance limit. “N737W, advise field in site. Your clearance limit is the west perimeter”. Simply put, he needs to see the airfield and can not venture past the west perimeter fence until he has reported the airfield in site

Once pilot has completed his transit, he will need to advise leaving the zone. Make sure you know he has vacated.

When you take control of transiting aircraft, Tell them to squawk circuit squawk code (7010). Once he is out of your control, he is to return to Squawk 7000

VFR Traffic entering controlled airspace, requesting transit: RADAR

Pilot requests Traffic Service from ATC : RADAR (Airport)

PILOT: [AIRPORT Approach], {Your Callsign} :Type (Aircraft Type) is (location) request Traffic Service

ATC: {Pilot Callsign}, [AIRPORT] Approach: squawk [Give Local]

Pilot changes transponder to 7010 & Squawks ident


ATC : {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] approach. Radar contact, [?] miles [N,E,S,W] of [Airport], Traffic Service QNH [QNH]

Pilot will now be offered advisory information from ATC

Pilot will advise on transit

Pilot: [Airport] approach, {Your Callsign}: Request to Transit the overhead @ 2000ft QNH [QNH] tracking [VOR/NDB/VRP you’re approaching] to [VRP/VOR you wish to fly too].

ATC : {Pilot Callsign}, [airport] approach: Cleared to Transit Control Zone routing from [VRP/VOR pilot is approaching], not above altitude 2000ft QNH [QNH] Maintain VFR.

Pilot reads back

ATC: {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] approach, Readback correct , report overhead  [VRP/VOR pilot is approaching]

Pilot entering controlled airspace

Pilot: [Airport] approach, {Pilot Callsign}: Overhead [VRP/VOR]

ATC : {Pilot Callsign}, [airport] Approach, Inside controlled Airspace, this is a Radar Service, Route direct to the [Find a close VOR/VRP/ISEC], report overhead.

Pilot readsback

Pilot arrives overhead

Pilot: [Airport] Approach, {Pilot Callsign}: Overhead [VOR/VRP]

ATC: {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] Approach: Clearance is the [Airfield boundary] Boundary, report when approaching. (N,E,S,W field boundary or a noticeable object)

Pilot readsback

Pilot Approaching designated Boundary

Pilot: [Airport] Approach, {Pilot Callsign}: Approaching [where told] Boundary

ATC: {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] Approach: Contact [Airport] Tower on [Frequency], Callsign only

Pilot readsback

Pilot: [Airport] Tower, {Pilot Callsign}:

ATC : {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] Tower, Cleared to cross overhead [Runway] threshold, report clear of [N,E,S,W] field Boundary

Pilot reports clear

ATC: {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] Tower, Contact Radar [Frequency], callsign only

Pilot readback

Pilot: [Airport] Radar, {Pilot Callsign}


ATC: {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] Radar: Route direct [Destination VRP/VOR], report leaving [Airport] Control Zone

Pilot readback

Pilot leaving the zone

Pilot: [Airport] Radar, {PilotCallsign}: Overhead [VOR/VRP], leaving the zone

ATC: {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] Radar: [regional] QNH [QNH], Traffic Service outside controlled airspace

Pilot Readback

Pilot leaves zone requesting radio change

Pilot: [Airport] Radar, {Pilot Callsign}: Request frequency change


ATC : {Pilot Callsign}, [Airport] Radar: Frequency change approved, Squawk 7000, Good bye


For more help on VFR Flying, please contact a Mentor J

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