Rectangular Course


  • The rectangular course maneuver simulates the airport traffic pattern, demonstrating the effect of wind on an aircraft [Figure 1]
  • The maneuver assists the student pilot in perfecting:
    • Practical application of the turn
    • The division of attention between the flightpath, ground objects, and the handling of the airplane
    • The timing of the start of a turn so that the turn will be fully established at a definite point over the ground
    • The timing of the recovery from a turn so that a definite ground track will be maintained
    • The establishing of a ground track and the determination of the appropriate "crab" angle

All procedures here are GENERALIZED for learning.
Fly the maneuver in accordance with the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH)
and/or current Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

C-172S Procedure:

  1. Note wind direction and strength, if able
    • Important for finding the downwind and anticipating ground speed
    • Can be determined by trees, water, flags, etc...
  2. Perform clearing turns looking for traffic and ground obstructions
  3. Pick a reference rectangle in an area where an emergency landing can be made if necessary
    • Fields or perpendicular roads are best
    • Distances should be about 1 mile in length and maintained at the same distance throughout the maneuver
    • The rectangle should be flown outside of the visual references, not on top to enable good visibility of the track
  4. Establish and maintain 100 KIAS (approx. 2200 RPM) and 1,000' AGL throughout the maneuver maintaining 1/4th to 1/2 mile of lateral distance from the rectangular edges
  5. Enter the maneuver on a 45° mid-field downwind
    • Ground speed will increase as you enter the pattern
  6. Turn base at boundary:
    • AoB: Steep AoB, not to exceed 45°, transitioning to medium bank as the turn progresses
    • GS: Decrease, due to lost tailwind
    • Degrees: Turn greater than 90°, to compensate for wind, so as you roll out you have established a crab
  7. Turn upwind at boundary:
    • AoB: Medium AoB, transitioning shallow as the turn progresses
    • GS: Decrease, you are now flying directly into the wind
    • Degrees: Turn less than 90°, due to the crab already set prior to your turn
  8. Turn crosswind at boundary:
    • AoB: Shallow AoB, transitioning to medium as the turn progresses
    • GS: Increase, due to the loss of the complete headwind component
    • Degrees: Turn less than 90° to allow for wind correction
  9. Turn downwind at boundary:
    • AoB: Medium AoB transitioning to a much steeper AoB than earlier, not to exceed 45°
    • GS: Increase, due to the increasing tailwind
    • Degrees: Turn more than 90°
  10. Depart the maneuver on a 45° mid-field downwind
  11. Complete cruise checklist

Rectangular Course
Figure 1: Airplane Flying Handbook, Rectangular Course


  • It is unusual to find a situation where the wind is blowing exactly parallel to the field boundaries so slight wind corrections on all legs may be required
  • It is important to anticipate the turns to correct for ground speed, drift, angle of bank (AoB), and turning radius
  • When the wind is behind the airplane, the turn requires a larger AoB due to the turn radius/rate and vice versa
    • Because of this, you will need to anticipate your turn at different points around the box pattern
    • The higher the ground speed, the earlier you must anticipate the turn
  • Altitude and airspeed should be held constant
  • Requires utilization of ground track with wind forming a "crab" angle to maintain an equidistant track from all sides of the rectangle
    • Approximately 1/4 to 1/2 mile away
    • For a Cessna, this will be when the edge of the rectangle bisects the wing strut
    • The closer you fly, the steeper the turns will have to be, the farther, the shallower

Common Errors:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area
  • Failure to establish proper altitude prior to entry (Typically entering the maneuver while descending)
  • Failure to establish appropriate wind correction angle, resulting in drift
  • Gaining or losing altitude
  • Poor coordination (Typically skidding in turns from a downwind heading and slipping in turns from an upwind heading)
  • Abrupt control usage
  • Inability to adequately divide attention between airplane control and maintaining ground track
  • Improper timing to beginning and recovering from turns
  • Inadequate visual lookout for other aircraft

Practical Test Standards:

  • Practical Test Standards
    • Airplane Single Engine Land/Sea: Maintain ± 100 feet and ± 10 knots throughout the maneuver