6 Things You Should Know About Takeoff

Image © Robert Pothorcki

An unknown pilot once said something during his Takeoff in Alaska, “It’s always better to be down on the ground wishing you were up in the air than up in the air wishing you were down on the ground.”

Top 10 Airplane Low Landings and Take-Off By Airbus & Boeing

You can fly without landing properly but you can’t fly without performing a successful takeoff. Taking off is the most important and one of the most stressful things you and your aircraft do. The last article we wrote and published, was about How You can fly like a Pro

Aircraft taking off use maximum power very close to the ground and in an environment rife with the potential of foreign object damage. Once airborne, you are flying at a speed much closer to stall than you do at cruise, you are in a crowded environment with other aircraft and you have to make quite a few important decisions in a very short time.

Here are six hard-earned tips I can give you to make your takeoffs equal your landings.

 #1  You don’t have to go

Landings are mandatory, takeoffs are not. The 2010 Nall Report [1], a safety summary published by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, recorded 153 takeoff accidents for the year. While this number is dropping in recent times, I think you will agree with me that there would have been no takeoff accidents at all if each and every one of those 153 pilots had elected to cancel their takeoff.

Of course, airplanes are made to takeoff and fly and ultimately there is no way to guess which ones will go smoothly and which ones will become a notation in a yearly air safety report, but you can improve the odds significantly and systematically.

When in doubt about the weather, your aircraft’s performance or your ability to handle the flight there is no shame in backing down and flying another day. Some of the very best takeoffs in your life will be the ones you don’t attempt to.

 #:2  Remember the Six P’s; Prior Performance Planning Prevents Pathetically Poor Performance

Right after takeoff is the wrong time to find out you did your weight and balance wrong or miscalculated your bird’s takeoff performance. After takeoff climb performance can also be a worry for you if are leaving a mountain airport or are operating at a high-density altitude.

Many DP’s (departure procedures) specify minimum climb rates and have altitude restrictions at various waypoints. Make sure you can achieve them or tell ATC you can’t before accepting the clearance.

Other performance things that should be on your mind are precipitation, ice and snow, and possible runway contamination. Takeoff numbers in your POH are predicated on a clean runway and a standard day.

#3: You can’t take off if you don’t get to the runway safely.

Taxi charts are always more useful to you if you can see them when you need them. If you are told by ground control to: “Taxi two-seven left via the inner, wedge, cargo. Hold short of two-seven right at Tango Three and contact tower.” (Old Chicago O’Hare taxi clearance) it is nice to have the chart in front of you.

Controllers working in busy airports always say they would be happy to give you a progressive taxi, but I don’t think they mean it. No excuse in today’s environment with all the publications and electronic toys available for not knowing where you are going to the airport.

Very few fatal collisions between aircraft happen during taxi, but a whole lot of expensive non-lethal ones do. Aircraft to aircraft or aircraft to ground service equipment accidents are more frequent than the statistics show because many of them go unreported.

When you do have the taxi chart on your knee or on some sort of electronic screen please remember to stop taxiing before you spend a lot of time with your head down reading it. On two-person flight crews, the non-taxiing pilot reads the chart.

On a single pilot aircraft, reading a taxi chart while moving is as dangerous as a sixteen-year-old texting and singing while driving.

 #4: Belts, Sea, and Pedals

I got in the habit a long time ago of jiggling in my seat just before takeoff so I could be sure my seat wasn’t going to make a run for the aft end of the airplane when I applied the power.

This has happened to me once in a Cardinal RG and once in a DC-9. Both times I was lucky and somebody was sitting in the right seat ready to take over the controls and save the day.

I am sure I have looked silly to various co-pilots engineers and passengers over the years as I give my seat a hard wiggle, but pilots flying backward away from flight controls during takeoffs aren’t having any fun.

Quite a few pilots like to be casual and keep their seats far enough back that if they needed to use a full throw on their rudder pedals or use full braking they wouldn’t be able to. Don’t be shy. Make sure you can reach and use those pedals.

Seatbelts and shoulder harness use ought to be routine for everybody by now, but you’d be surprised how many pilots don’t use the harnesses. A rough aborted takeoff is easier for you to personally recover from if your face isn’t broken. Make shoulder harnesses part of your pre-takeoff and pre-approach checks and your adoring public will thank you.

 #5: Don’t be the “Weather Ship”

There are days when you wonder if you should be flying at all. Weather can be terrible, wind can be harsh and light rain can turn into light freezing rain a few hundred feet up. If you are worried at all about the conditions for your takeoff and there is somebody in the takeoff line that is more eager than you to try things out, let them.

Professional pilots call the aircraft carrying these intrepid pilots the “weather ship”. When worried about the ride around a bunch of thunderstorms in the terminal area why not let them try it first, and if they can, report back to you and ATC?

Many times you will feel foolish and cowardly, but on other occasions, you’ll feel vindicated when you hear: “tower, don’t send anybody else through here – severe turbulence lightning and very heavy rain…aghhhhhh!”

#6: Enjoy the Ride

With all this talk of safety hazards, pitfalls and pilots wiggling their butts we should not miss the point that almost every takeoff goes flawlessly. The power does not falter, the winds don’t blow in and smite you, wake turbulence is successfully avoided and your aircraft performs like a homesick angel.

Enjoy the fact that you are living in an age in which flight is not only possible, it is fairly easy. You are one of the few people living on earth able to combine a beautiful piece of machinery, a strip of pavement, grass or water along with some air and go flying.

Any aircraft, from the oldest Cessna 150 to the newest Boeing 787 begins to make the magic happen only when a savvy pilot like you rolls it onto the active and pushes the power up.

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