By Chris Findley, CFI
There’s a certain thrill most pilots feel when they taxi onto the runway and line up on the centerline for takeoff. It’s the beginning of a great transition—from a ground-based reality to an air-based reality. It’s the gateway to flight and one of the first maneuvers a new pilot learns.
However, in many ways, it is often neglected as a maneuver. It is often treated as simply a mechanical action and, other than dealing with a crosswind, not much thought is put into the takeoff. Many pilots simply, line up, go to full power, reach takeoff speed, and haul back on the yoke. For some reason takeoffs become can very Cro-Magnon, “Come plane. Now we fly, ugh ugh.”
We are pleased with ourselves when we make a nice landing with gentle finesse. We should aim to have a similar finesse with our takeoffs. Hint: If you rotate (begin your climb) with such force your passengers grunt, you may want to make some adjustments to your technique.
There is as much technique in a good takeoff as there is in any maneuver. Here are a few keys to better takeoffs:
1.) Mentally begin the takeoff prior to moving onto the runway and be aware of the takeoff environment. Insure the final approach path is clear and no other aircraft are intending to land on your given runway. Always stay alert even when at a controlled field. Be aware of the surface winds. If you have a 10knot headwind, you can expect a different response from the airplane than if you have a 10knot crosswind. Try to mentally note as much as possible about the environment around you both for performance and safety’s sake.
2.) Line up on the centerline, insure the nose wheel is straight and the ailerons properly deflected to account for the wind. Apply full power steadily and smoothly. A slow three-count, “Thousand one, thousand two, thousand three” might help you judge the rate of increase on the throttle. By “thousand three” you should be at full RPM (in most single-engine pistons). As you begin to roll, check the engine instruments. Insure everything is “in the green” –Vacuum, Oil Temp, Oil Pressure, Fuel, Ammeter, and RPMs should all be at an acceptable level.
3.) Easy on the rudder/nosewheel. As you pick up speed check the Airspeed indicator for proper operation- I ask my students to say “Airspeed Alive” as a habitual check when they see the needle rising above “0”. As the left-turning tendencies become more apparent or the effect of the wind begins to be noticed, keep a light touch on the rudder. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had pilots snake down the runway as they over controlled the rudder/nosewheel. The use of rudder at this point is usually “lightly responsive”. It most likely is a characterized by short , light movements to simply keep the nose on the centerline. As your speed increases and the rudder becomes more effective, the amount of “dancing on the pedals” decreases. And keep those heels on the floor! No dragging the brakes!
4.) Use control deflection to help the airplane do what it wants to do. The airplane is designed to fly and it wants to fly, all you have to do is give enough control pressure to help it. There’s no need for any strong control movements. Simply begin increasing back pressure on the yoke smoothly until the nose raises and the angle of attack is sufficient to lift the plane off the surface. Be ready with right-rudder to offset the left-turning tendencies of the plane which are very prevalent in high-power, climb settings such as takeoff. Try to determine the right rudder needed to maintain a straight ground track down the centerline of the runway. In a crosswind you will need to crab into the wind, sometimes significantly so. Avoid swinging the nose right and left with the rudder which is caused by applying rudder and then releasing that pressure. Keep the pressure consistent. Pitch for your plane’s Vy (Best Rate of Climb) and once you are greater than 500’ AGL (Above Ground) lower the pitch to accelerate to your plane’s normal climb speed. Maintain the extended centerline until you reach 300’ below pattern altitude and then make your crosswind turn or pattern exit turn.
Takeoffs shouldn’t be overlooked as a maneuver requiring practice to be done smoothly and well. The best way is to establish good procedures early in training. Remember that finesse in the takeoff is a worthy goal for all pilots. Fly on!