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Conquering Takeoff Fatalities

From 1983 to 2000 there were 230 fatal takeoff accidents among pilots within their first 1,000 hours of flight experience.From 1983 to 2000 there were 230 fatal takeoff accidents among pilots within their first 1,000 hours of flight experience. Many involved incorrect takeoff technique and a pre-mature liftoff. Simply put, the pilot attempted to make the airplane fly when it was not ready yet.

Departures 101
As the airplane begins its roll down the runway, the wings are producing virtually no lift. The weight of the airplane rests almost entirely on the wheels. As the speed increases more lift is produced, but it happens gradually and in proportion with the acceleration. At some point the lift produced by the wings will equal the weight of the airplane and a smooth, safe lift off can take place. But sometimes, the pilot attempts to fly before this point of lift production is reached...

PROBLEM: It is possible to get an aircraft airborne before it is ready to fly by using ground effect.

Just because the airplane lifted off the ground does *not* mean it’s ready to climb.

Caution: Raising the nose for climbout will reduce the forward speed and reduce lift just at the moment when you need more. The airplane can settle back to the runway and this would start the process all over again ... lengthening the takeoff run.

Pilots flying out of short runways on hot days -- or out of airports with high elevations may not be ready for the effects these factors can have on their aircraft. It is easy to get nervous on a takeoff roll with trees at the far end getting closer as you accelerate. Pilot's can get 'cold feet' and pull the airplane off the surface too early. This makes the problem worse and has killed many pilots.

SOLUTION: Be familiar with your airplane and its takeoff performance charts. A heavier airplane will require a longer *and* faster takeoff run. Understand that density altitude will make a takeoff hazardous one day where it was safe on another day.

Uncommon Sense
Take a moment to study runway markings. When facing a short takeoff, calculate the takeoff distance using the performance charts in the Aircraft Flight Manual and use the runway markings as your yardstick to locate the proper liftoff spot. If you know your predicted takeoff distance, and add in a margin of safety, you will be able to stare down those trees at the far end of the runway with confidence. Don't leave the liftoff location to chance or to 'cold feet.'

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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