Chapter 5—Takeoff and Departure Climbs

Terms and Definitions
Prior to Takeoff

Normal Takeoff
   Takeoff Roll
   Initial Climb

Crosswind Takeoff
   Takeoff Roll
   Initial Climb

Ground Effect on Takeoff
   Takeoff Roll
   Initial Climb

Soft/Rough-Field Takeoff and Climb
   Takeoff Roll
   Initial Climb

Rejected Takeoff/Engine Failure
Noise Abatement

Table of Contents


Takeoffs and climbs from fields where the takeoff area is short or the available takeoff area is restricted by obstructions require that the pilot operate the airplane at the limit of its takeoff performance capabilities. To depart from such an area safely, the pilot must exercise positive and precise control of airplane attitude and airspeed so that takeoff and climb performance results in the shortest ground roll and the steepest angle of climb. [Figure 5-7]

Short-field takeoff Figure 5-7. Short-field takeoff.

The achieved result should be consistent with the performance section of the FAA-approved Airplane Flight Manual and/or Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH). In all cases, the power setting, flap setting, airspeed, and procedures prescribed by the airplane’s manufacturer should be followed.

In order to accomplish a maximum performance takeoff safely, the pilot must have adequate knowledge in the use and effectiveness of the best angle-of-climb speed (VX) and the best rate-of-climb speed (VY) for the specific make and model of airplane being flown.

The speed for VX is that which will result in the greatest gain in altitude for a given distance over the ground. It is usually slightly less than VY which provides the greatest gain in altitude per unit of time. The specific speeds to be used for a given airplane are stated in the FAA-approved AFM/POH. It should be emphasized that in some airplanes, a deviation of 5 knots from the recommended speed will result in a significant reduction in climb performance. Therefore, precise control of airspeed has an important bearing on the successful execution as well as the safety of the maneuver.


Taking off from a short field requires the takeoff to be started from the very beginning of the takeoff area. At this point, the airplane is aligned with the intended takeoff path. If the airplane manufacturer recommends the use of flaps, they should be extended the proper amount before starting the takeoff roll. This permits the pilot to give full attention to the proper technique and the airplane’s performance throughout the takeoff.

Some authorities prefer to hold the brakes until the maximum obtainable engine r.p.m. is achieved before allowing the airplane to begin its takeoff run. However, it has not been established that this procedure will result in a shorter takeoff run in all light single-engine airplanes. Takeoff power should be applied smoothly and continuously—without hesitation—to accelerate the airplane as rapidly as possible. The airplane should be allowed to roll with its full weight on the main wheels and accelerated to the lift-off speed. As the takeoff roll progresses, the airplane’s pitch attitude and angle of attack should be adjusted to that which results in the minimum amount of drag and the quickest acceleration. In nosewheel-type airplanes, this will involve little use of the elevator control, since the airplane is already in a low drag attitude.


Approaching best angle-of-climb speed (VX), the airplane should be smoothly and firmly lifted off, or rotated, by applying back-elevator pressure to an attitude that will result in the best angle-of-climb airspeed (VX). Since the airplane will accelerate more rapidly after lift-off, additional back-elevator pressure becomes necessary to hold a constant airspeed. After becoming airborne, a wings level climb should be maintained at VX until obstacles have been cleared or, if no obstacles are involved, until an altitude of at least 50 feet above the takeoff surface is attained. Thereafter, the pitch attitude may be lowered slightly, and the climb continued at best rate-of-climb speed (VY) until reaching a safe maneuvering altitude. Remember that an attempt to pull the airplane off the ground prematurely, or to climb too steeply, may cause the airplane to settle back to the runway or into the obstacles. Even if the airplane remains airborne, the initial climb will remain flat and climb performance/obstacle clearance ability seriously degraded until best angle-of-climb airspeed (VX) is achieved. [Figure 5-8]

Effect of premature lift-off Figure 5-8. Effect of premature lift-off.

The objective is to rotate to the appropriate pitch attitude at (or near) best angle-of-climb airspeed. It should be remembered, however, that some airplanes will have a natural tendency to lift off well before reaching VX. In these airplanes, it may be necessary to allow the airplane to lift off in ground effect and then reduce pitch attitude to level until the airplane accelerates to best angle-of-climb airspeed with the wheels just clear of the runway surface. This method is preferable to forcing the airplane to remain on the ground with forward- elevator pressure until best angle-of-climb speed is attained. Holding the airplane on the ground unnecessarily puts excessive pressure on the nosewheel, may result in “wheelbarrowing,” and will hinder both acceleration and overall airplane performance.


On short-field takeoffs, the landing gear and flaps should remain in takeoff position until clear of obstacles (or as recommended by the manufacturer) and VY has been established. It is generally unwise for the pilot to be looking in the cockpit or reaching for landing gear and flap controls until obstacle clearance is assured. When the airplane is stabilized at VY, the gear (if equipped) and then the flaps should be retracted. It is usually advisable to raise the flaps in increments to avoid sudden loss of lift and settling of the airplane. Next, reduce the power to the normal climb setting or as recommended by the airplane manufacturer.

Common errors in the performance of short-field takeoffs and maximum performance climbs are:

  • Failure to adequately clear the area.
  • Failure to utilize all available runway/takeoff area.
  • Failure to have the airplane properly trimmed prior to takeoff.
  • Premature lift-off resulting in high drag.
  • Holding the airplane on the ground unnecessarily with excessive forward-elevator pressure.
  • Inadequate rotation resulting in excessive speed after lift-off.
  • Inability to attain/maintain best angle-of-climb airspeed.
  • Fixation on the airspeed indicator during initial climb.
  • Premature retraction of landing gear and/or wing flaps.

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PED Publication