Truly understanding how to execute a short field takeoff is one of the markers that separates a beginner pilot from an experienced one. The ability to safely demonstrate a short field takeoff is expected of pilots holding a Commercial certificate, as this indicates that he or she can demonstrate precise control of the aircraft even when taking off in conditions that are less than ideal. Here are some considerations to keep in mind while preparing for a short field takeoff.
This takeoff is a departure from a runway that takes place quickly with a steep climb. Sometimes this is necessary when a runway is not as long as the pilot would like. Such runways are usually found in smaller airports, and might consist of a grass strip. Developing the ability to execute a short field takeoff
- Improves a pilot’s ability to aviate safely in a wide variety of areas
- Permits travel outside of more established airports with longer runways
- And allows the ability to land and depart in out-of-the way areas in the event of an emergency
Preparing for a Short Field Takeoff
A successful short field takeoff demands strong preparation. It is not a stunt, but a necessary maneuver when even a smaller airplane must depart from a short runway. Expanding preflight activities is a wise way to ensure a safe short field takeoff.
First, it is a good idea to walk the length of the runway to check for FOD (foreign object debris), particularly if the runway is grass, gravel, or little used. Foreign objects tend to settle more often in hidden places, and if the runway is made of gravel or grass, potentially dangerous debris such as rocks, loose maintenance material, or broken glass can pose a risk. FOD can:
- Cause serious damage to an engine
- Chip windshields
- Block handles or levers
In addition, since the takeoff roll is relatively short and the pilot will be focusing on executing a steep ascent more quickly than usual, he or she may not be concentrating as much on what is happening outside the window.
While you are checking for FOD, look around you for a potential abort point, particularly if the runway is unfamiliar to you. Planning in this manner can help to avoid an emergency later. Of course, look carefully for trees, cell towers, and other potential obstructions at the end of the runway.
Takeoff rolls are brief during a short field takeoff. Climbing quickly enables the pilot to safely clear any surrounding obstacles such as telephone poles, trees, or landscape features. To prepare for the takeoff roll, assess the type of runway. If the ground is grassy and soft, conduct a running ground roll without stopping. However, in the event the runway is paved, ensure that the entirety runway is part of the takeoff. Double check that the aircraft is aligned with the center of the runway, as there is little time for correction.
Apply full power as far back as you can while holding the brakes. It’s important to also keep an eye on the revolutions per minute (RPM). Ensure especially that the RPMs are within safe limits. Maintain the power continuously and as smoothly as you can.
Be prepared to pull up quickly as soon as the optimum rotation airspeed is attained. The elevator should be kept in neutral and the best angle used to ensure that end-of-runway obstructions are avoided. Use flaps at the recommended degree angle as noted in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH), extending them as you approach the runway (if flaps are recommended). Be sure to take care with directional control on all three wheels, particularly on soft fields.
While holding the brakes, carefully increase the engine’s throttle. Accelerating to a speed at which the aircraft can take off requires keeping its weight evenly distributed across the landing gear. Keep an eye on pitch. The aim at this point is the least amount of drag with the greatest amount of acceleration.
Where fuel is concerned, keep the mixture at full rich without losing power to the engine. This mixture will sacrifice some power to the engine, but it is important to add some fuel flow so that the engine can keep cool at this critical point in the takeoff process.
Once the nose wheel begins to rise from the runway, focus on reaching Vx, or the maximum angle of climb in the shortest distance. Some pilots, while conducting a short field takeoff, might feel an urge to slow down, but maintain Vx until any end-of-runway obstacles are clear. Carefully keep the nose up. In the event the field is soft, keep the nose lower until the maximum rate of climb is achieved. In either case, ensure that the back of the aircraft is not subjected to scraping.
After taller objects at the end of the runway are behind you, it is time to speed to Vy, which is a little bit faster, and is the highest rate of climb. This will allow the aircraft to attain a better climb rate in the least amount of time. Once it is safe to do so, raise the flaps.
Ground effect can assist you when taking off from a short field. Ground effect generates more lift and reduced drag on fixed wing aircraft. When this happens during takeoffs, the aircraft’s stall speed is lower than in level and steady flight. Fly above the runway, allowing the airplane to speed up until the climb speed is achieved. Be aware that shifting even as little as five knots away from the speed mentioned in the POH could drastically reduce the aircraft’s performance during initial climb.
At all points during this process, it is important to stick with what the aircraft’s manufacturer has recommended regarding not only flap settings, but also power settings and airspeed. Precisely controlling the aircraft within the maximum limits of its projected performance during takeoff will not only ensure that the aircraft is operating efficiently, but safely as well.
Mr. Matthew A. Johnston has over 23 years of experience serving various roles in education and is currently serving as the President of California Aeronautical University. He maintains memberships and is a supporting participant with several aviation promoting and advocacy associations including University Aviation Association (UAA), Regional Airline Association (RAA), AOPA, NBAA, and EAA with the Young Eagles program. He is proud of his collaboration with airlines, aviation businesses and individual aviation professionals who are working with him to develop California Aeronautical University as a leader in educating aviation professionals.