The majority of pilot-caused aircraft accidents occur during the takeoff and landing phase of flight. Because of this fact, the pilot must be familiar with all the variables that influence the takeoff and landing performance of an aircraft and must strive for exacting, professional procedures of operation during these phases of flight.
Takeoff and landing performance is a condition of accelerated and decelerated motion. For instance, during takeoff an aircraft starts at zero speed and accelerates to the takeoff speed to become airborne. During landing, the aircraft touches down at the landing speed and decelerates to zero speed. The important factors of takeoff or landing performance are:
- The takeoff or landing speed is generally a function of the stall speed or minimum flying speed.
- The rate of acceleration/deceleration during the takeoff or landing roll. The speed (acceleration and deceleration) experienced by any object varies directly with the imbalance of force and inversely with the mass of the object. An airplane on the runway moving at 75 knots has four times the energy it has traveling at 37 knots. Thus, an airplane requires four times as much distance to stop as required at half the speed.
- The takeoff or landing roll distance is a function of both acceleration/deceleration and speed.
Runway Surface and Gradient
Runway conditions affect takeoff and landing performance. Typically, performance chart information assumes paved, level, smooth, and dry runway surfaces. Since no two runways are alike, the runway surface differs from one runway to another, as does the runway gradient or slope. [Figure 1]
Runway surfaces vary widely from one airport to another. The runway surface encountered may be concrete, asphalt, gravel, dirt, or grass. The runway surface for a specific airport is noted in the Chart Supplement U.S. (formerly Airport/Facility Directory). Any surface that is not hard and smooth increases the ground roll during takeoff. This is due to the inability of the tires to roll smoothly along the runway. Tires can sink into soft, grassy, or muddy runways. Potholes or other ruts in the pavement can be the cause of poor tire movement along the runway. Obstructions such as mud, snow, or standing water reduce the airplane’s acceleration down the runway. Although muddy and wet surface conditions can reduce friction between the runway and the tires, they can also act as obstructions and reduce the landing distance. [Figure 2] Braking effectiveness is another consideration when dealing with various runway types. The condition of the surface affects the braking ability of the aircraft.
The amount of power that is applied to the brakes without skidding the tires is referred to as braking effectiveness. Ensure that runways are adequate in length for takeoff acceleration and landing deceleration when less than ideal surface conditions are being reported.
The gradient or slope of the runway is the amount of change in runway height over the length of the runway. The gradient is expressed as a percentage, such as a 3 percent gradient. This means that for every 100 feet of runway length, the runway height changes by 3 feet. A positive gradient indicates the runway height increases, and a negative gradient indicates the runway decreases in height. An upsloping runway impedes acceleration and results in a longer ground run during takeoff. However, landing on an upsloping runway typically reduces the landing roll. A downsloping runway aids in acceleration on takeoff resulting in shorter takeoff distances. The opposite is true when landing, as landing on a downsloping runway increases landing distances. Runway slope information is contained in the Chart Supplement U.S. (formerly Airport/Facility Directory). [Figure 3]
Water on the Runway and Dynamic Hydroplaning
Water on the runways reduces the friction between the tires and the ground and can reduce braking effectiveness. The ability to brake can be completely lost when the tires are hydroplaning because a layer of water separates the tires from the runway surface. This is also true of braking effectiveness when runways are covered in ice.
When the runway is wet, the pilot may be confronted with dynamic hydroplaning. Dynamic hydroplaning is a condition in which the aircraft tires ride on a thin sheet of water rather than on the runway’s surface. Because hydroplaning wheels are not touching the runway, braking and directional control are almost nil. To help minimize dynamic hydroplaning, some runways are grooved to help drain off water; most runways are not.
Tire pressure is a factor in dynamic hydroplaning. Using the simple formula in Figure 4, a pilot can calculate the minimum speed, in knots, at which hydroplaning begins. In plain language, the minimum hydroplaning speed is determined by multiplying the square root of the main gear tire pressure in psi by nine. For example, if the main gear tire pressure is at 36 psi, the aircraft would begin hydroplaning at 54 knots.
Landing at higher than recommended touchdown speeds exposes the aircraft to a greater potential for hydroplaning. And once hydroplaning starts, it can continue well below the minimum initial hydroplaning speed.
On wet runways, directional control can be maximized by landing into the wind. Abrupt control inputs should be avoided. When the runway is wet, anticipate braking problems well before landing and be prepared for hydroplaning. Opt for a suitable runway most aligned with the wind. Mechanical braking may be ineffective, so aerodynamic braking should be used to its fullest advantage.
The minimum takeoff distance is of primary interest in the operation of any aircraft because it defines the runway requirements. The minimum takeoff distance is obtained by taking off at some minimum safe speed that allows sufficient margin above stall and provides satisfactory control and initial ROC. Generally, the lift-off speed is some fixed percentage of the stall speed or minimum control speed for the aircraft in the takeoff configuration. As such, the lift-off is accomplished at some particular value of lift coefficient and AOA. Depending on the aircraft characteristics, the lift-off speed is anywhere from 1.05 to 1.25 times the stall speed or minimum control speed.
To obtain minimum takeoff distance at the specific lift-off speed, the forces that act on the aircraft must provide the maximum acceleration during the takeoff roll. The various forces acting on the aircraft may or may not be under the control of the pilot, and various procedures may be necessary in certain aircraft to maintain takeoff acceleration at the highest value.
The powerplant thrust is the principal force to provide the acceleration and, for minimum takeoff distance, the output thrust should be at a maximum. Lift and drag are produced as soon as the aircraft has speed, and the values of lift and drag depend on the AOA and dynamic pressure.
As discussed in engine pressure ratio (EPR) is the ratio between exhaust pressure (jet blast) and inlet (static) pressure on a turbo jet or turbo fan engine. An EPR gauge tells the pilot how much power the engines are generating. The higher the EPR, the higher the engine thrust. EPR is used to avoid over-boosting an engine and to set takeoff and go around power if needed. This information is important to know before taking off as it helps determine the performance of the aircraft.
In addition to the important factors of proper procedures, many other variables affect the takeoff performance of an aircraft. Any item that alters the takeoff speed or acceleration rate during the takeoff roll affects the takeoff distance.
For example, the effect of gross weight on takeoff distance is significant, and proper consideration of this item must be made in predicting the aircraft’s takeoff distance. Increased gross weight can be considered to produce a threefold effect on takeoff performance:
- Higher lift-off speed
- Greater mass to accelerate
- Increased retarding force (drag and ground friction)
If the gross weight increases, a greater speed is necessary to produce the greater lift necessary to get the aircraft airborne at the takeoff lift coefficient. As an example of the effect of a change in gross weight, a 21 percent increase in takeoff weight requires a 10 percent increase in lift-off speed to support the greater weight.
A change in gross weight changes the net accelerating force and changes the mass that is being accelerated. If the aircraft has a relatively high thrust-to-weight ratio, the change in the net accelerating force is slight and the principal effect on acceleration is due to the change in mass.
For example, a 10 percent increase in takeoff gross weight would cause:
- A 5 percent increase in takeoff velocity
- At least a 9 percent decrease in rate of acceleration
- At least a 21 percent increase in takeoff distance
With ISA conditions, increasing the takeoff weight of the average Cessna 182 from 2,400 pounds to 2,700 pounds (11 percent increase) results in an increased takeoff distance from 440 feet to 575 feet (23 percent increase).
For the aircraft with a high thrust-to-weight ratio, the increase in takeoff distance might be approximately 21 to 22 percent, but for the aircraft with a relatively low thrust-to-weight ratio, the increase in takeoff distance would be approximately 25 to 30 percent. Such a powerful effect requires proper consideration of gross weight in predicting takeoff distance.
The effect of wind on takeoff distance is large, and proper consideration must also be provided when predicting takeoff distance. The effect of a headwind is to allow the aircraft to reach the lift-off speed at a lower groundspeed, while the effect of a tailwind is to require the aircraft to achieve a greater groundspeed to attain the lift-off speed.
A headwind that is 10 percent of the takeoff airspeed reduces the takeoff distance approximately 19 percent. However, a tailwind that is 10 percent of the takeoff airspeed increases the takeoff distance approximately 21 percent. In the case where the headwind speed is 50 percent of the takeoff speed, the takeoff distance would be approximately 25 percent of the zero wind takeoff distance (75 percent reduction).
The effect of wind on landing distance is identical to its effect on takeoff distance. Figure 5 illustrates the general effect of wind by the percent change in takeoff or landing distance as a function of the ratio of wind velocity to takeoff or landing speed.
The effect of proper takeoff speed is especially important when runway lengths and takeoff distances are critical. The takeoff speeds specified in the AFM/POH are generally the minimum safe speeds at which the aircraft can become airborne. Any attempt to take off below the recommended speed means that the aircraft could stall, be difficult to control, or have a very low initial ROC. In some cases, an excessive AOA may not allow the aircraft to climb out of ground effect. On the other hand, an excessive airspeed at takeoff may improve the initial ROC and “feel” of the aircraft but produces an undesirable increase in takeoff distance. Assuming that the acceleration is essentially unaffected, the takeoff distance varies with the square of the takeoff velocity.
Thus, ten percent excess airspeed would increase the takeoff distance 21 percent. In most critical takeoff conditions, such an increase in takeoff distance would be prohibitive, and the pilot must adhere to the recommended takeoff speeds.
The effect of pressure altitude and ambient temperature is to define the density altitude and its effect on takeoff performance. While subsequent corrections are appropriate for the effect of temperature on certain items of powerplant performance, density altitude defines specific effects on takeoff performance. An increase in density altitude can produce a twofold effect on takeoff performance:
- Greater takeoff speed
- Decreased thrust and reduced net accelerating force
If an aircraft of given weight and configuration is operated at greater heights above standard sea level, the aircraft requires the same dynamic pressure to become airborne at the takeoff lift coefficient. Thus, the aircraft at altitude takes off at the same indicated airspeed (IAS) as at sea level, but because of the reduced air density, the TAS is greater.
The effect of density altitude on powerplant thrust depends much on the type of powerplant. An increase in altitude above standard sea level brings an immediate decrease in power output for the unsupercharged reciprocating engine. However, an increase in altitude above standard sea level does not cause a decrease in power output for the supercharged reciprocating engine until the altitude exceeds the critical operating altitude. For those powerplants that experience a decay in thrust with an increase in altitude, the effect on the net accelerating force and acceleration rate can be approximated by assuming a direct variation with density. Actually, this assumed variation would closely approximate the effect on aircraft with high thrust-to-weight ratios.
Proper accounting of pressure altitude and temperature is mandatory for accurate prediction of takeoff roll distance. The most critical conditions of takeoff performance are the result of some combination of high gross weight, altitude, temperature, and unfavorable wind. In all cases, the pilot must make an accurate prediction of takeoff distance from the performance data of the AFM/POH, regardless of the runway available, and strive for a polished, professional takeoff procedure.
In the prediction of takeoff distance from the AFM/POH data, the following primary considerations must be given:
- Pressure altitude and temperature—to define the effect of density altitude on distance
- Gross weight—a large effect on distance
- Wind—a large effect due to the wind or wind component along the runway
- Runway slope and condition—the effect of an incline and retarding effect of factors such as snow or ice
In many cases, the landing distance of an aircraft defines the runway requirements for flight operations. The minimum landing distance is obtained by landing at some minimum safe speed, that allows sufficient margin above stall and provides satisfactory control and capability for a go-around. Generally, the landing speed is some fixed percentage of the stall speed or minimum control speed for the aircraft in the landing configuration. As such, the landing is accomplished at some particular value of lift coefficient and AOA. The exact values depend on the aircraft characteristics but, once defined, the values are independent of weight, altitude, and wind.
To obtain minimum landing distance at the specified landing speed, the forces that act on the aircraft must provide maximum deceleration during the landing roll. The forces acting on the aircraft during the landing roll may require various procedures to maintain landing deceleration at the peak value.
A distinction should be made between the procedures for minimum landing distance and an ordinary landing roll with considerable excess runway available. Minimum landing distance is obtained by creating a continuous peak deceleration of the aircraft; that is, extensive use of the brakes for maximum deceleration. On the other hand, an ordinary landing roll with considerable excess runway may allow extensive use of aerodynamic drag to minimize wear and tear on the tires and brakes. If aerodynamic drag is sufficient to cause deceleration, it can be used in deference to the brakes in the early stages of the landing roll (i.e., brakes and tires suffer from continuous hard use, but aircraft aerodynamic drag is free and does not wear out with use). The use of aerodynamic drag is applicable only for deceleration to 60 or 70 percent of the touchdown speed. At speeds less than 60 to 70 percent of the touchdown speed, aerodynamic drag is so slight as to be of little use, and braking must be utilized to produce continued deceleration. Since the objective during the landing roll is to decelerate, the powerplant thrust should be the smallest possible positive value (or largest possible negative value in the case of thrust reversers).
In addition to the important factors of proper procedures, many other variables affect the landing performance. Any item that alters the landing speed or deceleration rate during the landing roll affects the landing distance.
The effect of gross weight on landing distance is one of the principal items determining the landing distance. One effect of an increased gross weight is that a greater speed is required to support the aircraft at the landing AOA and lift coefficient. For an example of the effect of a change in gross weight, a 21 percent increase in landing weight requires a ten percent increase in landing speed to support the greater weight.
When minimum landing distances are considered, braking friction forces predominate during the landing roll and, for the majority of aircraft configurations, braking friction is the main source of deceleration.
The minimum landing distance varies in direct proportion to the gross weight. For example, a ten percent increase in gross weight at landing would cause a:
- Five percent increase in landing velocity
- Ten percent increase in landing distance
A contingency of this is the relationship between weight and braking friction force.
The effect of wind on landing distance is large and deserves proper consideration when predicting landing distance. Since the aircraft lands at a particular airspeed independent of the wind, the principal effect of wind on landing distance is the change in the groundspeed at which the aircraft touches down. The effect of wind on deceleration during the landing is identical to the effect on acceleration during the takeoff.
The effect of pressure altitude and ambient temperature is to define density altitude and its effect on landing performance. An increase in density altitude increases the landing speed but does not alter the net retarding force. Thus, the aircraft at altitude lands at the same IAS as at sea level but, because of the reduced density, the TAS is greater. Since the aircraft lands at altitude with the same weight and dynamic pressure, the drag and braking friction throughout the landing roll have the same values as at sea level. As long as the condition is within the capability of the brakes, the net retarding force is unchanged, and the deceleration is the same as with the landing at sea level. Since an increase in altitude does not alter deceleration, the effect of density altitude on landing distance is due to the greater TAS.
The minimum landing distance at 5,000 feet is 16 percent greater than the minimum landing distance at sea level. The approximate increase in landing distance with altitude is approximately three and one-half percent for each 1,000 feet of altitude. Proper accounting of density altitude is necessary to accurately predict landing distance.
The effect of proper landing speed is important when runway lengths and landing distances are critical. The landing speeds specified in the AFM/POH are generally the minimum safe speeds at which the aircraft can be landed. Any attempt to land at below the specified speed may mean that the aircraft may stall, be difficult to control, or develop high rates of descent. On the other hand, an excessive speed at landing may improve the controllability slightly (especially in crosswinds) but causes an undesirable increase in landing distance.
A ten percent excess landing speed causes at least a 21 percent increase in landing distance. The excess speed places a greater working load on the brakes because of the additional kinetic energy to be dissipated. Also, the additional speed causes increased drag and lift in the normal ground attitude, and the increased lift reduces the normal force on the braking surfaces. The deceleration during this range of speed immediately after touchdown may suffer, and it is more probable for a tire to be blown out from braking at this point.
The most critical conditions of landing performance are combinations of high gross weight, high density altitude, and unfavorable wind. These conditions produce the greatest required landing distances and critical levels of energy dissipation on the brakes. In all cases, it is necessary to make an accurate prediction of minimum landing distance to compare with the available runway. A polished, professional landing procedure is necessary because the landing phase of flight accounts for more pilot-caused aircraft accidents than any other single phase of flight.
In the prediction of minimum landing distance from the AFM/POH data, the following considerations must be given:
- Pressure altitude and temperature—to define the effect of density altitude
- Gross weight—which defines the CAS for landing
- Wind—a large effect due to wind or wind component along the runway
- Runway slope and condition—relatively small correction for ordinary values of runway slope, but a significant effect of snow, ice, or soft ground
A tail wind of ten knots increases the landing distance by about 21 percent. An increase of landing speed by ten percent increases the landing distance by 20 percent. Hydroplaning makes braking ineffective until a decrease of speed that can be determined by using Figure 4.
For instance, a pilot is downwind for runway 18, and the tower asks if runway 27 could be accepted. There is a light rain and the winds are out of the east at ten knots. The pilot accepts because he or she is approaching the extended centerline of runway 27. The turn is tight and the pilot must descend (dive) to get to runway 27. After becoming aligned with the runway and at 50 feet AGL, the pilot is already 1,000 feet down the 3,500 feet runway. The airspeed is still high by about ten percent (should be at 70 knots and is at about 80 knots). The wind of ten knots is blowing from behind.
First, the airspeed being high by about ten percent (80 knots versus 70 knots), as presented in the performance article, results in a 20 percent increase in the landing distance. In performance planning, the pilot determined that at 70 knots the distance would be 1,600 feet. However, now it is increased by 20 percent and the required distance is now 1,920 feet.
The newly revised landing distance of 1,920 feet is also affected by the wind. In looking at Figure 5, the affect of the wind is an additional 20 percent for every ten miles per hour (mph) in wind. This is computed not on the original estimate but on the estimate based upon the increased airspeed. Now the landing distance is increased by another 320 feet for a total requirement of 2,240 feet to land the airplane after reaching 50 feet AGL.
That is the original estimate of 1,600 under planned conditions plus the additional 640 feet for excess speed and the tailwind. Given the pilot overshot the threshhold by 1,000 feet, the total length required is 3,240 on a 3,500 foot runway; 260 feet to spare. But this is in a perfect environment. Most pilots become fearful as the end of the runway is facing them just ahead. A typical pilot reaction is to brake—and brake hard. Because the aircraft does not have antilock braking features like a car, the brakes lock, and the aircraft hydroplanes on the wet surface of the runway until decreasing to a speed of about 54 knots (the square root of the tire pressure (√36) × 9). Braking is ineffective when hydroplaning.
The 260 feet that a pilot might feel is left over has long since evaporated as the aircraft hydroplaned the first 300–500 feet when the brakes locked. This is an example of a true story, but one which only changes from year to year because of new participants and aircraft with different N-numbers.
In this example, the pilot actually made many bad decisions. Bad decisions, when combined, have a synergy greater than the individual errors. Therefore, the corrective actions become larger and larger until correction is almost impossible. Aeronautical decision-making is discussed more fully in Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM).