Jet Airplane Takeoff and Climb

The following information is generic in nature and, since most civilian jet airplanes require a minimum flight crew of two pilots, assumes a two-pilot crew. If any of the following information conflicts with FAA-approved AFM procedures for a particular airplane, the AFM procedures take precedence. Also, if any of the following procedures differ from the FAA-approved procedures developed for use by a specific air operator and/or for use in an FAA-approved training center or pilot school curriculum, the FAA-approved procedures for that operator and/or training center/pilot school take precedence.


The following are speeds that affect the jet airplane’s takeoff performance. The jet airplane pilot should understand how to use these speeds when planning for takeoff.
  • VS —stalling speed or minimum steady flight speed at which the airplane is controllable.
  • V1 —critical engine failure speed or takeoff decision speed. It is the speed at which the pilot is to continue the takeoff in the event of an engine failure or other serious emergency. At speeds less than V1, it is considered safer to stop the aircraft within the accelerate-stop distance. It is also the minimum speed in the takeoff, following a failure of the critical engine at VEF, at which the pilot can continue the takeoff and achieve the required height above the takeoff surface within the takeoff distance.
  • VEF —speed used during certification at which the critical engine is assumed to fail.
  • VR —rotation speed, or speed at which the rotation of the airplane is initiated to takeoff attitude. This speed cannot be less than V1 or less than 1.05 × VMCA (minimum control speed in the air). On a single-engine takeoff, it also allows for the acceleration to V2 at the 35-foot height at the end of the runway.
  • VLOF —lift-off speed, or speed at which the airplane first becomes airborne. This is an engineering term used when the airplane is certificated to meet certain requirements. The pilot takes this speed into consideration if the AFM lists it.
  • V2 —takeoff safety speed, or a referenced airspeed obtained after lift-off at which the required one engine-inoperative climb performance can be achieved.

Takeoff Roll

After confirming the runway and position match expectations, the airplane should be aligned in the center of the runway. When runway length is limited, the brakes should be held while the thrust levers are brought to a power setting specified in the AFM and the engines allowed to stabilize. The engine instruments should be checked for proper operation before the brakes are released or the power increased further. This procedure assures symmetrical thrust during the takeoff roll and aids in prevention of overshooting the desired takeoff thrust setting. After brake release, the power levers should be set to the pre-computed takeoff power setting and takeoff thrust adjustments made prior to reaching 60 knots. The final engine power adjustments are normally made by the pilot not flying. Retarding a thrust lever would only be necessary in case an engine exceeds any limitation.

Takeoff data, including V1/VR and V2 speeds, takeoff power settings, and required field length should be computed prior to each takeoff. For any make and model without an FMS, the data should be recorded on a takeoff data card. This data is based on airplane weight, runway length available, runway gradient, field temperature, field barometric pressure, wind, icing conditions, and runway condition. Both pilots should review the takeoff data entered in an FMS or separately compute the takeoff data and cross-check with the takeoff data card. If takeoff plans change while taxiing, the pilot or crew should recalculate the takeoff data.

A captain’s briefing is an essential part of crew resource management (CRM) procedures and should be accomplished prior to takeoff. [Figure 1]

Jet Airplane Takeoff and Climb
Figure 1. Sample captain’s briefing

If sufficient runway length is available, a “rolling” takeoff may be made without stopping at the end of the runway. Using this procedure, as the airplane rolls onto the runway, the thrust levers should be smoothly advanced to the recommended intermediate power setting and the engines allowed to stabilize, and then proceed as in the static takeoff outlined above. Rolling takeoffs can also be made from the end of the runway by advancing the thrust levers from idle as the brakes are released.

During the takeoff roll, the pilot flying should concentrate on directional control of the airplane. This is made somewhat easier because there is no torque-produced yawing in a jet as there is in a propeller-driven airplane. The airplane should be maintained exactly on centerline with the wings level. This automatically aids the pilot when contending with an engine failure. If a crosswind exists, the wings should be kept level by displacing the control wheel into the crosswind. During the takeoff roll, the primary responsibility of the pilot not flying is to closely monitor the aircraft systems and to call out the proper V speeds as directed in the captain’s briefing.

Slight forward pressure should be held on the control column to keep the nose-wheel rolling firmly on the runway. If nose-wheel steering is being utilized, the pilot flying should monitor the nose-wheel steering to about 80 knots (or VMCG for the particular airplane) while the pilot not flying applies the forward pressure. After reaching VMCG, the pilot flying should bring his or her left hand up to the control wheel. The pilot’s other hand should be on the thrust levers until at least V1 speed is attained. Although the pilot not flying maintains a check on the engine instruments throughout the takeoff roll, the pilot flying (pilot-in-command) makes the decision to continue or reject a takeoff for any reason. A decision to reject a takeoff requires immediate retarding of thrust levers.

The takeoff and climb-out should be accomplished in accordance with a standard takeoff and departure profile developed for the particular make and model airplane. [Figure 2]

Jet Airplane Takeoff and Climb
Figure 2. Sample takeoff and departure profile

The pilot not flying should call out V1. After passing V1 speed on the takeoff roll, it is no longer mandatory for the pilot flying to keep a hand on the thrust levers. The point for abort has passed, and both hands may be placed on the control wheel. As the airspeed approaches VR, the control column should be moved to a neutral position. As the pre-computed VR speed is attained, the pilot not flying should make the appropriate call-out, and the pilot flying should smoothly rotate the airplane to the appropriate takeoff pitch attitude.

Rejected Takeoff

Every takeoff could potentially result in a rejected takeoff (RTO) for a variety of reasons: engine failure, fire or smoke, unsuspected equipment on the runway, bird strike, blown tires, direct instructions from the governing ATC authority, or recognition of a significant abnormality (split-airspeed indications, activation of a warning horn, etc.).

Ill-advised rejected takeoff decisions by flight crews and improper pilot technique during the execution of a rejected takeoff contribute to a majority of takeoff-related commercial aviation accidents worldwide. Statistically, although only 2 percent of rejected takeoffs are in this category, high-speed aborts above 120 knots account for the vast majority of RTO overrun accidents. A brief moment of indecision may mean the difference between running out of runway and coming to a safe halt after an aborted takeoff.

It is paramount to remember that FAA-approved takeoff data for any aircraft is based on aircraft performance demonstrated in ideal conditions, using a clean, dry runway, and maximum braking (reverse thrust is not used to compute stopping distance). In reality, stopping performance can be degraded by an array of factors as diversified as:
  • Reduced runway friction (grooved/non-grooved)
  • Mechanical runway contaminants (rubber, oily residue, debris)
  • Natural contaminants (standing water, snow, slush, ice, dust)
  • Wind direction and velocity
  • Low air density
  • Flap configuration
  • Bleed air configuration
  • Underinflated or failing tires
  • Penalizing MEL or CDL items
  • Deficient wheel brakes or RTO auto-brakes
  • Inoperative anti-skid
  • Pilot technique and individual proficiency

Taking pilot response times into account, the go/no-go decision should be made before V1 so that deceleration can begin no later than V1. If braking has not begun by V1, the decision to continue the takeoff is made by default. Delaying the RTO maneuver by just one second beyond V1 increases the speed 4 to 6 knots on average. Knowing that crews require 3 to 7 seconds to identify an impending RTO and execute the maneuver, it stands to reason that a decision should be made prior to V1 in order to ensure a successful outcome of the rejected takeoff. This prompted the FAA to expand on the regulatory definition of V1 and to introduce a couple of new terms through the publication of Advisory Circular (AC) 120-62, “Takeoff Safety Training Aid.”

The expanded definition of V1 is as follows:

a.) V1—the speed selected for each takeoff, based upon approved performance data and specified conditions, which represents:
  1. The maximum speed by which a rejected takeoff assures that a safe stop can be completed within the remaining runway or runway and stopway;
  2. The minimum speed which assures that a takeoff can be safely completed within the remaining runway, or runway and clearway, after failure of the most critical engine at the designated speed; and
  3. The single speed which permits a successful stop or continued takeoff when operating at the minimum allowable field length for a particular weight.

b.) Minimum V1—the minimum permissible V1 speed for the reference conditions from which the takeoff can be safely completed from a given runway, or runway and clearway, after the critical engine had failed at the designated speed.

c.) Maximum V1—the maximum possible V1 speed for the reference conditions at which a rejected takeoff can be initiated and the airplane stopped within the remaining runway, or runway and stopway.

d.) Reduced V1—a V1 less than maximum V1 or the normal V1, but more than the minimum V1, selected to reduce the RTO stopping distance required.

The main purpose for using a reduced V1 is to properly adjust the RTO stopping distance in light of the degraded stopping capability associated with wet or contaminated runways, while adding approximately 2 seconds of recognition time for the crew.

Most aircraft manufacturers recommend that operators identify a “low-speed” regime (i.e., 80 knots and below) and a “high-speed” regime (i.e., 100 knots and above) of the takeoff run. In the “low-speed” regime, pilots should abort takeoff for any malfunction or abnormality (actual or suspected). In the “high-speed” regime, takeoff should only be rejected because of catastrophic malfunctions or life-threatening situations. Pilots should weigh the threat against the risk of overshooting the runway during an RTO maneuver. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be tailored to include a speed call-out during the transition from low-speed to high-speed regime, the timing of which serves to remind pilots of the impending critical window of decision-making, to provide them with a last opportunity to crosscheck their instruments, to verify their airspeed, and to confirm that adequate takeoff thrust is set, while at the same time performing a pilot incapacitation check through the “challenge and response” ritual.

Brakes provide the most effective stopping force, but experience has shown that the initial tendency of a flight crew is to use normal after-landing braking during a rejected takeoff. Delaying the intervention of the primary deceleration force during an RTO maneuver, when every second counts, increases stopping distance. Instead of braking after the throttles are retarded and the spoilers are deployed (normal landing), pilots should apply maximum braking immediately while simultaneously retarding the throttles, with spoiler extension and thrust reverser deployment following in short sequence. Differential braking applied to maintain directional control also diminishes the effectiveness of the brakes. A blown tire will eliminate any kind of braking action on that particular tire, and could also lead to the failure of adjacent tires.

In order to better assist flight crews in making a split-second go/no-go decision during a high-speed takeoff run, and avoid an unnecessary high-speed RTO, some commercial aircraft manufacturers have gone as far as inhibiting aural or visual malfunction warnings of non-critical equipment beyond a preset speed. The purpose is to prevent an overreaction by the crew and a tendency to select a risky high-speed RTO maneuver over a safer takeoff with a non-critical malfunction. Indeed, the successful outcome of a rejected takeoff, one that concludes without damage or injury, may be influenced by equipment characteristics.

In summary, a rejected takeoff should be perceived as an emergency. RTO safety could be vastly improved by:
  • Developing SOPs aiming to advance the expanded FAA definitions of takeoff decision speed and their practical application, including the use of progressive callouts to identify transition from low-speed to high-speed regime.
  • Promoting recognition of emergency versus abnormal situations through enhanced CRM training.
  • Encouraging crews to carefully consider factors that may affect or even compromise available performance data.
  • Expanding practical training in the proper use of brakes, throttles, spoilers, and reverse thrust during RTO demonstrations.
  • Encouraging aircraft manufacturers to eliminate non-critical malfunction warnings during the takeoff roll at preset speeds.

Rotation and Lift-Off

Rotation and lift-off in a jet airplane requires planning, precision, and a fine control touch. The objective is to initiate the rotation to takeoff pitch attitude exactly at VR so that the airplane accelerates through VLOF and attains V2 speed at 35 feet AGL. Rotation to the proper takeoff attitude too soon may extend the takeoff roll or cause an early lift-off, which results in a lower rate of climb and a divergence from the predicted flightpath. A late rotation, on the other hand, results in a longer takeoff roll, exceeding V2 speed, and a takeoff and climb path below the predicted path.

Each airplane has its own specific takeoff pitch attitude that remains constant regardless of weight. The takeoff pitch attitude in a jet airplane is normally between 10° and 15° nose up. The rotation to takeoff pitch attitude should be made smoothly but deliberately and at a constant rate. Depending on the particular airplane, the pilot should plan on a rate of pitch attitude increase of approximately 2.5° to 3° per second.

In training, it is common for the pilot to overshoot VR and then overshoot V2 because the pilot not flying calls for rotation at or just past VR. The pilot flying may visually verify VR and then rotate late. If the airplane leaves the ground at or above V2, the excess airspeed may be of little concern on a normal takeoff. However, a delayed rotation can be critical when runway length or obstacle clearance is limited. On some airplanes, the rapidly increasing airspeed may cause the achieved flightpath to fall below the engine-out scheduled flightpath unless flying correct speeds. Rotation at the right speed and rate to the right attitude gets the airplane off the ground at the right speed and within the right distance.

Initial Climb

Once the proper pitch attitude is attained, the pilot should maintain it. Takeoff power is also maintained and the airspeed allowed to accelerate. Landing gear retraction should be accomplished after a positive rate of climb has been established and confirmed. In some airplanes gear retraction may temporarily increase the airplane drag while landing gear doors open. Premature gear retraction may cause the airplane to settle back toward the runway surface. In addition, the vertical speed indicator and the altimeter may not show a positive climb until the airplane is 35 to 50 feet above the runway due to ground effect.

The pilot should hold the climb pitch attitude as the airplane accelerates to flap retraction speed. However, the flaps should not be retracted until obstruction clearance altitude or 400 feet AGL has been passed. Ground effect and landing gear drag reduction result in rapid acceleration during this phase of the takeoff and climb. Airspeed, altitude, climb rate, attitude, and heading should be monitored carefully. As the airplane develops a steady climb, longitudinal stick forces can be trimmed out. If making a power reduction, the pilot should reduce the pitch attitude simultaneously if needed and monitor the airplane airspeed and rate of climb so as to preclude an inadvertent reduction in desired performance or a descent.

Speed is limited to 250 KIAS below 10,000 feet MSL in the United States unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator (14 CFR part 91, section 91.117(a)). At or above that altitude, the best rate of climb speed is published in the AFM. If asked to increase rate of climb, increasing pitch slightly will have the desired effect as airspeed bleeds off. If the airplane slows to L/DMAX, the airplane is at its best angle of climb speed, but the rate of climb is less than it was at best rate of climb speed. Trading airspeed for altitude and a temporary increased rate of climb is referred to as a “zoom climb.” This type of climb provides an increased rate of climb for a few thousand feet, but it ultimately reduces overall climb performance.

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