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.

All FAA certificated jet airplanes are certificated under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 25, which contains the airworthiness standards for transport category airplanes. The FAA-certificated jet airplane is a highly sophisticated machine with proven levels of performance and guaranteed safety margins. The jet airplane’s performance and safety margins can only be realized, however, if the airplane is operated in strict compliance with the procedures and limitations contained in the FAA-approved AFM for the particular airplane. Furthermore, in accordance with 14 CFR part 91, section 91.213, a turbine powered airplane may not be operated with inoperable instruments or equipment installed unless an approved Minimum Equipment List (MEL) exists for that aircraft, and the aircraft is operated under all applicable conditions and limitations contained in the MEL.

Minimum Equipment List and Configuration Deviation List

The MEL serves as a reference guide for dispatchers and pilots to determine whether takeoff of an aircraft with inoperative instruments or equipment is authorized under the provisions of applicable regulatory requirements.

The operator’s MEL must be modeled after the FAA’s Master MEL for each type of aircraft and must be approved by the Administrator before its implementation. The MEL includes a “General Section,” comprised of definitions, general policies, as well as operational procedures for flight crews and maintenance personnel. Each aircraft component addressed in the MEL is listed in an alphabetical index for quick reference. A table of contents further divides the manual in different chapters, each numbered for its corresponding aircraft system designation (i.e., the electrical system, also designated as system number 24, would be found in chapter 24 of the MEL).

Maintenance may be deferred only on those aircraft systems and components cataloged in the approved MEL. If a malfunctioning or missing item is not specifically listed in the MEL inventory, takeoff is not authorized until the item is adequately repaired or replaced. In cases where repairs may temporarily be deferred, operation or dispatch of an aircraft whose systems have been impaired is often subject to limitations or other conditional requirements explicitly articulated in the MEL. Such conditional requirements may be of an operational nature, a mechanical nature, or both. Operational conditions generally include one or more of the following:
  • Limited use of aircraft systems
  • Downgraded instrument flight rule (IFR) landing minima
  • Fuel increases due to additional burn, required automatic power unit (APU) usage or potential fuel imbalance situations
  • Precautionary checks to be performed by the crew prior to departure, or special techniques to be applied while in flight
  • Weight penalties affecting takeoff, cruise, or landing performance (runway limit, climb limit, usable landing distance reduction, and VREF, takeoff V-speeds, N1/EPR adjustments)
  • Specific flight restrictions involving:
  • Authorized areas of operation (clearly defined geographical regions)
  • Type of operations (international, extended operations (ETOPS))
  • Altitude and airspace (reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM)
  • Minimum navigation performance specifications (MNPS)
  • Speed (knots indicated airspeed (KIAS) or Mach)
  • Routing options (extended overwater, reduced navigation capability, High Altitude Redesign navigation)
  • Environmental conditions (icing, thunderstorms, wind shear, daylight, visual meteorological conditions (VMC), turbulence index, cross-wind component)
  • Airport selection (runway surface, length, contamination, and availability of aircraft maintenance, Airport rescue and firefighting (ARFF) and ATC services)

Listed below are some examples of both operational and mechanical situations that may be encountered:
  • A defective Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) would require alternate procedures to be developed by the operator to mitigate the loss of the GPWS and would likely only allow continued operation for two days.
  • An inoperative air condition (A/C) pack might restrict a Super 80 or a Boeing 737 to a maximum operating altitude of flight level (FL)250, whereas as a Boeing 757 is only restricted to FL350.
  • An inoperative Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) will not affect the performance or flying characteristics of an aircraft, but it does prompt the operator to verify that ground air and electrical power is available for that particular type of aircraft at the designated destination and alternate airports.
  • A faulty fuel pump in the center tank may lower the Maximum Zero Fuel Weight (MZFW) by the amount of center tank fuel, as that fuel would otherwise be trapped and unusable should the remaining fuel pump fail while in flight. At the same time, the unavailability of center tank fuel unmistakably decreases the aircraft range while perhaps excluding it from operating too far off-shore.
  • An inoperable generator (IDG) may require the continuous operation of the APU as an alternate source of electrical power throughout the entire flight (and thus more fuel) as it is tasked with assuming the function of the defunct generator.
  • A failure of the Heads-up Display (HUD) or the auto-pilot may restrict the airplane to higher approach minima (taking it out of Category II or Category III authorizations)

Mechanical conditions outlined in the MEL may require precautionary pre-flight checks, partial repairs prior to departure, or the isolation of selected elements of the deficient aircraft system (or related interacting systems), as well as the securing of other system components to avoid further degradation of its operation in flight. The MEL may contain either a step-by-step description of required partial maintenance actions or a list of numerical references to the Maintenance Procedures Manual (MPM) where each corrective procedure is explained in detail. When procedures must be performed to ensure the aircraft can be safely operated, they are categorized as either Operations Procedures or Maintenance Procedures. The MEL will denote which by indicating an “O” or an “M” as appropriate.

If operational and mechanical conditions can be met, a placard is issued and an entry made in the aircraft MEL Deferral Record to authorize the operation for a limited time before more permanent repairs can be accomplished. The placard is affixed by maintenance personnel or the flight crew as appropriate onto the instrument or control mechanism that otherwise governs the operation of the defective device.

In order to use the MEL properly, it is important to clearly understand its purpose and the timing of its applicability. Because it is designed to provide guidance in determining whether a flight can be safely initiated with aircraft equipment that is deficient, inoperative, or missing, the MEL is only relevant while the aircraft is still on the ground awaiting departure or takeoff. It is essentially a dispatching reference tool used in support of all applicable Federal Aviation Regulations. If dispatchers are not required by the Operator’s certificate, flight crews still need to refer to the MEL before dispatching themselves and ensure that the flight is planned and conducted within the operating limits set forth in the MEL. However, once the aircraft is airborne, any mechanical failure should be addressed using the appropriate checklists and approved AFM, not the MEL. Although nothing could technically keep a pilot from referring to the MEL for background information and documentation to support his decisions, his actions must be based strictly on instructions provided by the AFM (i.e., Abnormal or Emergency sections).

A Configuration Deviation List (CDL) is used in the same manner as a MEL but it differs in that it addresses missing external parts of the aircraft rather than failing internal systems and their constituent parts. They typically include elements, such as service doors, power receptacle doors, slat track doors, landing gear doors, APU ram air doors, flaps fairings, nose wheel spray deflectors, position light lens covers, slat segment seals, static dischargers, etc. Each CDL item has a corresponding AFM number that identifies successively the system number, sub-system number, and item number. Flight limitations derived from open CDL items typically involve some kind of weight penalty and/or fuel tax due to increased drag and a net performance decrement, although some environmental restrictions may also be of concern in a few isolated cases. For example, a missing nose wheel spray deflector (Super 80 aircraft) requires dry runways for both takeoff and landing.

Each page of the MEL/CDL is divided into 6 columns. From left to right, these columns normally display the following information:
  • Functional description/identification of the inoperative or missing aircraft equipment item
  • Normal complement of equipment (number installed)
  • Minimum equipment required for departure (number of items)
  • Conditions required for flight/dispatch including maintenance action required (M) by mechanics or other authorized maintenance personnel and operational procedures or restrictions (O) to be observed by the flight crew

V-Speeds

The following are speeds that affect the jet airplane’s takeoff performance. The jet airplane pilot must be thoroughly familiar with each of these speeds and how they are used in the planning of the 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 at which the critical engine is assumed to fail during takeoff. This speed is used during aircraft certification.
  • 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 must also allow 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 and must meet certain requirements. If it is not listed in the AFM, it is within requirements and does not have to be taken into consideration by the pilot.
  • V2—takeoff safety speed means a referenced airspeed obtained after lift-off at which the required one-engine-inoperative climb performance can be achieved.

Pre-Takeoff Procedures

Takeoff data, including V1/VR and V2 speeds, takeoff power settings, and required field length should be computed prior to each takeoff and 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 separately compute the takeoff data and cross-check in the cockpit with the takeoff data card.

A captain’s briefing is an essential part of crew resource management (CRM) procedures and should be accomplished just prior to takeoff. [Figure 1] The captain’s briefing is an opportunity to review crew coordination procedures for takeoff, which is always the most critical portion of a flight.

Figure 1. Sample captain’s briefing

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]

Figure 2. Takeoff and departure profile

Takeoff Roll

The entire runway length should be available for takeoff, especially if the pre-calculated takeoff performance shows the airplane to be limited by runway length or obstacles. After taxing into position at the end of the runway, the airplane should be aligned in the center of the runway allowing equal distance on either side. 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. The brakes should then be released and, during the start of the takeoff roll, the thrust levers smoothly advanced to the pre-computed takeoff power setting. All final takeoff thrust adjustments should be made prior to reaching 60 knots. The final engine power adjustments are normally made by the pilot not flying. Once the thrust levers are set for takeoff power, they should not be readjusted after 60 knots. Retarding a thrust lever would only be necessary in case an engine exceeds any limitation, such as ITT, fan, or turbine rpm.

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 must 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 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 callout, 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. Four out of five rejected takeoffs occur at speeds below 80 knots and generally come to a safe and successful conclusion.

The kinetic energy of any aircraft (and thus the deceleration power required to stop it) increases with aircraft weight and the square of the aircraft speed. Therefore, an increase in weight has a lesser impact on kinetic energy than a proportional increase in groundspeed. A 10 percent increase in takeoff weight produces roughly a 10 percent increase in kinetic energy, while a 10 percent increase in speed results in a 21 percent increase in kinetic energy. Hence, it should be stressed during pilot training that time (delayed decision or reaction) equals higher speed (to the tune of at least 4 knots per second for most jets), and higher speed equals longer stopping distance. A couple of seconds can be the difference between running out of runway and coming to a safe halt. Because weight ceases to be a variable once the doors are closed, the throttles are pushed forward and the airplane is launching down the runway, all focus should be on timely recognition and speed control.

The decision to abort takeoff should not be attempted beyond the calculated V1, unless there is reason to suspect that the airplane’s ability to fly has been impaired or is threatened to cease shortly after takeoff (for example on-board fire, smoke, or identifiable toxic fumes). If a serious failure or malfunction occurs beyond takeoff decision speed (V1), but the airplane’s ability to fly is not in question, takeoff must generally continue.

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 further degraded by an array of factors as diversified as:
  • Runway friction (grooved/non-grooved)
  • Mechanical runway contaminants (rubber, oily residue, debris)
  • Natural contaminants (standing water, snow, slush, ice, dust)
  • Wind direction and velocity
  • Air density
  • Flaps 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

Because performance conditions used to determine V1 do not necessarily consider all variables of takeoff performance, operators and aircraft manufacturers generally agree that the term “takeoff decision speed” is ambiguous at best. By definition, it would suggest that the decision to abort or continue can be made upon reaching the calculated V1, and invariably result in a safe takeoff or RTO maneuver if initiated at that point in time. In fact, taking into account the pilots’ response time, the Go/No Go decision must 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 must be initiated to assure 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 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. That 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 must weigh the threat against the risk of overshooting the runway during a RTO maneuver. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should be tailored to include a speed callout 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. Ideally, two callouts would enhance a crew’s preparedness during takeoff operations. A first callout at the high end of the “low-speed” regime would announce the beginning of the transition from “low speed” to “high-speed,” alerting the crew that they have entered a short phase of extreme vigilance where the “Go/No Go” must imminently be decided. A second callout made at the beginning of the “high-speed” regime would signify the end of the transition, thus the end of the decision-making. Short of some catastrophic failure, the crew is then committed to continue the takeoff.

Proper use of brakes should be emphasized in training, as they have the most stopping power during a rejected takeoff. However, 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 a RTO maneuver, when every second counts, could be costly in terms of required stopping distance. Instead of braking after the throttles are retarded and the spoilers are deployed (normal landing), pilots must apply maximum braking immediately while simultaneously retarding the throttles, with spoilers extension and thrust reversers deployment following in short sequence. Differential braking applied to maintain directional control also diminishes the effectiveness of the brakes. And finally, not only does a blown tire eliminate any kind of braking action on that particular tire, but it could also lead to the failure of adjacent tires, and thus further impairing the airplane’s ability to stop.

In order to better assist flight crews in making a split second Go/No Go decision during a high speed takeoff run, and subsequently avoid an otherwise unnecessary but risky 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, does not necessarily point to the best decision-making by the flight crew.

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-to high-speed regime.
  • Promoting situational awareness and better recognition of emergency versus abnormal situations through enhanced CRM training.
  • Encouraging crews to carefully consider variables that may seriously affect or even compromise available aircraft 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 should be considered a maneuver unto itself. It 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 the predicted flightpath will not be followed. 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 reaction of the pilot flying is to visually verify VR and then rotate. The airplane then leaves the ground at or above V2. The excess airspeed may be of little concern on a normal takeoff, but a delayed rotation can be critical when runway length or obstacle clearance is limited. It should be remembered that on some airplanes, the all-engine takeoff can be more limiting than the engine-out takeoff in terms of obstacle clearance in the initial part of the climb-out. This is because of the rapidly increasing airspeed causing the achieved flightpath to fall below the engine out scheduled flightpath unless care is taken to fly the correct speeds. The transitioning pilot should remember that 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, it must be maintained. The initial climb after lift-off is done at this constant pitch attitude. Takeoff power is maintained and the airspeed allowed to accelerate. Landing gear retraction should be accomplished after a positive rate of climb has been established and confirmed. Remember that 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 towards the runway surface. Remember also that because of ground effect, the vertical speed indicator and the altimeter may not show a positive climb until the airplane is 35 to 50 feet above the runway.

The climb pitch attitude should continue to be held and the airplane allowed to accelerate 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 results in rapid acceleration during this phase of the takeoff and climb. Airspeed, altitude, climb rate, attitude, and heading must be monitored carefully. When the airplane settles down to a steady climb, longitudinal stick forces can be trimmed out. If a turn must be made during this phase of flight, no more than 15° to 20° of bank should be used. Because of spiral instability and, because at this point an accurate trim state on rudder and ailerons has not yet been achieved, the bank angle should be carefully monitored throughout the turn. If a power reduction must be made, pitch attitude should be reduced simultaneously and the airplane monitored carefully so as to preclude entry into an inadvertent descent. When the airplane has attained a steady climb at the appropriate en route climb speed, it can be trimmed about all axes and the autopilot engaged.

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