Wake turbulence avoidance

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If you are like most students in the country, you are likely training at a smaller, pilot controlled (non-towered) airport. There are many benefits to training at these smaller airports such as reduced large aircraft traffic, but this benefit can also be a drawback when you consider the lack of wake turbulence avoidance practice.

When pilots think about wake turbulence avoidance procedures, they tend to focus on very large jet aircraft like a fully loaded 747 or large Airbus; however, when you are flying a Cessna 172 or Cherokee, “large” aircraft come in many sizes smaller than a 747.  Those larger aircraft still represent an issue to smaller training aircraft like the ones you are flying.  As a result, it is important to practice wake turbulence procedures anytime you are landing or taking off after a larger aircraft than what you’re flying.

Wake Turbulence Avoidance Procedures

While en route or flying near a large airplane in the terminal environment, avoid flying under the flight path as the wake vortices will sink below the flight path at a rate of 400-500 FPM:

Taking off behind a large airplane – rotate prior to the point at which the preceding aircraft rotated and make a turn into the wind if possible:

Landing behind a larger airplane – approach the runway above the preceding airplane’s path and touch down aft of the point where the other airplane’s wheels contacted the runway:

Landing behind a departing airplane –  touch down before the point where the other airplane lifted off:

Taking off or landing on an intersecting runway – plan to lift off or touchdown before the intersection of the departing plane rotates before the intersection:

Helicopter vortices should be avoided due to possible strong wake turbulence. Avoid flying closer than three diameters of a helicopter’s rotors when the helicopter is hovering.

If you are not following a larger aircraft, you can still practice these procedures to stay proficient when landing or taking off after another Cessna 172.  By staying proficient with wake turbulence avoidance, the next time you fly to a Class D or Class C airport and follow a Gulfstream or Airbus on takeoff/landing, you can feel confident that you will be taking the right steps to stay safe.


Learn more from Sporty’s 2023 Learn to Fly Course – Video Training and Test Prep: