Wake turbulence avoidance

2 min read

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:

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7 replies
  1. Richard G says:

    Don’t for get helicopters… they may look small, but will flip you faster than a 757. The test pilot for testing the S76 vortex actually had to stop the test they were so bad. If you fly into the vortex of an S76 helicopter, I hope your will is up to date.

    • Rich R says:

      Amen. Watched a 172 takeoff from the same area an SH-3 was doing steep arrivals/departures…172 got rolled at least 90 aob at about 50′, they recovered upright, came back around landed and taxied back to ramp for a change of underwear.

  2. Steve says:

    Landing behind a larger airplane is not clear. Aft means behind. Do you mean Forward of the larger planes touchdown point? That would make more sense to me.

  3. Scrum says:

    Above you mention landing “aft” of where a heavy aircraft touches down when landing behind those larger aircraft. Did you mean to say “forward” of the heavy aircraft’s touchdown point, or perhaps “after” the heavy aircraft’s touchdown point, where in either case the vortices are no longer prevalent? The video graphic looks correct, but the use of the word “aft” might just be a misspeak, or word-smithing by an editor not familiar with the topic. Regardless, fantastic, to-the-point article with awesome visualizations David, thanks!

  4. George Bachich says:

    I like the animations, which really help drive home the points made. However, the article neglects to mention that the wind may be blowing the wake turbulence toward you, making it unsafe to use the larger plane’s actual point of rotation or point of nose wheel touchdown as your reference point. For instance, if you take off or land one minute behind the larger plane in a 10 knot wind, your safe touchdown or rotation point may have moved 1000 feet closer to you.
    Also, since the wind is almost never directly down the runway, it will probably be blowing the wake turbulence at least slightly to one side, making it safer to make your takeoff run or final approach and round out along the upwind edge of the runway, rather than along the centerline. This is especially important if the wake turbulence is being blown along the runway toward your liftoff or touchdown point, making it more difficult for you to know exactly where the turbulence is at the moment.

  5. Robert E Fishman says:

    When landing behind another aircraft you want to touchdown farther down the runway than they did since his vortices will cease after touchdown. The diagram you show looks ok, but the text says you should touch down aft of his touchdown point. You should touch down forward of where they did!

  6. Robert E Fishman says:

    AIM 7-4-6b2: Landing behind a larger aircraft- same runway. Stay at or above the larger aircraft’s final approach flight path-note its touchdown point-land beyond it.
    You text says land aft of where the larger aircraft touches down.

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