How to fly the perfect short field takeoff and climb

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As part of your preflight preparation, you should always consult the POH/AFM performance charts to determine the airplane performance is acceptable for a safe takeoff and climb for the conditions and location. Often the performance that is stated in these publications is based on a short-field, maxium performance technique to achieve the best performance numbers.  But remember high density altitude reduces performance and therefore increases takeoff rolls, and degrades climb performance.

All pre-takeoff checklist items should be completed before taxiing onto the runway for departure. All engine instruments should be checked for proper and usual indications, and all controls should be checked for free movement as you enter the departure runway. Just as in a normal takeoff scenario, consider what options exist if an engine failure or power loss occurs immediately after takeoff. These options should include the preferred direction for any emergency turns back to the departure airport.


All engine instruments should be checked for proper and usual indications, and all controls should be checked for free movement as you enter the departure runway.

The goal while operating from a short field or where obstacles exist in the departure path is to achieve the shortest ground roll and the steepest angle of climb. In order to achieve this, you should know in advance from the aircraft performance charts, what minimum power to expect from the aircraft as well as appropriate flap settings. The aircraft should be positioned for takeoff to take advantage of all usable takeoff area – even if this requires a short back taxi.

Once in position and any crosswind corrections noted, takeoff power should be applied smoothly and continuously while holding the brakes until the maximum obtainable engine power. Once the brakes are released as the airplane accelerates, adjust the airplane’s pitch to attain minimum drag and maximum acceleration. As YOU reach the recommended roation speed, apply back-elevator pressure until reaching the appropriate Vx attitude to ensure a smooth and firm lift-off. Since the airplane accelerates more rapidly after lift-off, additional backelevator pressure may be needed to hold a constant airspeed.

short field takeoff

It’s important to note that you should never attempt to pull the airplane off the ground prematurely, or to climb too steeply, which could result in the airplane settling back to the runway or stalling.

Maintain a wings-level climb at Vx until all obstacles have been cleared, or if no obstacles are present, until reaching an altitude of at least 50 feet above the ground. The landing gear and flaps should also remain in takeoff position until the airplane is clear of obstacles. After clearning obstacles, lower the pitch attitude slightly, retract flaps slowly to avoid settling, and raise the landing gear.  Continue the climb at Vy for better visibility and efficiency until departing the traffic pattern.

Steps to execute the short field takeoff and climb:

1. Ensure that the Before Takeoff Checklist has been completed.

2. Set flaps as appropriate – ensure that flaps come down equally.

3. Ensure that the items on the Line-up Checklist have been completed and/or reviewed.

4. Taxi the aircraft into position, centered on the runway with the nosewheel straight, as close to the approach end as possible.Hold the brakes, preventing any movement of the aircraft.

5. Smoothly and positively apply full power. Keep a hand on the throttle in the event an abort becomes necessary.Check engine instruments Release the brakes and apply slight forward pressure on the yoke, allowing the aircraft to accelerate as quickly as possible. Check airspeed indicator (“airspeed alive”).

6. Rotate at Vlof, then establish Vx pitch attitude.Once the aircraft lifts off, establish a wind correction angle to maintain the runway centerline with level wings.

8. Maintain Vx or manufacturer’s recommended airspeed until clear of obstacles and at least 50 feet above the surface.

9. After clearing obstacles, establish VY pitch attitude. Maintain a ground track along the runway and extended centerline with coordinated use of rudder and aileron.Retract flaps after clearing all obstacles and establishing the recommended airspeed, climb out at Vy.

10. Establish cruise climb above a minimum safe altitude (500-1000’ AGL).

Eric Radtke
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