Competency in instrument takeoffs will provide the proficiency and confidence necessary for use of flight instruments during departures under conditions of low visibility, rain, low ceilings, or disorientation at night. A sudden rapid transition from “visual” to “instrument” flight can result in serious disorientation and control problems.

Instrument takeoff techniques vary with different types of airplanes, but the method described below is applicable whether the airplane is single- or multiengine; tricycle gear or conventional gear.

Align the airplane with the centerline of the runway with the nosewheel or tailwheel straight. Lock the tailwheel, if so equipped, and hold the brakes firmly to avoid creeping while preparing for takeoff. Set the heading indicator with the nose index on the 5 degree mark nearest the published runway heading to allow instant detection of slight changes in heading during the takeoff. Make certain that the instrument is uncaged (if it has a caging feature) by rotating the knob after uncaging and checking for constant heading indication. If using an electric heading indicator with a rotatable needle, rotate the needle so that it points to the nose position, under the top index. Advance the throttle to an rpm that will provide partial rudder control. Release the brakes, advancing the power smoothly to takeoff setting.

During the takeoff roll, hold the heading constant on the heading indicator by using the rudder. In multiengine, propeller-driven airplanes, also use differential throttle to maintain direction. The use of brakes should be avoided, except as a last resort, as it usually results in overcontrolling and extending the takeoff roll. Once the brakes are released, any deviation in heading must be corrected instantly.

As the airplane accelerates, cross-check both heading indicator and ASI rapidly. The attitude indicator may precess to a slight nose-up attitude. As flying speed is approached (approximately 15–25 knots below takeoff speed), smoothly apply elevator control for the desired takeoff attitude on the attitude indicator. This is approximately a two bar width climb indication for most small airplanes.Continue with a rapid cross-check of heading indicator and attitude indicator as the airplane leaves the ground. Do not pull it off; let it fly off while holding the selected attitude constant. Maintain pitch-and-bank control by referencing the attitude indicator, and make coordinated corrections in heading when indicated on the heading indicator. Crosscheck the altimeter and VSI for a positive rate of climb (steady clockwise rotation of the altimeter needle, and the VSI showing a stable rate of climb appropriate to the airplane).

When the altimeter shows a safe altitude (approximately 100 feet), raise the landing gear and flaps, maintaining attitude by referencing the attitude indicator. Because of control pressure changes during gear and flap operation, overcontrolling is likely unless the pilot notes pitch indications accurately and quickly. Trim off control pressures necessary to hold the stable climb attitude. Check the altimeter, VSI, and airspeed for a smooth acceleration to the predetermined climb speed (altimeter and airspeed increasing, vertical speed stable). At climb speed, reduce power to climb setting (unless full power is recommended for climb by the POH/AFM and trim).

Throughout the instrument takeoff, cross-check and interpretation must be rapid and control positive and smooth. During liftoff, gear and flap retraction, power reduction, and the changing control reactions demand rapid cross-check, adjustment of control pressures, and accurate trim changes.

Common Errors in Instrument Takeoffs

Common errors during the instrument takeoff include the following:

  1. Failure to perform an adequate flight deck check before the takeoff. Pilots have attempted instrument takeoffs with inoperative airspeed indicators (pitot tube obstructed), gyros caged, controls locked, and numerous other oversights due to haste or carelessness.
  2. Improper alignment on the runway. This may result from improper brake application, allowing the airplane to creep after alignment or from alignment with the nosewheel or tailwheel cocked. In any case, the result is a built-in directional control problem as the takeoff starts.
  3. Improper application of power. Abrupt application of power complicates directional control. Add power with a smooth, uninterrupted motion.
  4. Improper use of brakes. Incorrect seat or rudder pedal adjustment, with feet in an uncomfortable position, frequently cause inadvertent application of brakes and excessive heading changes.
  5. Overcontrolling rudder pedals. This fault may be caused by late recognition of heading changes, tension on the controls, misinterpretation of the heading indicator (and correcting in the wrong direction), failure to appreciate changing effectiveness of rudder control as the aircraft accelerates, and other factors. If heading changes are observed and corrected instantly with small movement of the rudder pedals, swerving tendencies can be reduced.
  6. Failure to maintain attitude after becoming airborne. If the pilot reacts to seat-of-the-pants sensations when the airplane lifts off, pitch control is guesswork. The pilot may either allow excessive pitch or apply excessive forward elevator pressure, depending on the reaction to trim changes.
  7. Inadequate cross-check. Fixations are likely during trim changes, attitude changes, gear and flap retractions, and power changes. Once an instrument or a control input is applied, continue the cross-check and note the effect during the next cross-check sequence.
  8. Inadequate interpretation of instruments. Failure to understand instrument indications immediately indicates that further study of the maneuver is necessary.