Discussion of performance and limitations requires the definition of the following terms.

  • Accelerate-stop distance is the runway length required to accelerate to a specified speed (either VR or VLOF, as specified by the manufacturer), experience an engine failure, and bring the airplane to a complete stop. [Figure 1A]
Performance and Limitations Multiengine Airplanes
Figure 1A. Accelerate-stop distance and accelerate-go distance
  • Accelerate-go distance is the horizontal distance required to continue the takeoff and climb to 50 feet, assuming an engine failure at VR or VLOF, as specified by the manufacturer. [Figure 1A]
  • Climb gradient is a slope most frequently expressed in terms of altitude gain per 100 feet of horizontal distance, whereupon it is stated as a percentage. A 1.5 percent climb gradient is an altitude gain of one and one-half feet per 100 feet of horizontal travel. Climb gradient may also be expressed as a function of altitude gain per nautical mile (NM), or as a ratio of the horizontal distance to the vertical distance (10:1, for example). [Figure 1B] Unlike rate of climb, climb gradient is affected by wind. Climb gradient is improved with a headwind component and reduced with a tailwind component.
Performance and Limitations Multiengine Airplanes
Figure 1B. Climb gradient
  • The all-engine service ceiling of multiengine airplanes is the highest altitude at which the airplane can maintain a steady rate of climb of 100 fpm with both engines operating. The airplane has reached its absolute ceiling when climb is no longer possible.
  • The single-engine service ceiling is reached when the multiengine airplane can no longer maintain a 50 fpm rate of climb with OEI, and its single-engine absolute ceiling when climb is no longer possible.

The takeoff in a multiengine airplane should be planned in sufficient detail so that the appropriate action is taken in the event of an engine failure. The pilot should be thoroughly familiar with the airplane’s performance capabilities and limitations in order to make an informed takeoff decision as part of the preflight planning. That decision should be reviewed as the last item of the “before takeoff” checklist.In the event of an engine failure shortly after takeoff, the decision is basically one of continuing flight or landing, even off-airport. If single-engine climb performance is adequate for continued flight, and the airplane has been promptly and correctly configured, the climb after takeoff may be continued. If single-engine climb performance is such that climb is unlikely or impossible, a landing has to be made in the most suitable area. To be avoided above all is attempting to continue flight when it is not within the airplane’s performance capability to do so. [Figure 2]

Performance and Limitations Multiengine Airplanes
Figure 2. Area of decision for engine failure after lift-off
Takeoff planning factors include weight and balance, airplane performance (both single and multiengine), runway length, slope and contamination, terrain and obstacles in the area, weather conditions, and pilot proficiency. Most multiengine airplanes have AFM/POH performance charts and the pilot should be proficient in their use. Prior to takeoff, the multiengine pilot should ensure that the weight and balance limitations have been observed, the runway length is adequate, and the normal flightpath clears obstacles and terrain. The pilot should also consider the appropriate actions expected in the event of an engine failure at any point during the takeoff.The regulations do not specifically require that the runway length be equal to or greater than the accelerate-stop distance. Most AFM/POHs publish accelerate-stop distances only as an advisory. It becomes a limitation only when published in the limitations section of the AFM/POH. Experienced multiengine pilots, however, recognize the safety margin of runway lengths in excess of the bare minimum required for normal takeoff, and they insist on runway lengths of at least accelerate-stop distance as a matter of safety and good operating practice.

The multiengine pilot considers that under ideal circumstances, the accelerate-go distance only brings the airplane to a point a mere 50 feet above the takeoff elevation. To achieve even this meager climb, the pilot had to instantaneously recognize and react to an unanticipated engine failure, retract the landing gear, identify and feather the correct engine, all the while maintaining precise airspeed control and bank angle as the airspeed is nursed to VYSE. Assuming flawless airmanship thus far, the airplane has now arrived at a point little more than one wingspan above the terrain, assuming it was absolutely level and without obstructions.For the purpose of illustration, with a near 150 fpm rate of climb at a 90-knot VYSE, it takes approximately 3 minutes to climb an additional 450 feet to reach 500 feet AGL. In doing so, the airplane has traveled an additional 5 NM beyond the original accelerate-go distance, with a climb gradient of about 1.6 percent. Any turn, such as to return to the airport, seriously degrades the already marginal climb performance of the airplane.

Not all multiengine airplanes have published accelerate-go distances in their AFM/POH and fewer still publish climb gradients. When such information is published, the figures have been determined under ideal flight testing conditions. It is unlikely that this performance is duplicated in service conditions.

The point of the previous discussion is to illustrate the marginal climb performance of a multiengine airplane that suffers an engine failure shortly after takeoff, even under ideal conditions. The prudent multiengine pilot should pick a decision point in the takeoff and climb sequence in advance. If an engine fails before this point, the takeoff should be rejected, even if airborne, for a landing on whatever runway or surface lies essentially ahead. If an engine fails after this point, the pilot should promptly execute the appropriate engine failure procedure and continue the climb, assuming the performance capability exists. As a general recommendation, if the landing gear has not been selected up, the takeoff should be rejected, even if airborne.

As a practical matter for planning purposes, the option of continuing the takeoff probably does not exist unless the published single-engine rate-of-climb performance is at least 100 to 200 fpm. Thermal turbulence, wind gusts, engine and propeller wear, or poor technique in airspeed, bank angle, and rudder control can easily negate even a 200 fpm rate of climb.A pre-takeoff safety brief clearly defines all pre-planned emergency actions to all crewmembers. Even if operating the aircraft alone, the pilot should review and be familiar with takeoff emergency considerations. Indecision at the moment an emergency occurs degrades reaction time and the ability to make a proper response.