About twenty percent of all yearly general aviation (GA) accidents occur during takeoff and departure climbs, and more than half of those accidents are the result of some sort of failure of the pilot. A significant number of takeoff accidents are the result of loss of control of the airplane. When compared to the entire profile of a normal flight, this phase of a flight is relatively short, but the pilot workload is intense. This section discusses takeoffs and departure climbs in airplanes under normal conditions and under conditions that require maximum performance.

Though it may seem relatively simple, the takeoff often presents the most hazards of any part of a flight. The importance of thorough knowledge of procedures and techniques coupled with proficiency in performance cannot be overemphasized.

The discussion in this section is centered on airplanes with tricycle landing gear (nose-wheel). Procedures for conventional gear airplanes (tail-wheel) are discussed in section: Transition to Tailwheel Airplanes. The manufacturer’s recommended procedures pertaining to airplane configuration, airspeeds, and other information relevant to takeoffs and departure climbs in a specific make and model airplane are contained in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved Airplane Flight Manual and/or Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH) for that airplane. If any of the information in this section differs from the airplane manufacturer’s recommendations as contained in the AFM/POH, the airplane manufacturer’s recommendations take precedence.

Terms and Definitions

Although the takeoff and climb is one continuous maneuver, it will be divided into three separate steps for purposes of explanation: 1.) takeoff roll; 2.) lift-off; and 3.) initial climb after becoming airborne.

Airplane takeoff and climb three steps
Takeoff and climb

Refer to Figure and the detail below.

  • Takeoff roll (ground roll) is the portion of the takeoff procedure during which the airplane is accelerated from a standstill to an airspeed that provides sufficient lift for it to become airborne.
  • Lift-off is when the wings are lifting the weight of the airplane off the surface. In most airplanes, this is the result of the pilot rotating the nose up to increase the angle of attack (AOA).
  • The initial climb begins when the airplane leaves the surface and a climb pitch attitude has been established. Normally, it is considered complete when the airplane has reached a safe maneuvering altitude or an en route climb has been established.