Pilots of single-engine airplanes are already familiar with many performance “V” speeds and their definitions. Twin-engine airplanes have several additional V-speeds unique to OEI operation. These speeds are differentiated by the notation “SE” for single engine. A review of some key V-speeds and several new V-speeds unique to twin-engine airplanes are listed below.

  • VR —rotation speed—speed at which back pressure is applied to rotate the airplane to a takeoff attitude.
  • VLOF —lift-off speed—speed at which the airplane leaves the surface. (Note: Some manufacturers reference takeoff performance data to VR, others to VLOF.)
  • VX —best angle of climb speed—speed at which the airplane gains the greatest altitude for a given distance of forward travel.
  • VXSE —best angle-of-climb speed with OEI.
  • VY —best rate of climb speed—speed at which the airplane gains the most altitude for a given unit of time.
  • VYSE —best rate of climb speed with OEI. Marked with a blue radial line on most airspeed indicators. Above the single-engine absolute ceiling, VYSE yields the minimum rate of sink.
  • VSSE —safe, intentional OEI speed—originally known as safe single-engine speed. It is the minimum speed to intentionally render the critical engine inoperative.
  • VREF —reference landing speed—an airspeed used for final approach, which is normally 1.3 times VSO, the stall speed in the landing configuration. The pilot may adjust the approach speed for winds and gusty conditions by using VREF plus an additional number of units (e.g.,VREF+5).
  • VMC —currently defined in 14 CFR part 23, section 23.2135(c) as the calibrated airspeed at which, following the sudden critical loss of thrust, it is possible to maintain control of the airplane. VMC is typically marked with a red radial line on most airspeed indicators [Figure]. VMC was previously defined in 14 CFR part 23, section 23.149 as the calibrated airspeed at which, when the critical engine is suddenly made inoperative, it is possible to maintain control of the airplane with that engine still inoperative, and thereafter maintain straight flight at the same speed with an angle of bank of not more than 5 degrees. This definition still applies to airplanes certified under that regulation. There is no requirement under either determination that the airplane be capable of climbing at this airspeed. VMC only addresses directional control. Further discussion of VMC as determined during airplane certification and demonstrated in pilot training follows in the Transition to Multiengine Airplanes section.
Transition to Multiengine Airplanes
Airspeed indicator markings for a multiengine airplane
Unless otherwise noted, when V-speeds are given in the AFM/POH, they apply to sea level, standard day conditions at maximum takeoff weight. Performance speeds vary with aircraft weight, configuration, and atmospheric conditions. The speeds may be stated in statute miles per hour (mph) or knots (kt), and they may be given as calibrated airspeeds (CAS) or indicated airspeeds (IAS). As a general rule, the newer AFM/POHs show V-speeds in knots indicated airspeed (KIAS). Some V-speeds are also stated in knots calibrated airspeed (KCAS) to meet certain regulatory requirements. Whenever available, pilots should operate the airplane from published indicated airspeeds.

Rate of climb is the altitude gain per unit of time, while climb gradient is the actual measure of altitude gained per 100 feet of horizontal travel, expressed as a percentage. An altitude gain of 1.5 feet per 100 feet of travel (or 15 feet per 1,000 or 150 feet per 10,000) is a climb gradient of 1.5 percent.There is a dramatic performance loss associated with the loss of an engine, particularly just after takeoff. Any airplane’s climb performance is a function of thrust horsepower, which is in excess of that required for level flight. In a hypothetical twin with each engine producing 200 thrust horsepower, assume that the total level flight thrust horsepower required is 175. In this situation, the airplane would ordinarily have a reserve of 225 thrust horsepower available for climb. Loss of one engine would leave only 25 (200 minus 175) thrust horsepower available for climb, a drastic reduction.The performance characteristics of an airplane depend upon the rules in effect during type certification and do not depend on the production year after certification. The current amendment to 14 CFR part 23, 81 FR 96689, went into effect on December 30, 2016. This includes certification of normal category airplanes with passenger seating configuration of 19 or less and a maximum certificated takeoff weight of 19,000 pounds or less (section 23.2005(a)). Current 14 CFR part 23 certification rules (section 23.2005(b)) classify airplanes into certification levels 1 through 4 based on maximum passenger seating configuration. For example, a level 2 airplane has a passenger seating configuration between two and six passengers. The rule further divides airplanes into two different performance levels based on speed (section 23.2005(c)). After a critical loss of thrust, a level 2 low speed airplane (VNO or VMO less than or equal to 250 knots calibrated airspeed and MMO less than or equal to 0.6) that does not meet single-engine crashworthiness requirements requires a climb gradient of at least 1.5 percent at a pressure altitude of 5,000 feet in the cruise configuration for certification (section 23.2120(b)(1)).

While, the various subsets of airplanes receiving certification under the current part 23 meet specific single-engine climb performance criteria as listed in 14 CFR part 23, section 23.2120(b), the historical 14 CFR part 23 single-engine climb performance requirements for reciprocating engine-powered multiengine airplanes are broken down as follows:

  • More than 6,000 pounds maximum weight and/or VSO more than 61 knots: the single-engine rate of climb in feet per minute (fpm) at 5,000 feet mean sea level (MSL) must be equal to at least 0.027 VSO 2. For airplanes type certificated February 4, 1991, or thereafter, the climb requirement is expressed in terms of a climb gradient, 1.5 percent. The climb gradient is not a direct equivalent of the .027 VSO 2 formula. Do not confuse the date of type certification with the airplane’s model year. The type certification basis of many multiengine airplanes dates back to the Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) 3.
  • 6,000 pounds or less maximum weight and VSO 61 knots or less: the single-engine rate of climb at 5,000 feet MSL must simply be determined. The rate of climb could be a negative number. There is no requirement for a single-engine positive rate of climb at 5,000 feet or any other altitude. For light-twins type certificated February 4, 1991, or thereafter, the single-engine climb gradient (positive or negative) is simply determined.