U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


December 1999 




Thought for the month.....We all learn the rules. Experience teaches us the exceptions.

DON'T RUSH ME....Our anxiety level often tends to increase as we approach the takeoff point. Our flight planning and preparation has been directed to get to this point and now it's time to put it all together and launch ourselves into the air. Sometimes our haste to get airborne can impede our training and good sense and we allow ourselves to get rushed into the sky before we're really ready to be there. If things go well it's not usually a problem because we have time after takeoff to clean-up those items we may have neglected, such as setting the heading indicator, presetting the correct comm frequencies, or getting the nav radios properly dialed in. If things don't go well, those overlooked items could conspire to cause a relatively simple problem to become a fatal tragedy.

Part of risk management is knowing where the "crunch" times are and taking steps to shed some of the tasks that pile-up at those points. Takeoff is one of those times so to give ourselves a break we can employ some strategies to help cut down on the workload. At various times in my life I've had the job of flying "important" people. They're always in a hurry and there's always some member of their entourage who I'll call the "pushy" person. Their job is to keep things moving along so that the important person stays on schedule. They always seem to be in your face, and in a situation like this, it's easy to get pressured into throwing away the checklist and expediting the takeoff. The most obvious way to deal with the situation is to do a preflight run-up. Start and do all the first flight of the day checks and get everything ready to go so that when the boss arrives you can takeoff immediately, confident that all the systems have been checked and set.

Airplane pilots have been taught forever to do the run-up at the end of the runway. It's a good place to do it since there's usually not much around that will be affected by the prop wash. But, what happens if we're in the middle of the run-up and the sun is suddenly blotted out by the presence of someone's Falcon Jet taxiing up behind us? Or, we look back down the taxiway and see five aircraft coming our way. Are we still going to follow the checklist? How closely are we going to look when we check the mags? If we haven't set the nav radios yet, are we going to take the time? The people who are under the most pressure may be to ones least equipped to deal with it, like a student or someone who is unfamiliar with the airport and the area. There's a distinct possibility that if we showed up at the end of the runway at Lambert during the afternoon departure push and announced that we needed three minutes to do a run-up, someone might just make a comment that would cause an FCC rep. to blush. It's very likely we might skip things to prevent causing a delay.

Many times we become the pushy person I described earlier and put pressure on ourselves. Maybe the important person is a friend or relative we've promised to fly somewhere. Instead of having them follow us out to the hangar or tie down, we can direct the passengers to wait at the FBO office. That will give us the opportunity to do a good preflight inspection without being distracted from the task. After start-up, allow all the systems to come up to proper operating temperatures. Then, while taxiing to the FBO for the pick-up, find a place to do a thorough run-up so we're not rushed when we get to the runway for takeoff. We just have to review the before takeoff and line-up items and we're ready to depart. Just don't ruin a good plan by failing to shutdown for the passenger pick-up.

I'm certainly not implying that only GA pilots would succumb to the pressures of takeoff anxiety. The accident records contain many examples of professional pilots who abbreviated their procedures and got caught short with disastrous results. The challenge of getting an aircraft into the air safely and successfully doesn't lie in the physical skill required but in the mental processes, and that's true whether we operate a J-3 or the Space Shuttle.

Imagine a large invisible box that encloses the taxiways, the runway, and the departure path from the surface up to 1000 feet AGL. Think of it as a high risk zone. We know that operations in the box will contain a greater element of risk, and we can also consider it as a "crunch" area. Our job then, is to reduce as much as possible, the tasks we are required to attend to while in the box. Prior to entering the box we want to ensure that "killer" items have been checked. Killer items include things like fuel selectors, primers, mags, pressurization, oxygen, etc. Things that could kill us if they are not right. All nav equipment should be set and all comm radios preset before crossing the invisible line onto the movement area. If we know we're going to be under the gun down at the takeoff end of the runway, completing the run-up before entering the box will take a lot of the pressure off.

With the run-up completed and verified with the checklist, we're prepared to take the runway for departure. Sitting on the active, cleared for takeoff, is not the place to start messing with flap settings and doors and windows. Accomplish all but the very last required line-up checks prior to taxiing onto the departure runway. Physically look up along the approach path to ensure no one is on the final. Take all the runway available. The extra 10 feet might not seem important until it's necessary to abort. Turn ON the landing lights, the universal sign that the aircraft is on the active, verify the heading indicator and apply takeoff power. Be smooth but not slow with the power. The idea is to get up and out of the box as quickly as possible. Make sure the aircraft is tracking straight down the centerline then sneak a peek at the instruments. The airspeed should be alive and all the engine instruments should be indicating properly. If something doesn't feel right, sound right, or look right, reduce the power, exit the runway and get out of the box.

To some, these techniques may seem like exceptions to the way they learned to do things. But, exceptions are what experience teaches us.

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