Short Field Takeoff

Departing from a short field is an important skill for any pilot. There is a standard procedure to follow and plenty of factors to consider.

The procedure to depart from a short field can be found in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the aircraft. However, it will go something like the following for most light aircraft.

Begin by making sure that the aircraft is capable of taking off by using the performance charts for your plane. 

Before takeoff your flaps to the recommended setting for a short field departure. In Cessnas it is usually with the first notch of flaps. In Piper Cherokee models it is usually with the second notch. As usual, consult the POH for this information.

Then taxi onto the runway and line up as close to the end of the runway as possible, so that you have the maximum amount of available runway in front of you. Runway behind you doesn’t help you take off.

Once you are lined up with the runway hold your brakes and slowly run the engine up to full power. Look at your engine instruments. Is your engine producing full power?  Is your oil pressure and temperature ok? Are your magnetos set to both? Is the carb heat off?

Once you are satisfied that your engine is running at full power release the brakes.

As the plane accelerates watch that the airspeed is moving. You must have an abort plan. This can be as simple as a place on the runway where you will abort the takeoff if your airspeed indicator has not yet reached the desired speed. There must be enough room for you to stop in order for this to work.

As you are rolling you should have just a slight amount of back pressure. You want the nose to be light but you don’t want to lift the nose until the appropriate time. Lifting the nose too early will increase drag on the plane and friction on the main wheels.

Rotate at the recommended speed or at Vx if no speed is recommended. After the plane leaves the ground keep the speed pinned at Vx until you are above any obstacles. Make sure that most of your focus is outside and you are just glancing at the airspeed.

Once you are clear of obstacles reduce your backpressure so that you are climbing less and picking up for speed. Once the speed reaches either Vy or a speed recommended in the POH then you can retract the flaps and continue to climb at Vy.

That’s it. Maintaining the appropriate airspeed is the hard part, but once you master it you can safely depart from a short field.