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A bad mix: distractions during take-offs


Things can, and do, go wrong during and just before or after take-off. Most of the take-off problems that occur are due to a lack of planning or distraction.

An Aviat/Christen A1C 200, was departing an airport and when 10-15 feet off the ground, the aircraft caught a strong gust of wind and the pilot lost control and the aircraft came to rest inverted approximately 50 feet from the edge of the runway. There were no injuries.

The pilot of a C-172 heard a loud bang during his take-off roll just prior to lift off. While looking around to see where the noise came from, the aircraft drifted to the left. The pilot felt he would be unable to keep the aircraft on the runway so he elected to abort the take-off. The aircraft left the runway to the left and nosed over in the grass.

A Cessna 150 aircraft was taking off from a private grass strip on a local flight with the pilot as the sole occupant. During the take-off roll, the aircraft rolled into thick wet grass. The aircraft continued the take-off and got airborne but was unable to climb to clear hydro wires at the end of the strip. The pilot attempted to fly under the wires but the vertical stabilizer contacted the lower wire and the aircraft descended, struck the ground and came to a stop in an inverted position. The pilot was able to exit the aircraft and received no injuries. The ELT did not activate but observers responded to the scene and contacted emergency services.

The window of a float equipped Cessna 185, opened during the take-off run. The pilot attempted to shut the window during the takeoff roll but realized the aircraft had departed the intended take-off path and chose to abort the takeoff. Upon reducing power, the aircraft nosed over and flipped on its back. The pilot evacuated the aircraft via the right passenger door and swam to shore. He was not injured and was rescued the next day when the aircraft became overdue. The aircraft was substantially damaged.

The Metro SA-227AC aircraft was departing on an IFR flight. FSS staff reported that the aircraft departed off of runway 35 (a paved 2,600 foot long runway), barely clearing the trees off the end of the runway. The flight crew seemed rushed in order to depart before a rain shower cell moved onto the airport and may have mistakenly departed off of runway 35 instead of runway 05 (a 5,000 foot long runway).

The CADORS report doesn’t say if the pilot knew about the gusty winds. If we do know the wind is gusty, it is wise to quickly get an extra 10 knots or so of airspeed before we start to climb. The gust could actually be a sudden decrease in wind which may result in a stall. It doesn’t say if the pilot was taking off from a sheltered area. The wind above the trees may have been from a different direction and at a different speed than the pilot was expecting. A sudden tail wind when just clearing the trees can also result in a stall.

The loud bang the C-172 pilot heard was the popping of an asphalt bubble as an aircraft tire rolled over it. The distraction of his attention was enough to allow the aircraft to drift to the side of the runway. Any distraction during the take-off can result in an accident. Diagnosing or trying to fix a problem during the take-off is not wise. If an unusual event occurs, we must decide to abort the take-off or continue the take-off very quickly. This decision will depend on the amount of runway remaining and the airspeed. Our situational awareness should keep us aware of both. If the decision is to continue the take-off, a climb to at least 400 feet should be made before trying to diagnose the problem. Most commercial operators require a climb to 400 feet and then deal with the difficulty only if it is a critical emergency. A climb should be made to 1,000 feet before looking into the difficulty if it is non-critical.

The float equipped C-185 was similarly distracted during the take-off by the open window. He picked a bad time to close it. An open window is not an emergency. Abort the take-off, fly a circuit and land to take care of it or climb to a safe altitude to close it.

Any take-off with wires at the end of the strip as in the case of the C-150 take-off, should indicate some planning before takeoff. Anything that degrades the take-off roll in such a situation should cause a pilot to think about aborting the take-off. Thick or wet grass will result in a longer take-off roll. The combination will result in a significantly longer roll. We should always take care to determine the condition of any unpaved strip before departure.

The Metro crew are not the first pilots to mistakenly depart from a shorter runway than planned or cleared for. Rushing before flight or during taxi is never wise. Checks get forgotten, aircraft get taxied off taxi ways, taxiways get missed, hold lines get over-run, and the wrong runway may get used. We all get in a hurry at times. By slowing ourselves down and concentrating on the tasks at hand, we may actually save ourselves time, money and embarrassment. Many checklists have a before take-off check that requires pilots to ensure the compass is aligned with runway heading.

A few of the examples listed above were due to a lack of planning. Most, if not all, of the accidents or incidents listed above were or could have been the result of distractions. Distraction is the number one cause of forgetting things and for losing situational awareness. Either can lead to scaring yourself or to an accident. Flying is fun. Let’s keep it that way.

Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies medevacs from Victoria in a Lear 25. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.