Training Tip: Fixed standards, variable conditions

July 25, 2013

Checkride day is coming. Today’s prep session will focus on takeoffs and landings, especially on planning how you will perform the assigned technique given this particular runway and today’s conditions.

That’s essential prep. Although the practical test standards define acceptable performance, every runway, and every set of weather conditions, shapes what’s required to achieve it. How you incorporate that reality into your demonstration will speak volumes about your abilities—and judgment.

Your instructor is playing the role of designated examiner for this rehearsal, saying little but observing closely as you taxi to the runway of the nontowered airport to demonstrate a soft-field takeoff.  

It was a wise first step to review the departure process before engine start. The taxi route crosses another runway, requiring care and vigilance. And the takeoff will call for some very specific decisions.

Given today’s surface winds, you will take off from 3,200-foot-long Runway 22, which has a displaced threshold and a stand of high trees off the departure end. Also, the other runway intersects it at the approximate point where you will become airborne—something not to overlook when complying with the requirement to use “procedures before taxiing onto the runway or takeoff area to ensure runway incursion avoidance.” (In other words, don’t just verify “no aircraft on final” on the “active” runway. Give the other runway’s traffic pattern equal scrutiny, even if the common traffic advisory frequency is silent.)

As you complete your pre-takeoff checklist, your “examiner” speaks up, asking whether you can use the portion of the runway “behind” the displaced threshold for takeoff.

Don’t let the question distract you! At a logical stopping point in your checklist review, explain that “the portion of runway behind a displaced threshold is available for takeoffs in either direction and landings from the opposite direction.”

It’s a hot day with high density altitude, so those high trees off the departure end are a factor in your planning. For the best safety margin, you have decided that after liftoff at the lowest possible airspeed, as required, you will accelerate to Vx, best-angle-of-climb speed, and maintain it to a safe maneuvering altitude.

A soft-field takeoff under other conditions or from another airport would likely raise a completely different set of considerations for your planning. Soon you will demonstrate to a real designated examiner that you can make the right calls in every instance.