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Training Tip: Mind the stripeTraining Tip: Mind the stripe

A pilot has completed pre-takeoff checks and is taxiing onto the runway for takeoff. Rushing after a late start, and preoccupied with announcing the departure on the common traffic advisory frequency, he never quite positions the aircraft over the runway centerline before advancing the throttle.

The runway centerline is a key resource for staying safe during takeoffs and landing.

Inattentive footwork that fails to correct the single-engine trainer’s tendency to veer left from the addition of power now makes a bad situation worse.

By the time the airplane’s track along the runway has been corrected, the airplane is well to the left of the runway centerline—much closer than necessary to the tree-covered hills bordering the runway.

Add to this sloppy scenario a failure to correct for a crosswind from the right after liftoff, and a controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT) accident seems likely in short order.

Don’t think that this tenuous type of takeoff is uncommon. Pilots who as trainees didn’t develop the habit of rigorously steering the airplane along the centerline stripe have been known to disregard the idea until someone, or something, reminds them to “taxi into the takeoff position and align the airplane on the runway centerline/takeoff path,” and “maintain directional control and proper wind drift correction throughout the takeoff and climb” as mandated by the airman certification standards for a private pilot certificate.

With any luck it is an instructor’s critique, not a CFIT mishap, that provides the reminder. Even pilots who always try to adhere to those standards are at risk of becoming sloppy if they fly mostly from long, paved runways unencumbered by obstructions.

Pilots’ destinations, however, won’t be so forgiving. Many localities pilots like to explore present challenges that only a precise, error-free arrival and departure can safely meet. This requires you to divide your attention between directional control, a maximum-performance landing or takeoff, and yes, crosswinds.

For example, consider arriving and departing from North Fox Island Airstrip, a recreational airfield on an island in Lake Michigan. Note the cautions—displaced thresholds, trees, wind—contained in this airport-specific safety briefing offered for general reference by backcountry flying specialists.

The day a pilot heads out to such a place is the wrong time to get refocused on making precisely executed takeoffs. However, a pilot who practices to airman certification standards on every takeoff from every runway, long or short, wide or narrow, is armed with the best insurance policy you can buy: skill.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Training, Student
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