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Training Tip: Control (of the roll) is the goalTraining Tip: Control (of the roll) is the goal

The snowstorm has passed; the long, paved runway is plowed; and it’s time to get back in the air. But take care—the snow is not finished shaping the airport environment.

Getty Images/iStockphoto.

It’s still breezy out there under the clear, bright sky. As you maneuver your trainer cautiously between the new snow piles lining the taxiway and enter the runway for takeoff, you observe that the runway ahead is streaked with snow that was blown across the pavement after the plowing operation concluded. Some of those packed snow obstacles appear several inches high.

For a student pilot working toward solo, the way you handle a takeoff under these unfamiliar seasonal conditions will speak volumes to your instructor about your progress. Elements of various takeoff techniques you have learned will apply, combined with your best demonstration of maintaining directional control.

As you enter the runway, give the pavement ahead some serious scrutiny. Are there icy areas along your takeoff-roll path that could make directional control challenging? Can you become airborne before reaching the streaks and drifts ahead?

Suppose there’s a bit of crosswind. Nothing you can’t handle on dry pavement, but when rolling across ice patches or snow, maintaining control is a more touchy proposition, and with the runway narrowed by piled-up snow—which may be obscuring markings you usually use as references—your margins are reduced.

About those streaks of snow ahead: Don’t just plow through them. Accident reports confirm that a well-packed drift is capable of redirecting an accelerating aircraft toward waiting snowbanks. You’ll be alert to the hazard when armed with real-time information from remarks in the airport’s most recent weather observation, such as these remarks recorded for a Maine airport after a December storm: “KBGR 191653Z 32017G24KT 10SM FEW075 M12/M19 A2989 RMK AO2 SLP126 PRESENT WX DRSN.” (The last part of the remarks translates to “present weather: drifting snow.”)

Having absorbed the information and completed takeoff prep, carefully line up for takeoff, selecting the path most free of ice and packed snow and deflecting ailerons into the crosswind.

Smoothly bring up the power. A modified soft-field takeoff may work best, but make sure your aircraft’s acceleration provides plenty of rudder authority to maintain direction without braking before you attempt to ascend from a snow-strewn surface.

To someone observing all this from the warmth of the airport breakfast place, an everyday aircraft is making a routine takeoff.

What they likely don’t grasp is that it takes fine work to make a tricky takeoff look like a piece of cake.

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: Takeoffs and Landings, Weather
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