The Takeoff Briefing

The Takeoff Briefing

The Takeoff Briefing

Think for a moment about everything you need to know or watch out for as you take off. Begin to list everything, and you’ll soon find the list is very long. How many different things do you need to consider before taking off? How can you make certain you don’t miss anything?

Everyone uses (or should use) checklists to ensure they have not forgotten anything prior to takeoff. Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) checklists cover the hardware considerations, that is, making certain everything is configured properly before beginning the takeoff roll. Professional flight crews also use a pre-takeoff briefing to cover the “software” considerations: the pilot decision-making process that accompanies takeoff. What are the unique hazards affecting takeoff? What performance expectations apply to this departure? How will you know if you’re not getting the performance you need? What are the routes and altitudes to get you from the airport into the en route structure? Under the specific current circumstances, what will you do in the event of an emergency?

I’ve tried for years to come up with a quick, concise pre-takeoff briefing. I queried friends in the airline, corporate and military to see what they used, in the hopes I could apply it to my flying. All of the pre-takeoff briefing checklists I found were highly complex, not the sort of thing I thought we could adapt for single-pilot training and encourage pilots to enthusiastically incorporate into their everyday flying. So how could I develop an easy, single-pilot friendly pre-takeoff briefing checklist?

Ask an Instructor

Or in this case, a room full of instructors. I could have come up with a checklist on my own, but I’d vastly prefer to have something that benefits from the input of many experienced instructor pilots. So, I put a breakout-group exercise, developing a pre-takeoff briefing checklist, on the agenda of the American Bonanza Society’s ABS Beechcraft Instructor Crosstalk last August. I challenged the instructors in breakout groups to create a pre-takeoff briefing checklist that is usable and concise—consisting of no more than seven checklist steps. Their faces told me they thought this would be a challenge indeed.

The result was a great discussion and a whiteboard full of suggestions for pre-takeoff decision verification. As a group, we looked at the common elements and narrowed it down not to seven, but four basic steps to a pre-takeoff briefing checklist we labeled the T-E-N-E (you might call it “teeny”) checklist.

Threats. What are the hazards you face for this specific takeoff? How will you manage these threats?

Expectations. What are your performance expec-tations? What techniques will you use to attain that performance? How will you judge whether you are achieving your expectations?

Normal departure procedures. What is the route and climb procedure you’ll use to get from the runway to the en route structure? What is your initial clearance? Is there an ODP (Obstacle Departure Procedure) or SID (Standard Instrument Departure) that apply, or has Air Traffic Control assigned a specific route or climb requirement?

Emergencies. What will you do in the event of an emergency or abnormality? Where will you go? What is the arrival procedure? How will you call it up on your GPS if needed? Have you briefed yourself on that procedure, have any required charts handy, and have the frequencies in the backup, ready to activate?

Obviously, there are a lot of decisions involved in the T-E-N-E checklist. You don’t have time to make them all at the hold line. The checklist does, however, give you a structure for considering all these items during your preflight planning and a format for quickly reviewing and reinforcing those decisions before you take off. The T-E-N-E checklist was exactly what I was looking for and now teach to instructors and pilots.

Santa Fe Departure

Let’s say I’m taking off in a Beechcraft Baron from Santa Fe, New Mexico for a trip home to Wichita. Skies are clear, and winds are light for departure, but there are low clouds partially obscuring the mountains east of the field on a direct route of flight. Before ever getting in the airplane, I consider all of these items:


> High-density altitude affecting takeoff distance and climb rate

• Mitigations: 

o Calculate takeoff speeds, distance and obstacle climb distance 

o Lean to Target EGT (~1300°F exhaust gas temperature) for maximum horsepower

o Use “50-70 Rule”: at 50 percent of the takeoff distance, the airspeed should be 70 percent of the liftoff speed

o Lower-than-normal pitch attitude for liftoff, VXME and VYME because of reduced thrust

 Airplane weight

• Mitigations:

o Calculate weight and balance

o Consider effect of weight and center of  gravity location on performance 

Slight crosswind

• Mitigation: Employ proper crosswind takeoff technique

High traffic

• Mitigations: 

o Follow procedures precisely to be predictable to ATC and other pilots

o Aviate, navigate, then communicate 

Possible interruptions to Before Takeoff checklist

• Mitigations:

o Use checklists carefully and re-confirm actions

o Make use of passenger as a cockpit resource to point out any missed items

High mountains just east of the airport

• Mitigations:

o File a route around mountains, not the “direct” route home that goes over mountains

o Consider wind flow, and stay on the upwind side of high terrain

IMC on the southeast and east sides of the mountains

• Mitigations:

o File IFR

o Remain on the ground until receiving an IFR release, instead of departing VFR to pick up a clearance in the busy airspace

Possible delay contacting Albuquerque Departure because of terrain at my climb rate

• Mitigations:

o Follow procedures precisely to be predictable to ATC and other pilots

o Aviate, navigate, then communicate. Don’t worry if it takes time to talk to Departure. I’ll be on aN IFR clearance even if I can’t talk right away 


Full throttle will be about 23 inches manifold pressure at this pressure altitude and 2700 rpm

>Fuel flow and EGT will be higher than optimum; lean to about 1300°F and crosscheck this is about 21 gallons per hour per side at the beginning of the takeoff roll

Takeoff roll is computed at 1,740 feet, obstacle clearance 2,690 feet

• I should lift off a little less than one-third of the way down the runway 

• I should be at 50 feet above the ground about halfway down the runway 

Takeoff speed 84 KIAS and initial climb speed is 91 KIAS

• I should be at about 60 KIAS at about 900 feet (approximately five runway stripes) down the runway

• I will reach my liftoff speed about 11 stripes down the runway

o Reduce the usual 12° up VXME attitude to 10° to compensate for reduced power

o Delay gear retraction beyond initial “positive rate” until confirming that the positive rate of climb is sustained (sometimes airplanes “settle” at high-density altitudes) 

Accelerate/stop distance is approximately 3,700 feet, leaving about 2,500 feet of runway remaining if I start my takeoff roll from the departure numbers

Cruise climb will initially be about 700 feet per minute with leaning to target EGT each 1,000 feet in the climb

Normal Departure

The Obstacle Departure Procedure for Runway 28 calls for a climbing left turn to the SAF VOR, then a climb in the published hold to MEA before departing en route

From there a left turn to the southeast takes me toward my first fix, around the southern edge of the obscured mountains

My filed altitude is 10,000 feet, which is the minimum obstacle clearance altitude along my direction of flight

Altitude and precise departure route may be modified by ATC


Power loss:


• Any failure to attain my target manifold pressure, RPM, fuel flow and/or EGT at the beginning of the takeoff roll, or any abnormal oil or electrical indication, calls for an immediate abort: reduce power and apply braking as necessary, then call the tower after I come to a stop

• Any failure to meet power or performance targets during the takeoff roll call for an abort: throttle to idle, braking as necessary, and call the tower after I stop

• Any failure to maintain power targets after takeoff, including total engine failure: 

o PUSH the nose down to maintain VYSE and HOLD wings level with coordinated rudder

o Climb straight ahead to pattern altitude (7,500  MSL) if possible before returning for a visual landing

o Turn slightly to the left if necessary to the area a Google Maps view shows to be open and relatively clear of obstacles

o Call tower and declare an emergency when time permits 

o If unable to climb, treat as a total engine failure

Total engine failure:


• PUSH the nose down to the VYSE attitude and HOLD wings and rudder in the zero sideslip positions

• Identify, verify and feather the failed engine

• Best-case, single climb rate will be approximately 200 feet per minute straight ahead in zero-sideslip flight

• Turn slightly to the left if necessary to the area a Google Maps view shows to be open and relatively clear of obstacles

• Call tower and declare an emergency when time permits 

• If unable to climb or if unable to maintain directional control, pull BOTH throttles to idle, lower the nose to a normal landing attitude and make an off-airport landing 

Any abnormal condition requiring a return to the runway (door open, electrical failure, etc.):


o Climb to pattern altitude before making any turns

o Coordinate with tower for a normal, visual landing

o Employ high-density altitude landing techniques

That’s a lot to consider – and every bit of it potentially vital to a safe takeoff. Consciously thinking about it as you plan your departure, however, makes it possible to quickly make most of the decisions before you’re actually flying the airplane, and to review all this information in an abbreviated fashion just before taking off:

THREATS: “I’m making a high-density altitude takeoff in a fairly heavy airplane in a high traffic area. I’ve confirmed all checklist items are complete. I have a slight crosswind from the right.”

EXPECTATIONS: “I’ll attain about 23 inches manifold pressure at full throttle and lean to approximately 1300°F EGT. I should be at 60 knots at five stripes down the runway and lift off about 11 stripes down the runway.” Brief any front-seat passenger to count runway stripes aloud during your takeoff roll to help evaluate takeoff performance. “At liftoff I’ll raise the nose to 10° up for VXME at first, then 5° up for VYSE. I’ll delay gear retraction until I confirm a sustained positive rate of climb.” 

NOTE: An alternate method is to estimate your liftoff spot using references off the left side of the runway, where you can see it during liftoff, and then a second reference about halfway to that spot. This works on contaminated or unpaved runways as well, which are often short runways when you need to know this information the most. You may even have to pace off this distance before you get into the airplane—you need to select these references with some degree of accuracy. 

NORMAL: “After reaching 400 AGL, turn southeast toward the VOR and climb to 11,000 feet unless directed otherwise. On course is southeast from the VOR once reaching 11,000 feet. Alternately, if conditions permit, request ATC for a visual climb, assuming obstacle clearance responsibility myself. If granted, turn left toward my first fix while climbing to 11,000 feet. The hold at SAF has an inbound course of 334° and an outbound heading of 154°. Hold entry will be by teardrop with an initial heading of 120°.”

EMERGENCIES: “Any failure to meet power targets on the runway: abort. Any power loss in the air: PUSH and HOLD; if able to climb, climb straight ahead to 7,500 feet and return to land. If unable to climb or a total engine power failure, PUSH attitude and HOLD heading, identify and verify the failed engine and feather its propeller, climb to at least 7,500 feet before making all but very small changes in heading, and aim slightly left if needed for an off-airport landing. Best-case, single climb rate will be approximately 200 feet per minute straight ahead in zero-sideslip flight. If I need to return for any other reason climb straight ahead to 7,500 feet and contact the tower.”

Remember this “teeny” pre-takeoff checklist—Threats, Expectations, Normal departure and Emergencies, and incorporate it in your preflight planning. Then review your decisions in a pre-takeoff briefing just before you pull onto the runway. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s a great last-minute reminder of the many decisions you make preparing for every takeoff. 


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