Teaching and Learning Flying - Private Pilot, Single-Engine Airplane

Soft-Field Takeoff and Climb


    Soft-field takeoffs and climbs require operational techniques to get the airplane airborne as quickly as possible to eliminate drag due to grass, sand, mud, snow, etc., and/or minimize damage from rough surfaces


  • Review airplane performance
  • Do not attempt takeoff requiring performance beyond the capabilities of airplane or pilot
  • Visually CLEAR approach and departure paths
  • Care must be exercised immediately after airborne to avoid settling back to surface by releasing back pressure too much or by attempting to climb out of ground effect at an airspeed below VX


  • Private Pilot PTS, IV C
    • Explain elements, including significance of appropriate airspeeds and configurations, emergency procedures, and hazards associated with climbing at an airspeed less than VX
    • Select recommended flap setting
    • Taxi onto runway surface at a speed consistent with safety
    • Align the airplane with the takeoff path, without stopping and advance the throttle smoothly to maximum allowable power
    • Adjust and maintain a pitch attitude which transfers the weight from the wheels to the wings as rapidly as possible
    • Maintain directional control on centerline
    • Lift off at the lowest possible airspeed and remain in ground effect while accelerating
    • Accelerate to and maintain VX, +5, -0 knots, if obstructions must be cleared, otherwise to VY, +/- 5 knots
    • Retract flaps as recommended or at safe altitude
    • Retract gear after positive rate of climb established and safe landing can no longer be made on remaining runway
    • Maintain takeoff power to safe maneuvering altitude
    • Maintain straight track over extended runway centerline
    • Complete after-takeoff checklist
  • Commercial Pilot PTS, IV B, adds:
    • Adjust mixture control as recommended for conditions
    • Note any obstructions or other hazards in takeoff path and review takeoff performance
    • Check engine instruments


  • To develop the student's knowledge and skill in planning and performing safe soft-field takeoffs and climbs to meet the appropriate practical test standards
  • To provide thorough knowledge of takeoff and climb principles that will help prevent an attempt to takeoff under conditions requiring performance beyond the capability of airplane or pilot


  • Discuss elements of soft-field takeoff and climb
  • Demonstrate soft-field takeoff and climb
  • Factors related to the transfer of airplane weight from the landing gear to the wings as rapidly as possible
    • Establish and maintain relatively high angle of attack with back elevator pressure
    • Flaps
    • Taxi onto takeoff surface as fast as possible, consistent with safety, and keep moving
  • Review of wind conditions and takeoff surface
    • Determine, estimate wind
    • Consider walking over takeoff surface to look for hazards
  • Use of wing flaps
    • PA-38-112: 21°, first notch
    • TR182: 20°
    • Visually check flap extension
  • How to align the airplane with the takeoff path without stopping
    • Flaps, hold nose up and throttle forward to keep moving as fast as possible consistent with safety and surface while
    • Turning smoothly to align with takeoff path
  • Initial positioning of flight controls
    • Trim set for takeoff
    • PA-38-112: elevator tab slightly aft of neutral (depends on loading)
    • Ailerons full into any crosswind
    • Elevator back pressure to hold nose up
  • Power application
    • PA-38-112
      1. Fuel selector proper tank, Mix rich, Pump ON, Carb heat OFF
      2. Smooth application of full power
    • TR182
      1. Carb heat OFF, Mix RICH, Prop in high RPM
      2. Smooth throttle advance to 30-31" MP
      3. Check engine instruments
  • Directional control during acceleration on the surface
    • Align with centerline
    • Note heading and ground references
    • Control direction with rudder, heels on floor, off brakes
  • Crosswind control technique during acceleration on the surface
    • Gradual reduction of aileron pressure into wind
    • Downwind rudder
  • Lift-off attitude and airspeed
    • As elevator becomes effective, reduce back pressure somewhat to
    • Lift off in ground effect at slowest possible safe airspeed
  • Acceleration in ground effect to climb airspeed
    • Significant ground effect: < ½ wingspan from ground
    • Once airborne, "level off" by reducing pitch to about 5-10°
    • Hold airplane just off ground without climbing until
    • PA-38-112:
      1. VX = 61 KIAS until obstacle cleared
      2. Then accelerate to VY = 70 KIAS and
      3. Retract flaps slowly
    • TR182
      1. VX = 60 KIAS until obstacle cleared
      2. Apply brakes, retract gear after obstacle cleared
      3. To 70 KIAS
      4. Flaps up slow
  • Track during climb
    • Climb out along extended runway centerline
    • In crosswind, sideslip takeoff converted to crab into wind for climbout
  • Use of checklist
    • Pre-takeoff checklist
    • On takeoff note outside references, airspeed, power settings, engine instruments
    • Transition to cruise check
  • Coach student practice
  • Critique student performance


  • Improper initial positioning of flight controls or wing flaps
    • Elevator full aft
    • Aileron into wing
    • Flaps 20°
  • Hazards of allowing airplane to stop on the takeoff surface prior to initiating takeoff
      Airplane may bog down, sink, be difficult to get moving again with damage to gear
  • Improper power application
  • Inappropriate removal of hand from throttle
  • Poor directional control
    • Do not neglect crosswind correction
    • Proper initial alignment important as "light" nosewheel makes rudder less responsive
  • Improper use of brakes
      Usually not needed at for soft-field takeoff
  • Improper pitch attitude during lift-off
      Note that pitch adjustment during soft-field takeoff requires
      1. full aft elevator to
      2. reduced elevator back pressure during roll to
      3. slight further reduction in elevator back pressure after lift-off
  • Hazards of settling back to takeoff surface after becoming airborne
    • Nose wheel digging in (airplane may flip over)
    • Side loads on landing
    • Reduced takeoff performance
  • Failure to establish and maintain proper climb configuration and airspeed
    • Accelerate in ground effect to VX, obstacle, or VY, no obstacle
    • Above 100-200 AGL, over obstacles, climbing at VY, flaps up slow
    • Gear up over obstacles, out of runway
  • Drift during climb

Greg Gordon MD, CFII