A Checklist, and More Concerns


While each pilot has to compile his or her own checklist for the go/no-go decision on a low-vis takeoff, heres a start:

– Is this trip really necessary?

– Is there an open takeoff alternate airport nearby?

– Does the takeoff alternate report weather at or above minimums?

– Have I practiced an ITO in the last month?

– Is there a qualified pilot in the other seat to help with the workload?

– Is the runway wide enough to provide some margin for poor directional control on the takeoff roll?

– What about obstacles, both to the sides of the runway and off the departure end?

– Is the airplane ready, with all instruments and equipment in good working order?

If I decide to make the takeoff, is it safer to do it on the gauges or eyes outside and transition after liftoff under the conditions Im facing? Why?

Its probably wise to keep in mind that pilots who are looking at a very low-vis departure when going about their livelihood as professionals under FAR Parts 135 and 121 may not be allowed to take off under the regs-and theyre the pilots who take recurrent training every six months. Are we willing to risk our passengers-who may be the most important people in our lives-under conditions where the airlines and charter operators wont fly? The answer may be yes, but I think we owe it to our passengers to honestly answer the question.

Im also concerned that we pilots may make a go decision based on the weather being just a little bit below published minimums. Sure, under Part 91 its legal for us to shoot the approach (not land), but, huh? Are we relying on some supernatural force to suddenly make the weather improve just as we arrive back at the airport? We may clap for Tinker Bell, but her record of getting the weather fairies to improve things for pilots who need it isnt all that good.

As part of my day job, I look at 100 or so GA accident reports a month. Invariably, there are from two to eight involving pilots who shot approaches in weather that was reported to be below minimums and crashed trying to get in.

So, presuming we havent talked you out of this, heres another checklist to help get you through it:

– Given the reduced/no visibility, are you sure youre lined up on the correct runway?

– Once taking the active, line up on centerline and allow the airplane roll forward a few feet to ensure the nose/tailwheel is properly aligned.

– Ensure all gyro instruments are spun up and the heading indicator is set, along with its heading bug, if any.

– Know what youll do if the takeoff must be aborted.

– Prepare for the left-turning tendency when the nosewheel lifts off.

– Know the pitch attitude for initial climb immediately after takeoff.

– Aggressively assure the airplane continues climbing, wings level and on heading, after liftoff.


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