There’s an old saying: “Landings are mandatory; takeoffs are optional.” Like so many other phrases we hear in the pilot lounge, it’s cute while trying to be educational. Although I’ve had to abort a takeoff before, and demonstrated them many times when transitioning to various multi-engine airplanes, I’d never really understood the truth of the saying itself until the other day.
There was a strong wind that day, 16 knots, with gusts to 22. But it was right down the runway, so the only real challenge was getting into takeoff position. Taxiing on the ramp wasn’t difficult, but the long runway was in use, which means a lengthy taxi. Of course, with the wind right down the runway, using a parallel taxiway means a tailwind on the ground. Even at reduced power settings, the airplane can pick up momentum without notice, making directional control and braking greater challenges than normal.
So I was taxiing more carefully than normal, which required greater concentration. During this taxi, I kept reminding myself I needed to finish entering the flight plan into the avionics before takeoff. As I neared the end of the runway, I pulled off into the run-up block and held the brakes while programming the GPS and ran through my departure clearance.
Satisfied with my cockpit organization, I called ready for takeoff and was cleared to go. Because of the wind, I was very focused on maneuvering the airplane through the 180-degree turn it took to taxi from the run-up pad to the runway centerline, but I managed it without a problem. I went full-rich on the mixture and smoothly added full power. Maintaining directional control wasn’t a problem, and I reached for the prop control to ensure it was full forward, too.
Hmmm. It hadn’t been fully advanced. Easy fix, as the airplane accelerated. And got noisier. Waitasec. Is the door fully closed? I don’t want to fly this trip with the door not fully latched. Waitanothersec. If the prop wasn’t fully forward and the door wasn’t fully closed, did I perform the pre-takeoff checklist? No. I. Didn’t.
The ensuing abort on the runway was a no-brainer. In addition to the “takeoffs are optional” saying, another one is applicable here: “It’s better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.”
The lesson I learned is to not let abnormal conditions—wind, traffic, a nervous passenger—to distract during takeoff preparations. From now on, before taking the active, I’ll double-check that I’ve run through the checklist.
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