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Feature: The Hazards of Takeoff

Ever since aviation began, as far back as the early 1900s, there have been accidents and incidents of some description. Lessons have and will be learnt because these kind of events will never be eliminated completely, only possibly reduced. Day by day, air travel is getting safer, but when things go wrong it is at a high cost. We take for granted the safety of the airliners we fly on, forgetting the possible problems that may occur before or after the aircraft leaves the ground. This section explains what problems the flight crew or the aircraft can encounter on any such flight.  Here, a Training Captain on widebody twin-jets for a major British airline talks us through the hazards faced during an airliner take-off.

Thirteen Hazards on Take-Off


Airport Vehicles require clearance from the tower before approaching or crossing the runway, but at some airfields overseas this rule is not often adhered to.


At any airfield there is a slight danger that aircraft can land over the top of you as you line up ready for take-off. Air traffic control and the landing pilot should always have the situation under control, but a look along the final approach course before turning onto runway will reassure you there is no danger.


Most modern runways are well drained, but some large puddles can develop. These puddles and slush conditions inhibit the wheels as they roll down the runway, causing a loss of performance.


With modern aircraft this is less of a problem, but in poor visiblility obstructions on the runway may not be seen until it is too late.


With a large aircraft, crosswinds present little problems in terms of keeping direction, but at the point of rotation it is easy to drop a wing slightly as the cross gust catches it.


A tireburst can cause a considerable tendancy to pull to one side and in the early stages of the take off run it is advisable to abandon. At higher speeds the abandonment becomes more dangerous than the tire problem, so its better to continue the run.


Single birdstrikes may render systems such as pitot tubes useless, or may obscure vision for one of the pilots, but for larger aircraft its more of a nuisance than a danger.


Rotating to the right climb angle is important straight after take-off. If the angle is too high the aircraft may not be able to cope adequately with the loss of lift from ground effect, flap retraction or more importantly the loss of an engine.


Climbing out at too low an angle after rotation can also prove dangerous. Flap retraction limiting speed may be exceeded quickly, but more of a danger is that the low climb out may put you on collision course with obsructions.


This is a danger throughout the whole flight profile, but at low altitude and in the proximity of airports the danger is increased.


Engine failure is the biggest worry on take-off; it can occur at any time. Slower than V1 you abandon the take-off, remembering you have reduced reverse thrust available to aid braking.


Thunderstorms are a real danger, and you would never fly straight into them. Windshear is another problem, when your headwind may suddenly drop and become a tailwind. An extreme case is the "microburst," where you encounter a mass of downward rushing air which forces your aircraft back into the ground.


There are many systems which can go wrong on take-off, and when you are notified of these by observation or warning lights you have to decide whether to proceed or abandon. Above 100 knots it is usual to continue take-off if the system failure is not major.

 Below are a few examples of major accidents that have happened after one of these unfortunate events have occured.


Engine Fire

Occasionally the hazards of take-off become tragically real. This British Airtours Boeing 737 suffered a port engine fire during the early part of its take-off run from Manchester, UK in 1985. 54 people died in the resulting cabin fire.


System Failure

The loss of the port engine on this American Airlines DC-10-10, on the 25/5/1979, caused the aircraft to crash into the ground after take-off due to the fact that vital indicators were disabled on the flight deck panel after electrical systems were ripped out after the impending engine loss, catching the crew unaware, by which time it was too late to save the aircraft .



Bad Weather

 This Pan Am Boeing 727 crashed on takeoff from New Orleans after encountering microburst induced windshear



A black headed gull weighing just 10 ounces caused the catastrophic damage to this Boeing 737 engine. Secondary damage caused by shedding turbine blades can involve the severing of vital hydraulic lines, puncturing and ignition of fuel supplies and the depressurisation of the aircraft.

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