The Right Way
It was a beautiful summer day and my wife, my son, and I were going to enjoy it to the fullest. We were flying to Madeline Island (4R5) in La Pointe, Wisconsin, for the day.
The field length at our home airport is 3,099 feet which, according to my POH, is well within the capabilities of our Cherokee 140 — as long as we use the recommended short-field takeoff technique.
So I lined us up at the end of the runway, added two notches of flaps, applied breaks, and powered-up. Once the power was at maximum I released brakes and we started rolling. I kept just enough back-pressure on the yoke to keep our nosewheel lightly on the ground.
My wife was sitting placidly next to me reading a crocheting magazine. Our son sat in the back playing on his video game player (I made a note to “forget” that at home next time).
We accelerated down the runway at breakneck speed as I confirmed oil pressure, airspeed, and power. OK, so maybe not at breakneck speed, but at as much acceleration as one can expect from a Cherokee 140 on an 85° day.
Halfway down the runway we had enough speed for me to ease us into ground effect. I held us there until we reached Vx.
I glanced up at the trees in front of us. A voice inside of me which, come to think of it sounded a lot like my CFI, said “don’t fixate on the trees, check your airspeed.”
Then I pitched for Vx and held it there — if we’re not going to clear the trees at Vx then we’re not going to clear the trees.
I glanced up again. “Don’t look at the trees, check your airspeed!” that voice said.
My wife looked absently out the side window.
And…we cleared those trees by 100 feet easily. I takeoff under these conditions regularly. But it has never become a routine.
The Wrong Way
It goes without saying that since I’m here writing this, this next takeoff didn’t go that badly. I’m sure that after reading this you’ll agree that this is not because of my good judgment or skill. Rather my survival is due to sheer luck.
Relying on luck is not conducive to a long life.
It was a beautiful summer day and my friend Cal wanted to go for an airplane ride in our flying club’s Piper Arrow. We also were taking his wife Kathy and her friend. Cal is no lightweight, and I’m really not either. But I ran the numbers and we were right at gross weight.
I notably did not run the numbers for take-off performance, but I knew it’d be close.
OK, stop. I knew it’d be close? What kind of idiot was I? I was putting my passengers and myself in great peril. I was a dad!
I knew it would be close, but I didn’t check the runway requirements? Was I really that stupid?
Yes, yes I was.
We lined up at the end of the runway. And when I say the end of the runway, I mean our tail was hanging out over the back end of it. I added two notches of flaps, applied brakes, prop forward, throttle forward, and released those brakes.
We just sat there for an instant. Did I mention this was a grass runway?
We gradually accelerated down the runway. I started thinking I should abort. But how would that look? Besides, this was an Arrow! It had 180 horses. And on we went.
About three quarters of the way down the runway I knew we were in trouble. My buddy Cal started tensing up.
“We’ll be fine,” I lied. I’m sure he heard the doubt in my voice.
When we got to the end of the runway we had enough airspeed to get us into ground effect, but not quite enough to climb. The barb-wire fence at the end of the runway was only about 4 feet high, but it got my attention. We cleared it by a few inches. I pulled back just enough to clear that fence and then lowered us back down to get a few more precious knots.
Had there been trees at the end of that runway we’d have certainly hit them.
There was a road — and had there been a semi going down that road we’d have hit that. We crossed over the road still in ground effect.
On the other side of the road there was a hill. Fortunately for us it went down and not up. Down to a lake. I raised our gear as we went down that hill and wondered if we’d mush into the water. Had there been a sail boat along our path…
As we flew out over the water we finally got up enough speed to achieve Vx. I eased the flaps up as we climbed out over the lake.
And as we climbed out my buddy’s wife said, “Hey Roland, that was fun, can we do that again?”
“No,” I said. And I never did.