Airplane Take Off Bumping

Q: Can you explain how a plane takes off and why it bumps, jigs and turns, sometimes at a high angle?

Interestingly, takeoff is the more critical point than landing. Here the airplane is making the transition from ground to flight, and its grip on the latter is much more tentative than during landing. The plane reaches a predetermined speed, based on weight. The point at which it reaches this speed depends on temperature and other factors. The pilots then rotate the aircraft to a specific angle and begin the climb. All of this, from the rotation point to the thrust setting to be used, is calculated beforehand. After breaking ground, the pilots follow a “profile” of speeds and altitudes at which they retract the landing gear, flaps, slats, reduce or increase climb angle, etc., all while turning to assigned headings or fixes and climbing to assigned altitudes. It is probably the busiest portion of any flight.

If it seems that takeoffs from certain airports are unusually hectic, it is probably because the plane is following noise-abatement procedures on behalf of residents below. These can change the departure profiles somewhat, and usually require lower-altitude turns or steeper climbs. You are more prone to feel turns and jigs because more you are climbing, close to the ground, at high power settings. The sensations tend to be exaggerated.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004″ by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.