Poor Thrust Fallback on Takeoff

Q: My least favorite part of flying is takeoff. Then, during early climb, the engine thrust is suddenly cut and it feels like the plane is suddenly falling backwards. What is happening here? It seems like a poor time to ease back on thrust.

As I’ve mentioned, takeoff is the most precarious point of flight. More fingernails are chewed during landings, I suppose, but in deference to the laws of gravity and momentum, this anxiety is somewhat misplaced. If you insist on being nervous, liftoff is your moment. The airplane is making that transition from earth to sky, and its grip on the latter is tentative in those first few seconds. However, even a dying engine should not cause havoc here, as planes are certified for takeoff with a powerplant failing at the worst possible moment, but inherently it’s the most critical time.

But yes, engine thrust is routinely cut back during the initial climb. The amount used for takeoff itself is, in the interests of safety and performance, more than enough, and so it’s lessened once aloft to save wear on the engines. In any case it would be rather impractical to go climbing through ten thousand feet at takeoff thrust. The exact moment of the reduction depends on the airplane and the respective “profile” being flown. The plane is still climbing and is not decelerating nearly as much as it may feel.


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.