The Most Common Take-off Mistakes Pilots Make

take-off mistakes

How do you find your take-offs? Is it something you mastered straight away, or do you consider it the necessary evil you must endure in order to endure flying.

It’s common to assume that most pilots struggle more with landings than take-offs, but getting airborne isn’t always straightforward, and many of us can be making simple mistakes which are hindering the aircraft’s performance.

This isn’t always an issues – especially if you have a big, long runway at your disposal. But there are times when these take-off mistakes could cause you a bigger problem.

These are the most common take-off mistakes pilots make:


Engaging the brakes

Starting your take-off run with your feet resting on the brake pedals is a bad idea, yet surprisingly common.

It’s easy to understand – after all, aircraft pedals are a confusing set of devices, and it’s easy to add pressure to one inadvertently.

It’s also easy for your passenger to do this if they haven’t been briefed in keeping their feet off the pedals.

On a big runway, you’ll wear your brakes out and have along take-off run. However, on a short runway you may find yourself running out of space with a sluggish acceleration.

Make it part of your take-off routine to check your heels are on the floor and no-one is touching the brakes.


Not aligning the compass

In most cases this isn’t going to kill you, but it’s bad form not to ensure that your aircraft compass and directional indicator are properly aligned before take-off.

A good time to do it is when lining up on the runway. The numbers are usually written on the tarmac in front of you and hard to miss, so glance up and check your instruments cross-check with this.

You’ll save yourself from making costly navigational errors, or even taking off on the wrong runway.


Not ensuring temperatures and pressures are fine

Your temperatures and pressures, or T’s and P’s show the health of your aircraft and should be taken seriously at all times.

You should have checked them after starting the engine, and during your power checks. However, you should also check them on your take-off run to ensure they are ‘in the green’ and not indicating any problems which could see an engine failure after take-off or some issue with the fuel system.

It is always better to know about these things on the ground!


Taking off with a tailwind

A common one for pilots flying out of uncontrolled airfields.

Taking off with a tailwind is one of those risks pilots take when you have a sloping runway, as sometimes the benefits of gravity often outweigh the direction of the wind. And if it’s worked every other time, it’ll be fine this time, right?

Aircraft have a hard time getting airborne with a tailwind above a certain strength, and its performance once in the air is often below ideal.

With a tailwind you can often find it difficult to maintain a positive rate of climb, and thus clear obstacles beyond the runway.

Be sure to check your aircraft’s pilot operating handbook (POH) for its notes on maximum tailwinds for take-off.

[Read our guide: Tips on Taking Off With a Tailwind]



Not checking your controls

This one is often a fatal mistake when it happens.

Part of your pre-flight and pre-take-off checklists is to check that your controls are free and moving fully. You should also visually check this by looking at the ailerons and (if you can see it) elevator to check their movement corresponds to yours.

Failing to do this check will not throw up any issues until you reach take-off speed, at which point it’s often too late to correct a sudden gust of wind or constantly climbing nose.

Here’s a video to demonstrate what can happen when your controls are locked on take-off:

Make sure this is not you!




Matt Falcus is a private pilot and aviation writer. He has been flying since 2006, taking the opportunity whenever the British weather allows to explore the local area and other airfields. He is author of a number of aviation books.

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5 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    What about not enough right rudder to counter the left nose turning tendencies on take off? After many years of not flying as a student pilot, I had an introductory flight. While I taxied ok, at full power on takeoff I ended up all over the place trying to correct the yaw with the right rudder. The instructor had not reminded me of adverse yaw. He took over the controls and I was reminded yet again, of the basic lesson. Control yaw on take off with right rudder.

  2. Steven says:

    Hi all, great advice all, seems funny this mail came today as was my first take off today did three in total all went well, also starting to get to grips with circuits, feel really proud as last lesson did not go so well, but keeping with it, Regards Steven

  3. janet says:

    As a new student becoming a pilot what is the most should i considerate to focus to learn.

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