In this AVweb video, Paul Bertorelli dissects two takeoff accidents—including the crash of his own Mooney—to highlight how to recognize and avoid the most dangerous takeoff mistakes.


  1. Great information, Paul. Another thing I have observed for years is Bonanza and Mooney guys like to make a flat climb in order to build max airspeed right after take off. With an engine failure that airspeed goes away fast. The higher the speed the faster it bleeds off. Doing a Max rate climb would seem to be smarter, altitude is time, high airspeed can be swapped for a tiny bit of altitude after which you need to really dump the nose.

    • Seagull, this is a heavily disputed opinion. Many feel the flat climb is safer, as:
      1. your visibility for avoiding traffic than when nose high at Vy
      2. a higher speed gives you a significantly longer time to “get the nose down” before you enter a stall/spin. The margins are much closer than when you are climbing at Vy. Doesn’t matter if you are 100′ higher if you enter that stall/spin
      3. the higher speed climbs are much easier on your engine’s long term health, as it keeps the CHT increase gradient shallower, and thus reduces engine wear. Healthier engines are much less likely to fail in the first place!
      You might want to look at Pelican’s Perch #4: Engine Failure!, here on AvWeb. The article deals with some of these issues (though a little bit “twin centric”)

      • Thanks for your comment. What you say is safe and true also, what I was getting at is that altitude gives you options ( time to decide) and airspeed bleeds off faster. The faster you are going the faster it bleeds. When you pull a fighter out of afterburner at Mach 2, the jolt is so intense that you are slammed against the shoulder harness. This is obviously the extreme high end. Whether you climb a bonanza at 150 or 100 kt you must learn to unload instantly in an engine failure. You can stall an airplane at any airspeed but you can’t stall at “0” G. I have tested this ancient theory in a T-38, B-52 at Max Gross Weight, and an F111 with double engine failure, and Upside down in an old worn out Taylorcraft (BC12D?) Maybe I was just lucky.

      • I am saddened that climbing at maximum puts you close to stall. I hope this isn’t a feature of most aircraft.

  2. Thank you Paul. Your delivery is so excellent – to the point, easy to understand and with examples that leave a lasting effect on the memory.

  3. Folks who won the law suit because they convinced the court that the mag
    Did the feds confirm that??
    Sounds like BS, but if not, what actually did happen? (to cause failure)

  4. Given a choice between a 100% crash outcome by landing fast and gear up Vs a possible go-around when the engine came back To life, any pilot would have taken the better chance of an emergency return to the field. That makes the decision of the intersection takeoff moot. And too much altitude after takeoff can be a huge problem if you return to the runway (with the wind) and needing to loose excess altitude too.

    • A huge problem?! How so?

      I would MUCH rather have too much altitude than not. If you know your aircraft, losing altitude isn’t a problem, especially in a single…but “extending the glide” usually results in bent metal at a minimum.

      • How so? Say you take off way back in the displaced threshold into a nice 15kt wind and climb to 1000ft. You loose the engine, pitch down, and make a beautiful teardrop turn back to the runway at a final altitude of 200 feet. THEN you are way too fast with the wind at your back and now with most of the runway now BEHIND YOU.

  5. Great video Paul. Thank you.
    I once saw a small plane takeoff at night in IMC at CLT airport from an intersection. At the intersection he turned the wrong way and took off going nose to nose with jets that were coming down the ILS in IMC. The tower was screaming. Cessna turn left 090 immediately. USAir XXX Go Around. It was scary. Maybe this is something else to think about with an intersection takeoff. Does my heading indicator verify I am taking off on the assigned runway.

  6. My first 35 hours were in a 65 hp Luscombe on floats. I was instructed to get up off the water, then put the nose down and stay in ground effect to build up airspeed/lift before resuming my climb. The procedure made sense but later drew quizzical looks when I moved to land-based aircraft. With plenty of power, a cool day and some flaps, this seemed unnecessary but making use of ground effect, especially on a short runway seems to make some sense.

  7. Paul, thanks again for what you do to promote aviation safety. I think you just saved a life or two with that video. Someone will see that video and have an engine failure on takeoff that will benefit from going through your teachings. 16 years ago I lost oil pressure in my Bonanza (ended up being due to a piston pin cap failure and subsequent effect on the engine driven fuel pump) followed by a thrown rod 1 minute later. I was 7 miles from an airport and 3500 AGL. I had just read an article in the ABS magazine about gear up landings and how they are a non-event in the Bonanza, and also what you said about the airplane being expendable and insured, and the goal not being to save the aircraft, but the passengers. I had time to prepare for the engine failure I knew was coming in a minute with loss of oil pressure. I also did not have to immediately push the nose over as I was in cruise. Immediately pitching down to the approximate best glide attitude from the initial climb attitude is so critical. Without practice, every instinct is to pull back to keep the ground away. Practicing repeatedly until that instinct is extinguished is life-saving.

  8. Thanks for another excellent video. I have a sense that “water in fuel” has become the default explanation for engine failure accidents and wonder whether you are convinced that it was the cause in the case of your Mooney I am scarred by the experience of having installed a factory overhaul A3B6 engine in my Mooney 2.5 years ago that has had two major failures of the FCU one year apart. Each resulted in an almost complete loss of power (but fortunately both events were on the ground). I wonder that, if either of them had happened in the air, the investigating authority would have automatically put it down to “suspected fuel contamination”?

    • Our accident was investigated by remote control–FAA, not NTSB. Which is to say it wasn’t investigated. I seem to recall an NTSB report on it, but I can’t find it now, after numerous searches. The insurance company sent a DAR to recover the airplane.

      He hauled it out of the swamp, rinsed it down and it started right up. A few months later, the airplane appeared on e-bay in pieces. An A&P had bought it for the engine, a relatively new factory rebuild. He said it ran fine with no problems, although there was a bunch of gunk in the injector unit.

    • The landing was classified as an incident and not an accident since there was no injury and the spar was fully intact. The fuel in the tanks was checked and there was no water found in the fuel tanks. When the engine stopped, it did not sputter or cough. It just stopped, just like if the mags were shutoff.

    • Paul/Dana,
      Thanks for that. Interesting – another “relatively new factory rebuild” and no compelling reason why the engine failed. The oddity about my engine is that, about six months after it was fitted, it developed a hot start problem. I’d pull up to refuel, go to do a hot start, the engine would cough but then no amount of trying would get it to fire until it had cooled for about 30 mins then it would start normally. The usual A&P response was “it must be your technique” until they got in and tried for themselves. We went through everything – injectors, electric pump, fuel selector, resealed all joints in fuel lines – to no avail. The FCU failure was something no-one had ever seen before where the mixture control linkage had disconnected inside the FCU. That was repaired but the hot start problem did not go away. A year later the FCU failed again – same problem. The second FCU repair shop noted that the return spring seemed weak and replaced it. I’ve been flying it for six months now and it now hot starts every time. One thing that I learned was that a “factory overhaul” does not mean that the engine accessories have been overhauled by the manufacturer. When I emailed Precision about the FCU they told me that they had not seen that FCU since it left the factory in 1989. I tell the story in case anyone else has similar issues with hot starts – beware that there may be an underlying issue with the FCU!

  9. I was working as a CFI at a small airport in Pennsylvania back in the late 80s. Our director of maintenance asked me to flight test a Saratoga SP after its annual. I did an extra-long runup to get air bubbles out of the injection system (5 minutes) and then blasted off. Halfway down the 3000 foot runway I rotated. As I was reaching for the gear lever the engine quit.

    I was pretty proficient at the time and didn’t think, just acted. I slapped the throttle closed, committing to land (I had read that somewhere–really good idea!) and pushed the nose over hard for the runway. My hope was to dissipate some energy before I ran off the end of the runway and slid down the grass at the end and then downhill into a junk yard. (I remember thinking that it was somehow appropriate that the airplane would come to rest in a junkyard…) I flew the airplane onto the runway and started jumping up and down on the brakes. Much to my surprise I came to a stop at the far end of the runway. The runway at Doylestown at the time was exactly 3000 feet long. I had about 6 feet between my spinner and the grass. I had used 2994 feet. Six feet to spare.

    I just finished a 30 year airline career. I always used every foot of runway that I could, sometimes to the annoyance of my peers. How could I not after that little incident?

  10. A funny aside to the story. The first “official” on the scene was the Beaufort South Carolina Department of Environmental Services. He walked up looked at the airplane in the marsh and said, “boy, you better not be leaking fuel into my marsh”. My response, “thank you for your concern sir. Nobody was injured and no, the aircraft is not leaking fuel into your marsh”.

  11. I once visited a general aviation airport in Northern Michigan that was originally used as a B-52 base with a 13,000′ x 300′ runway. The local officials had the gall to block-off 6,000′ of that runway and its accompanying taxiway. Thus forcing every pilot to leave 6000′ of usable runway behind them each and every time they took off from the remaining 7000′ runway. Would y’all complain?

  12. “Pitch down and fly the airplane.” That’s all you need to know. Period. End of story.