Whether Cessna collected and recorded
detailed performance data on the 140, I don’t
know, but it certainly wasn’t available to
owners. We operated based on the wisdom
of the old-timers who had been around long
enough to learn from others, or at least
observe what hadn’t worked. And the tribal
wisdom was that a 2,000-foot-long runway
was plenty for a 140 to depart so long as the
field was not at high elevation, or it wasn’t a
really hot day.
So I began this takeoff with nothing more
than a couple hundred hours of flying experience and no real data on what to expect.
Just seconds after I lifted off and was probably 10 to 15 feet in the air, something
happened. I don’t know what. The engine
coughed, sputtered, hesitated, or made some
strange sound. I think. Actually, I didn’t
think. For whatever reason, I yanked the
throttle to idle, the airplane plopped back on
the runway, and I was able to stop in what
pavement was left.
After taxiing back the engine ran perfectly no matter what I did with the mags or
carb heat. If it had really skipped a beat on
the takeoff, I couldn’t be sure, but there was
zero evidence that anything was wrong with
its operation. I rolled down the runway
again and flew on home.
That I was able to land and stop after the
aborted takeoff was just pure luck. But my
instincts were correct. With doubt about the
engine operation my chances were better to
be down on the runway and decelerating,
even if I ran off the end, than to be in the air
and fly past the safety of the runway with
what I believed to be a failing engine.
With more modern airplanes and the
performance data that comes with them, it
is possible, and prudent, to make a takeoff
abort plan in advance using the facts
available instead of the by guess and by
golly of yesteryear.
MAKING A PLAN
Takeoff planning is taken to its highest level
in jets and other transport category airplanes where all possible factors are
considered. Airport elevation, air temperature, runway slope, wind, the takeoff weight
of the airplane, and any rain or snow contamination on the runway all impact takeoff
performance. When all of those factors are
considered the airplane flight manual shows
a required takeoff runway length. That minimum length allows distance to accelerate to
a decision airspeed (called V1) and then
abort the takeoff if something goes wrong
just before reaching that decision speed.
Before takeoff decide your best option for a forced landing that is close to the extended centerline of the runway. Trying to
turn back to the airport at a low altitude often ends up with deadly results.