When taking off, why are we required to climb at least 35 feet over the departure end of runway? Why not other numbers? This comes from the FAA regulations. I believe there must a clear explanation for this but can't find one. Is there any historical or mathematical reason?

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    $\begingroup$ Where do you get that? A lot of books I've read have the mythical "50 foot obstacle". Perhaps you are referring to clearing the approach lights? $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 5 '16 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I guess he's asking about the minimum performance conditions for obstacle clearance in the US $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 5 '16 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ 35' is probably just a random number that someone thought was reasonably attainable for most aircraft. For a wet runway the figure is reduced to 15', and for propeller powered aircraft it is raised to 50'. $\endgroup$ – Mike Sowsun Apr 5 '16 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ My guess is that since most (all?) aircraft provide performance data to clear a 50 foot obstacle at DER, the FAA selected 35 feet in order to allow pilots to more easily calculate required aircraft performance while still providing an adequate safety margin between the two. $\endgroup$ – newmanth Apr 5 '16 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ Part 23 requires 50 feet (Normal, utility, acrobatic, and commuter categories) while Part 25 requires only 35 feet (transport category) $\endgroup$ – wbeard52 Apr 6 '16 at 0:43

The best explanation I've seen for the logic behind the 35 foot crossing height requirement can be found in the FAA Instrument Procedures Handbook (IPH). It's available from the FAA website at this link: https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aviation/instrument_procedures_handbook/

In Chapter 1, Departure Procedures, under Design Criteria on page 1-16: "The aircraft climb path assumption provides a minimum of 35 feet of additional obstacle clearance above the required obstacle clearance (ROC), from the DER outward, to absorb variations ranging from the distance of the static source to the landing gear, to differences in establishing the minimum 200 FPNM climb gradient, etc."

So, the 35 feet is in place to account for a multitude of variables. The phrase "differences in establishing the minimum 200 FPNM (Feet Per Nautical Mile) climb gradient" covers a whole host of potential errors such as variations in individual aircraft performance, early rotation, late rotation, under rotation, over rotation, poor airspeed control, etc. This error proofing is important since the 35 foot requirement is used when building all performance data for go and no-go decisions. That performance data is all based on set assumptions. Reasonable deviations from the assumptions are mitigated (somewhat) by the 35 foot margin.

As with most safety margins, there isn't necessarily a precise reason for the size of the buffer. However, even increasing the crossing height a slight amount, say to 50 feet can have significant effect on performance calculations. At a minimum climb gradient of 200 FPNM, the difference between a screen height of 35 feet and 50 feet is just over 450 feet of required horizontal distance. In a tight performance situation such as high pressure elevation or short runways, a 50 foot crossing height could be too much for some large commercial aircraft.

Of note, the regulation that created the 35 foot crossing height, SR422, came about in the late 50s during the beginning of jet-powered commercial aviation. The aircraft being designed and fielded back then, the Boeing 707 for example, would have had a hard time making a higher restriction. That likely had influence on the required crossing height.

  • $\begingroup$ "35' is the best our latest and greatest whiz-bang toy can do, so that's the requirement we're going to set." Sounds quite governmental! $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 15 '16 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ and 4 years later I noticed "FPMN" and "FPNM". "Feet Per MiNute" or "Feet Per Nautical Mile", or something entirely different? $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jul 6 '20 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan It's a climb gradient so it's rise over run, or Feet Per Nautical Mile. I added the acronym description for clarification. $\endgroup$ – Mike Cowan Jul 7 '20 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ "FPMN (Feet Per Nautical Mile)" :D I fixed it for ya... You had "FPNM" correct later on. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jul 8 '20 at 1:16

Screen height is based on the height of a (London) "double decker bus, as used in the original trials at Croydon, where they hit one while taking off." Source: Phil Croucher (2019) EASA Professional Pilot Studies, p.9-6

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    $\begingroup$ Well, why didn't they write a regulation that you weren't allowed to park a double decker bus at the DER? That would have made more sense! Nice find. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Jul 6 '20 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ According to Wikipedia the height of a double-decker bus in the UK is 16 ft 3 in, so 35 feet would be more like the height of a quadruple-decker bus. (I'd like to see one of those.) $\endgroup$ – rclocher3 Jul 7 '20 at 14:04

As I understand it, from when I was attending flight engineer school with the Air Force, the screen height has to do with a 50' obstacle. The 35' screen height for FAA TERPSd fields translates to being able to clear a 50' obstacle at 200ft/min providing you are 35' AGL at brick last of the runway.

For Army TERPSd fields the screen height is typically 16' and for Air Force and Navy TERPSd fields the screen height is 0', meaning that if you maintain 200ft/min climb, you can rotate at brick last and then you will clear the 50' obstacle by the required minimum clearance. The 35', 16' and 0' screen heights are assumed if no other screen height is given, and based upon who has evaluated the airport.


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