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Consider a small, light, nose wheel tricycle aircraft, something along the lines of a C152 or similar, sitting at the end of the runway ready for takeoff, with no issues and with all pre-takeoff checks completed.

In general, what is the correct procedure for take-off with regards to the elevator and nose wheel?

One instructor I've flown with taught takeoff as apply nearly full aft (nose up) elevator before beginning the takeoff roll. After rotation occurs, accelerate further to and maintain best climb speed, limited by maximum flaps extended speed (which for the particular type I'm flying are identical). This approach has the obvious advantage of getting the nose wheel off the ground as soon as there is sufficient lift for that, and ensures that one can look straight ahead at the runway, not really having to worry about the instruments at all before rotation, but means you need to be careful to not apply too much aft elevator at the moment the nose wheel lifts off the ground (since you don't yet have sufficient speed to actually fly, and by rotating too quickly you'll end up with a tail strike on the runway).

Another instructor, in the exact same aircraft, advocated neutral elevator until around the maximum speed the nose wheel can take, then slight aft elevator to raise the nose wheel, and more aft elevator for lift-off only when approaching speed of best climb. This has the advantage of keeping you near the ground longer during the takeoff roll, but requires keeping pretty close tabs on the instruments (and possibly adjusting from airspeed to ground speed, because the nose wheel is concerned with ground speed which is likely less than the indicated airspeed because the airplane is facing a headwind component). To me, this seems more complex.

Obviously in both cases, after lift-off, the important number becomes the indicated airspeed (a proxy for which can be engine power and airplane pitch), which should be near the speed of best climb to gain altitude as quickly as possible. That's the easy part.

But while the wheels are still on the runway, why would one prefer one style of takeoff over the other? Are there any particular situations in which either is clearly superior to the other, or is it merely a matter of taste?

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    $\begingroup$ I won't answer because I'm in no way authoritative, but the first method sounds downright dangerous to me. You're adding drag to the take off run, and effectively rotating early. You're increasing the chances of a tail strike and increasing your take off run. The only time I've seen something like that advocated is on a soft field ake off. That's backed up by my POH that mentions getting weight off the nose as early as possible $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 22 '18 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Another reason to get the front wheel off the ground is that there are quite a few strips that have a grass runway bisected with a paved runway. Hitting the pavement with the front wheel could damage it (and is quite the jolt with just the back wheels). $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Aug 22 '18 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ "This has the advantage of keeping you near the ground longer during the takeoff roll.." >> Except in a soft-field takeoff, this isn't really an advantage. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Aug 22 '18 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ "...(and possibly adjusting from airspeed to ground speed, because the nose wheel is concerned with ground speed...)" >> This isn't really something you should be concerned with. If an aircraft isn't capable of supporting its nose wheel on a hard surface, you've got other issues to be concerned with. And if the headwind is strong enough to make a significant impact on your takeoff speed, it's probably not the best weather to be flying in anyway. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Aug 22 '18 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Takeoff indicated airspeed is independent of takeoff ground speed (to within whatever wind the aircraft and pilot can handle), but surely the value of (nose)wheel ground speed at rotation, at some indicated airspeed generating sufficient lift, is influenced by the headwind/tailwind component of the present wind? The wings, for lift, are about indicated airspeed, which at a fixed ground speed varies with the wind; but the nose wheel rotates at ground speed pretty much independently of wind. Or am I missing something completely obvious here? (Wouldn't be the first time.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 23 '18 at 5:41
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It's a matter of the conditions you are faced with.

The first instructor was teaching you soft/rough field technique, where the focus is getting as much weight off the nosewheel as soon as possible to minimize its rolling drag on a soft surface. Besides the drag on the nosewheel, the thrust line acting above the drag axis of the mains on soft ground tends to drive the nose down, so you need to compensate for that as well. The other thing is having the wings producing partial lift from the nose being high also helps reduce the effect of the soft ground.

You might also use this technique if the surface is firm but has a lot gravel, that can get sucked into the prop, and you want the prop as far away as possible while the airplane is moving slowly. I'll start a run on firm surface with loose gravel with the nose held high but let it come down a bit as speed is gained and there is less tendency for the prop to pull rocks up into it.

Thing is, you need the nosewheel for steering control until the rudder becomes effective, so you give up a lot of potential directional control with tail down technique early in the takeoff, so you only use it to the extent you need to. Besides directional control, the nose in the air condition is very draggy and can delay acceleration, actually extending the takeoff run.

There are basically 3 procedures that I follow:

  1. Soft/rough field - tail low all though the take off to keep weight off the nose wheel and as much weight off the mains as possible. You may use flap in this case when you wouldn't ordinarily for the same reason. You stay in ground effect to accelerate before climbing.
  2. Firm but short field - tail low late in the takeoff and rotating early so the airplane gets to flying speed already at its takeoff pitch attitude. This is to have the airplane lift off at the earliest possible point and may include use of flaps that aren't normally used. You stay in ground effect to accelerate before climbing.
  3. Normal takeoff - elevator neutral or only slightly nose up, for best steering control and acceleration until rotation at the normal rotation speed.

Students using different instructors always discover quite a bit of variation in techniques as instructors apply their personal preferences. A perennial problem in the industry.

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    $\begingroup$ It differs not only by instructor, but by aircraft. A C152 may require full aft elevator with its 90hp engine to get the nose up at low speeds, but I tried the same in a 180hp C172 and was dragging the tail tie-down on the runway after about 100 feet (a scary noise for a student to hear by the way). It can also differ by aircraft loading. My C177 with a stabilator instead of elevators will take yet another technique, so I wouldn't be concerned with different instructors/techniques, the pilot needs to learn to adapt. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Aug 22 '18 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah I owned a '68 Cardinal many years ago and could drag the tail skid on the ground at any speed above 35 mph (that's when I realized why the 177's tail skid was so chunky). Probably has the most tail power of any light aircraft. But all the same, it is a special procedure and I would never take off with the nose way in the air unless it was really necessary because you are giving up directional control, plus a lot of finesse is required once airborne because you are lifting off into ground effect barely above the stall. $\endgroup$ – John K Aug 23 '18 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ Dave's answer is also helpful, but I found this to be a better fit for my question because it actually elaborates some on when one would use either style of take-off, so I'm accepting this. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 23 '18 at 16:03
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The simple answer is that the proper procedure is to do what ever the POH says for that specific aircraft.

It sounds like the instructors are teaching you two different types of takeoffs. The first maneuver sounds to me like a soft field takeoff to me (full back elevator and nose wheel up quickly) and I'm seeing 152 checklists that confirm that procedure. The second procedure sounds like a standard takeoff to me. So its not that either procedure is incorrect but it sounds like they may have been incorrectly presented to you.

I would bring it up with your instructor and point to the POH as reference. Its worth asking the first instructor

why are we executing soft field style takeoffs on an a paved strip?

I would also ask instructor two to show you a soft field takeoff and see what he does, he should do something similar to what the first instructor was having you do.

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    $\begingroup$ "why are we executing soft field style takeoffs on an a paved strip?" I did a lot of soft-field style on 8500' paved strips before I was allowed on grass, it was the policy of the flight school to have X number of soft-field takeoffs/landings on pavement before they would sign off on grass. Even after that, they would not allow operation from grass fields unless the student (or renter) demonstrated proper technique on that particular field. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Aug 22 '18 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I agree and have also done similar practice my self. I mention it because it appears that the soft field technique is being presented as a regular takeoff to the student in this case. $\endgroup$ – Dave Aug 22 '18 at 20:04
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Well both are correct procedures in their own ways, though the former does help to alleviate loads on the nosewheel during takeoff. It’s also the preferred technique for soft field takeoffs in a tricycle gear airplane to prevent the nosewheel from catching abruptly in soft or wet grass or other unpaved terrain and to get the airplane airborne as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that full aft deflection of the elevators during the takeoff roll acts something like a speedbrake, delaying the time until you reach Vr and increasing the takeoff roll, so this would not be recommended for a short field takeoff technique.

I’d say this: if your flight instructor assigns you to do it a certain way, follow that procedure. In the eyes of the FAA, he/she is the authority figure in this situation.

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    $\begingroup$ The FAA isn't involved. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 22 '18 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Rather than just follow that procedure, I think I'd ask for clarification of why it's done that way so that I can better understand the procedure. The POH is more of an authority than the instructor, and applying lots of elevator on takeoff isn't usually the procedure on a normal takeoff. It's not technically incorrect, but I didn't and wouldn't teach it that way. But there may be a specific reason why your CFI wants you to do that at your airport. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Aug 22 '18 at 21:25
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You'll have to demonstrate both methods to the [authority of choice] examiner. Practice them until you can do them smoothly. A third method involves keeping the plane moving as you pull onto the runway, to keep the plane from getting bogged down in the terrain, where you also keep the nosewheel as light on the ground as you can.

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  • $\begingroup$ Who mentioned the FAA? Not me. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 22 '18 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ If you're going to get your ppl, an FAA DPE will question your techniques when you are examined. I have two sons in flight school. I found CrossRoads comments spot on. $\endgroup$ – Doug Ryan Oct 23 '18 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ @DougRyan "If you're going to get your ppl, an FAA DPE will question your techniques when you are examined." The FAA is unlikely to be involved outside of the USA. The examiner might still question one's techniques, but there are many examiners not associated with the FAA. Please do not assume that everyone is in the USA. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 24 '18 at 17:51

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