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I was on a Ryanair flight this morning that seemed to perform an incredibly aggressive takeoff from London Stansted on a 737-8. Takeoff was fairly fast, but the climb was the steepest I ever encountered.

For context, we were taking off from runway 22, with wind 34 kt from the South/Southwest gusting 51 kt Here is the flight profile

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    $\begingroup$ Perception is one thing, but in reality the flight is very unlikely to have been much different from any other flight. Modern aircraft operate within quite limited ranges of performance so there really is very little room to change how a takeoff is done from flight to flight. $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Feb 9 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, I had no objective data, but it felt insane and people were getting upset. I'm guessing as @deltaLima said, the wind added a lot of welly $\endgroup$ – Jon Bates Feb 9 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ I assume you meant to say a 737-800 - the 737-8 hasn't returned to service yet. $\endgroup$ – Sean Feb 10 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ If you flew in a 737-8, that was indeed aggressive, since they're currently still grounded worldwide and are likely to continue to be so for the next few months at least. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 10 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ Note when your flight took off we were in the middle of what has been reported as "Storm of the Century" (By UK standards, anyway). $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Feb 10 at 8:43
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Your flight took off during a storm. During a storm, the wind speed close to the surface of the earth is much lower than the wind speed a bit higher up. This variation of wind speed over a short vertical distance is called wind shear. The aircraft is taking off into the wind, so during the initial climb the headwind increases. Increasing headwind during climb does miracles to the climb rate.

Suppose you want to climb from sea level to 2000 feet while increasing the true airspeed from 140 to 160 knots (70 m/s to 80 m/s). In steady wind conditions that means the aircraft needs to accelerate 20 knots during that climb, which consumes part of the energy available from the engines.

But if there is a windshear and the headwind is increasing by 30 knots during that climb (not unreasonable in stormy conditions), the ground speed will reduce by 10 knots. Instead of needing to add kinetic energy, the aircraft needs to reduce it by converting it into potential energy (altitude). This means more energy is available for climbing and thus the climb rate is higher.

The wind reports from the airport at the time of take-off showed a wind of 29 knots (39 knots gusts), almost straight down the runway.

If you look at the wind profile this morning (I could not access yesterday's data anymore) you see that the wind increases from 20 kts at the surface to 51 knots at 3000 ft. That's a lot of free airspeed the aircraft gets during climb!

Monday morning surface wind @ EGSS

source: screenshot from windy.com

Monday morning 3000 ft @ EGSS

source: screenshot from windy.com

In addition, the effect of a stormy headwind is that the ground speed is relatively low. This makes the climb much steeper than in the no-wind condition.


Looking a bit closer at the raw data from FR24, the aircraft took off at 131 knots groundspeed (the first airborne report is 25 ft above the runway). 6 seconds after the first airborne ADS-B report, the altitude had increased by 525 ft. Even if we conservatively assume it took 7 seconds to climb to 500 ft (round-off errors), it requires a vertical acceleration over 1.6 g to achieve that. That must have felt very aggressive!

The first 2000 ft of climb took only 25 seconds, an average of 4800 ft per minute. The ground speed reduced to 119 knots by the time the aircraft had climbed 2800 ft, 37 seconds after take-off.

After that, the aircraft had climbed through most of the boundary layer of the earth and the windshear reduced. The rest of the climb was fairly typical.


It was not only your perception; by all means it was an impressive take-off performance for a B738

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    $\begingroup$ Superbly explained post, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Fattie Feb 11 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ Right, until that wind boost proves temporary and reverses, at which point it does miracles for sink rate. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 11 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ So why don't storms / strong winds (such as this case) cause aerodynamic stalls more often (and consequently lots of.. incidents?) $\endgroup$ – Cloud Feb 12 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ See my comment below for why it does not cause stalls fir the big jets. $\endgroup$ – Stan Feb 12 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ And another comment here- the aircraft is very light, probably taking off into a storm- so its a major factor as well. $\endgroup$ – Stan Feb 12 at 12:10
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Sometimes a departing airplane will receive or be offered an accelerated climb profile from ATC which gets it up and out of the published approach and departure patterns quickly. If the pilot elects to take the profile, the resulting climb will be unusual, and spectacular.

I was on a Rockwell SabreLiner departing from San Jose, Ca in a very lightly-loaded condition some years ago when the pilot was offered this, and he took it- and warned us about how steeply we would be climbing. I was in one of the rearward-facing seats and looking backwards out the window next to me I was treated to a stunning view of downtown San Jose below us while basically hanging from my seat belt during our climbout.

It was fun.

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It appears that it took the pilot about 15 mins to climb from near sea level to FL370. That's a climb rate of about 2500 feet/min, which is a pretty modest climb rate for a jet. If you're looking for fast climb rates in a transport, check out Lear 35s. If given an unrestricted climb to cruise altitude, they will often do 5000+ feet/min!

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  • $\begingroup$ Good point, Carlos. Way to do the math on that one. I think most of us were focused on the OP’s subjective perception and not on the raw numbers. Always trust your instruments (and verify with a cross check). $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Feb 10 at 5:12
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    $\begingroup$ Looking at the climb to FL370, everything seems normal. Looking at the climb to 2000 ft AAL which only took 25 seconds, you see the rate is 4800 feet/min on average after leaving terra firma, with 500 feet climb in just the first 6 seconds. That is impressive for the B738. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Feb 10 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here. They may have executed a more aggressive climb but it’s well within the 737’s capabilities. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Feb 10 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ @CarloFelicione being within the capabilities of the plane does not define whether it was normal or not - and 100ft/s is not normal! $\endgroup$ – Tim Feb 10 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ makes me wonder what newer Learjets like the 60 or the 75 could do on an unrestricted climb. I know they are bigger, so even with more powerful engines that characteristic could change. $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Feb 10 at 21:36
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A bit more elaborated answer gathered from my comments above: First of all- what do you mean by aggressive- Shaky? fast? high pitched?

If the headwind is stable- it changes the Ground speed at which the plane rotates, making it lower. After that, the aircraft climbs at the same pitch angle as always, once it transitioned to the stage of acceleration from V2. What does change a lot is the rate of climb per distance, nor per time. The situation is different if it is gusty- then the scenario is that it's all very bumpy, and planes do trade a bit of speed for pitch due to the logic of the aircraft flight algorithm- constant thrust, changing pitch. It will be elaborated further down the answer.

If it's unstable at low alt, maybe they maintained a high pitch, low speed, flaps down climb to clear the turbulent air (they just maintained a lower speed all the way out of the boundary layer). Finally, maybe they performed a full thrust take off- which is sometimes performed when wind shear is predicted, resulting in a very steep pitch after take off for such a light plane (1-hour flight).

If the wind changes and adds additional 30 knots of headwind in an instance- and stays there- meaning another stable mass of air- the pitch will become higher but only until the aircraft loses the energy it gained from the pitch up- after which it will retain it's original attitude and continue climbing with the same rate of climb- because after some time the pitch angle wouldn't hold the speed as the aircraft transitions to flying in the new "air mass".

Elaborating on the concept of fixed thrust: These aircraft are built in a way that they maintain a uniform setting of thrust throughout the whole duration of the climb, decided after their performance calculations. Meaning- if there is a change in a headwind- they will pitch a little bit higher. This is possible due to the logic of the machine that rotates and keeps a velocity higher than V2, which is the safe airborn speed- meaning there is a margin.

Next: as for sudden decreasing headwinds- the aircraft always corrects it's pitch accordingly, and they are not as edgy as little light planes. Finally- the pilots can always lower the nose or apply more thrust or both. In addition- when conditions prevail that dictate the usage of wind shear conditions in the calculations- the aircraft is rotated at a higher velocity than the normal V2, giving it further margin, and they usually use flaps 20 (or the equivalent in an airbus which I am not familiar with) in order to support further fluctuations in wind speed. All in all- the aircraft has margins.

As for the actual technique the plane maintains pitch- I would assume that it has its barriers and the fluctuations in attitude are gentle enough in order not to get to high or low exactly for the reason you mentioned above. If you maintain a constant pitch attitude- you can also exceed the flaps speed. Final note- when encountering a real wind shear- 15 knots deviation, 5 degrees of pitch fluctuation, 1 dot of GS deviation, 500 FPM vertical speed deviation, the pilots would engage the wind shear maneuver- meaning TOGA (initiating a sequence of actions that are built to sustain a wind shear situation), full thrust to maintain possitive vertical speed until clear.

I hope this is not too technical, will be happy to explain everything. I you understand the reason the aircraft acted the way it acted- maybe you will be able to point out exactly how it felt.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I'm a (lapsed) PPL(a). To answer your questions, its hard to remember exactly, but the perception was of a steep, high-g climb-out with low-moderate turbulence. The exact timing is more subjective I'm afraid, and I forget whether it was immediately after rotation, or a little later on, but it lasted maybe 10-20 seconds $\endgroup$ – Jon Bates Feb 12 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ So my guess would be full thrust TO, with flaps down climb to a higher altitude to escape all the winter down closer to earth. But again- only a guess. $\endgroup$ – Stan Feb 12 at 12:06

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