Maximum Performance Takeoff

...To Hover or Not to Hover? By Randy Rowles

ariations on the methods used to conduct a maneuver during a checkride really isn’t that uncommon. However, lately one maneuver seems to have more variations than others, and in many cases, with the applicant not understanding why.


The Maximum Performance Takeoff and Climb is seemingly a simple maneuver. It requires the pilot to perform a more vertical takeoff profile due to some obstacle that may be in the proposed takeoff path. Pre-takeoff planning is essential to include weight and balance, performance, and departure path that are all critical to the safe, effective usage of this procedure. Each element is evaluated during the examination holistically so the examiner may gain insight into the aeronautical decision making (ADM), including risk assessment (RA) and mitigation of the proposed departure.

Throughout the years, non-military helicopter pilots have been trained using reference documents that include the Basic Helicopter Handbook (1973, 1978), Rotorcraft Flying Handbook (2000), and the Helicopter Flying Handbook (2012) used today. The military provides their own reference documents when training their helicopter pilot cadre, however the material is quite similar.

The Maximum Performance Takeoff and Climb is found in all the reference documents. The intent behind the recommended

Randy Rowles has been an FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds an FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is currently the Lead Instructor with, and Director of Training at Epic Helicopters located in Ft. Worth, Texas. He can be reached at

procedures is relatively consistent; however, many applicants do not understand the significance of elements within the maneuver.

The maneuver description recommends the pilot take off into a hover initially, then land to the surface again prior to executing the takeoff procedure. Why? The controllability of the helicopter and expected performance of the takeoff must be validated prior to committing the helicopter to a high power, vertical ascent. This simple exercise provides the pilot confidence in knowing the helicopter will safely handle the task. Once confirmed, the pilot will position the helicopter on the surface, and then execute the maneuver.

All too often, the answer given by the applicant when asked why they are conducting the maneuver in this way is, “my instructor taught me that way”. It is imperative the pilot understand the reason they are making the decisions and executing the procedures they utilize. This is essential to the ADM and RA process. Additionally, their ability to accurately perceive the environment in which they’re making decisions will ensure their ability to maintain a high and effective level of situational awareness.

The importance of being situationally aware during this maneuver becomes critical if the pilot executes this maneuver in conditions where brown-out or white-out may occur. In these conditions, adjusting the procedures prior to executing the maneuver to accommodate the conditions may be prudent.

In a scenario-based evaluation, the applicant will be provided a set of circumstances that define the way they will operate the helicopter during the examination. When the applicant is advised that the takeoff area is loose dirt or snow, the decision to initially hover the aircraft may not be safe when completing the Maximum Performance Takeoff. The ability for the pilot to know and understand WHY they may need to alter their procedures due to the dynamic conditions that occur during aircraft operations ensures the pilot’s ability to know when to make a no-go decision.

A pilot must be able to make good decisions on the conditions prior to potentially engaging the aircraft into harm’s way. A well-trained pilot will fully understand and appreciate why!

80 Mar/Apr 2017

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