Posted by: Korry | October 6, 2011

To Fly…or Not To Fly

In my very first blog here, I said that three of the most exciting words in all of aviation were “Cleared for Takeoff.” In that post, I said “…those words inspire me to imagine what may come….They encourage me to forget about the past and…they serve as permission to begin a new journey through the sky…or through life itself.”

While those words are 100% true, I feel the need to clarify juuuuuust a little bit.

Truth be told, for at least the first 15 or 20 seconds after hearing the words “cleared for takeoff”, I’m actually looking for reasons NOT to go flying. Why? Well, just like autopilots, takeoff is more complicated than it first seems. As with most areas of flying, my focus is on the actual task at hand while  also thinking about how to handle various situations that may occur.

For instance, what if the engines aren’t performing properly during takeoff? What if a tire bursts? What if a slew of other things happen? Should I stop the airplane or should I take it airborn? If those things happen during the first part of the takeoff roll, the safest place to be is probably on the ground, not in the air. Of course, the flip side is true, too. There comes a point during the takeoff roll where the safest place to be is in the air, not on the ground. The point between where it’s safest to either stay on the ground or go flying is the real “cleared for takeoff” spot. The airline world calls this V1, or the takeoff decision speed. This doesn’t mean you takeoff at V1, just that you have now decided that it’s safer to fly than to stop the plane on the ground. To understand how we determine V1, we need to first talk about runways!

Did you ever wonder why runways are so long? The longest runway in the United States is at Denver International Airport where Runway 16 Right/34 Left is 16,000 feet–or just over 3.0 miles–long!

Official Denver Airport Diagram

Why would Denver (or any airport) need a runway over 3 miles long? Because some [really big] aircraft may need that much runway to legally takeoff. Denver is one of the highest elevation airports in the country. The higher the elevation, the thinner the air. The thinner the air, the less thrust the engines produce. The less thrust the engines produce, the longer it takes to accelerate for takeoff. And the longer it takes to accelerate for takeoff, the more runway you need. And that’s not even considering what it takes to stop at V1! (In case you were wondering, the longest public use runway in the world is Qamdo Bangda Airport in Tibet, which is also the highest airport in the world with an elevation of 14,219 feet and length of 18,045 feet).

Clearly, not all runways are created equally, and neither are airplanes. So, V1 changes based on a whole bunch of factors such as runway length and condition (wet, dry, etc.) and specific aircraft weight and performance capabilities. We use this data to then calculate the point on the runway where the pavement remaining is adequate to get us stopped. We convert that point from a distance on the runway to a specific airspeed (physics majors anyone?? No?? Ok moving on), back it off a bit as a “fudge factor”, and call it V1, or our takeoff decision speed. Below that speed, we will stop if something goes wrong. At or above that speed, we’ll take the plane into the air and solve the problem from there. But at V1, we’re going flying. Period.

Here’s a graphic that should help make this more clear:

V1 Takeoff Decision Speed

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, I bet you’re starting to see a theme: success in aviation (or life) has a lot to do with planning. (New to Life’s Flight Plan? Learn what I mean here). The concept of V1 is nothing more than flight planning on a smaller scale. We think about what we’re going to do. We plan for alternatives. We begin to execute the plan. And at V1, we acknowledge that we’ve already made our decision and move on.

Don’t you think there are times in our lives when we might benefit from having a personal V1? For example, I struggle with decisions in life that require me to close one door in order to walk through another. I weigh the pros and cons but sometimes, at the precise moment when a decision needs made, I find myself trapped in “analysis paralysis.” By setting a personal V1, I force myself to work through tough decisions ahead of time and to determine a plan of action. Then, at V1, I act decisively and without reservation. V1 provides the structure for making a decision and the confidence to know it’s the right one.

What do you think? Can you think of a time when having a personal V1 would have helped your own decision making process?



  1. Korry, I absolutely enjoy reading your blogs! Very informative as well as entertaining. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks so much, Robin! I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Now the pressure’s on to keep up the content! And thanks for following me on Twitter, too. I hope to use the Twitter feed to share more day-to-day things about flying and life on the road.

  2. […] seconds? Are you ready to experience unexpected opportunities? Are you prepared to act on them and take off? Don’t be surprised if some people think you’re crazy. Ignore them. It’s your life! It’s […]

  3. […] extremely low visibility takeoffs, approaches and landings as well as more critical items such as V1 cuts (engine failures right at the point of rotation during takeoff–the most critical and least […]

  4. […] just shy of 150 knots, I heard the captain call “Vee-one.” We were now committed to taking off. Just then, at that most vulnerable of moments, a loud BANG […]

  5. […] these same skills and thought processes necessary to making critical life-and-death decisions at a moment’s notice like pilots must do? I think so. Is that fair? Not in the least, but that’s how it is. […]

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