Maximum Performance Takeoff

A maximum performance takeoff is used to climb at a steep angle to clear barriers in the flightpath. It can be used when taking off from small areas surrounded by high obstacles. Allow for a vertical takeoff, although not preferred, if obstruction clearance could be in doubt. Before attempting a maximum performance takeoff, know thoroughly the capabilities and limitations of the equipment. Also consider the wind velocity, temperature, density altitude, gross weight, center of gravity (CG) location, and other factors affecting pilot technique and the performance of the helicopter.

To accomplish this type of takeoff safely, there must be enough power to hover OGE in order to prevent the helicopter from sinking back to the surface after becoming airborne. A hover power check can be used to determine if there is sufficient power available to accomplish this maneuver.

The angle of climb for a maximum performance takeoff depends on existing conditions. The more critical the conditions are, such as high density altitudes, calm winds, and high gross weights, the shallower the angle of climb is. In light or no wind conditions, it might be necessary to operate in the crosshatched or shaded areas of the height/velocity diagram during the beginning of this maneuver. Therefore, be aware of the calculated risk when operating in these areas. An engine failure at a low altitude and airspeed could place the helicopter in a dangerous position, requiring a high degree of skill in making a safe autorotative landing.


Before attempting a maximum performance takeoff, reposition the helicopter to the most downwind area to allow a longer takeoff climb, then bring the helicopter to a hover, and determine the excess power available by noting the difference between the power available and that required to hover. Also, perform a balance and flight control check and note the position of the cyclic. If the takeoff path allows, position the helicopter into the wind and return the helicopter to the surface. Normally, this maneuver is initiated from the surface. After checking the area for obstacles and other aircraft, select reference points along the takeoff path to maintain ground track. Also consider alternate routes in case the maneuver is not possible. [Figure 10-1]

Figure 10-1. Maximum performance takeoff.

Figure 10-1. Maximum performance takeoff.

Begin the takeoff by getting the helicopter light on the skids (position 1). Pause and neutralize all aircraft movement. Slowly increase the collective and position the cyclic to lift off in a 40 knot attitude. This is approximately the same attitude as when the helicopter is light on the skids. Continue to increase the collective slowly until the maximum power available is reached (takeoff power is normally 10 percent above power required for hover). This large collective movement requires a substantial increase in pedal pressure to maintain heading (position 2). Use the cyclic, as necessary, to control movement toward the desired flightpath and, therefore, climb angle during the maneuver (position 3). Maintain rotor rpm at its maximum, and do not allow it to decrease since you would probably need to lower the collective to regain it. Maintain these inputs until the helicopter clears the obstacle, or until reaching 50 feet for demonstration purposes (position 4). Then, establish a normal climb attitude and power setting (position 5). As in any maximum performance maneuver, the techniques used affect the actual results. Smooth, coordinated inputs coupled with precise control allow the helicopter to attain its maximum performance.

An acceptable but less preferred variation is to perform a vertical takeoff. This technique allows the pilot to descend vertically back into the confined area if the helicopter does not have the performance to clear the surrounding obstacles. During this maneuver, the helicopter must climb vertically and not be allowed to accelerate forward until the surrounding obstacles have been cleared. If not, a situation may develop where the helicopter does not have sufficient climb performance to avoid obstructions and may not have power to descend back to the takeoff point. The vertical takeoff might not be as efficient as the climbing profile, but is much easier to abort from a vertical position directly over the landing point. The vertical takeoff however places the helicopter in the avoid are of the height/velocity diagram for a longer time. This maneuver requires hover OGE power to accomplish.

Common Errors

  • Failure to consider performance data, including height/velocity diagram.
  • Nose too low initially causing horizontal flight rather than more vertical flight.
  • Failure to maintain maximum permissible rpm.
  • Abrupt control movements.
  • Failure to resume normal climb power and airspeed after clearing the obstacle.