Monitor Your Rate of Climb

One of the callout items used in crew resource management, and one that many pilots are and should be in the habit of using, is “positive rate of climb.” The process of confirming that an initial climb has been established after the airplane leaves the ground is the signal to retract the gear. Even if you’re not currently flying retractable airplanes, it is still a good habit to establish. But having the gear locked in the wells shouldn’t stop you from looking at the vertical speed indicator. The rate of climb can tell you a lot about the health of the airplane.

During the climb phase of flight, your engine is generally asked to put out the most amount of power. If there is anything not quite right under the cowling, you are likely to notice it during the climb if you know what vertical speed to expect.

Naturally, the climb rate will vary depending on the environmental conditions. At a higher altitude and during warmer temperatures, your climb rate will suffer. A downdraft will naturally also compromise the airplane’s ability to climb, but this reduction in the rate of climb is temporary. So while you can’t expect to always get the same vertical speed, you should know what climb performance to expect at your home-base airport at a set airspeed on a cool day, a standard day and a hot day.

While you are climbing, glance periodically at the vertical speed indicator. If, based on the current conditions, the climb performance is consistently lower than what you have come to expect at a specific airspeed, make sure there is no additional drag. You may have forgotten to retract the gear or flaps. But if your climb checklist is complete and your airplane still fails to perform as expected, turn around and visit your mechanic. The good news is, you should still be close to the airport, which, if you’ve already gained sufficient altitude, makes it easy to turn around and get down on the ground before the airplane leaves you with no choice but to do so.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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