Lining Up

Several critical steps will ensure that every flight gets off to a good start.



In September of 2010, the FAA changed the language used for controllers to instruct pilots to enter the runway and await the takeoff clearance from “position and hold” to “line up and wait.” This language more accurately describes what the pilot is expected to do, whether at a controlled or uncontrolled field. Here are several things that you should consider as you get ready to taxi across the runway threshold.

At a controlled field, the most important thing is to make sure that you have clearance to enter the runway. This is pretty basic stuff, but you need to be sure that the controller calls your N-number with the instructions “line up and wait” or “cleared for takeoff.” Make sure that the runway you’re taxiing onto is the one you’re cleared to enter by looking at the red sign at the hold-short line or, if you can see them, the white markers on the pavement. You may think this is obvious, but there have been highly publicized accidents caused by pilots departing from the wrong runway, so a final check to make sure you are taxiing onto the runway you think you are is well worth it.

At an uncontrolled field, whether you enter the runway before any landing traffic has exited or you have the runway to yourself, it’s vitally important to announce your intentions, including the runway number. Some pilots omit this critical step because they haven’t heard or seen any traffic in the area, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone around. It’s better to make one call too many (as long as it’s pertinent and not a bunch of pilot chatter) than to surprise someone or get a bad surprise yourself.

Once you’re committed to depart, there may be a few items on the checklist that need to be completed, such as enriching the mixture, turning on the boost pump or switching on the transponder or lights. Refer to the checklist for your specific airplane for these items.

As you roll out, take a final peek for traffic and look at the windsock to make sure you’re applying the appropriate wind corrections. If runway length is of any concern at all, taxi as far into the departure end of the runway as possible.

Once you begin to align yourself with the runway centerline, make sure that you straighten the nose- or tailwheel before you either apply the brakes to stop or begin your departure roll. With a crooked third wheel the airplane will drift off in one direction or the other once you apply full power, and you will have to work very hard to straighten it out and avoid ending up with a damaged airplane and a bruised ego (or worse) on the side of the runway.

Once you’re perfectly aligned with the centerline, smoothly apply full power and make timely rudder corrections to remain dead straight in the middle of the runway. These little adjustments will ensure that your flight gets off to a good start.