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How To Avoid Wake Turbulence During Takeoff and Landing

NASA / Langley Research Center

When's the last time you heard "caution - wake turbulence" from an air traffic controller? Did you think about what it really meant to you? Pilots taking off and landing behind larger aircraft often hear the phrase, and it means that positioning your aircraft to avoid a potentially dangerous situation is extremely important.

Check out this video of a Cessna 172 encountering wake turbulence from a B-29. Has something like this ever happened to you?

If you've ever flown through wake turbulence, you probably have a newfound respect for how quickly you can get into an upset attitude. So how can you avoid it entirely?

Avoiding Wake Turbulence On Landing

When you're following a larger aircraft on final approach, the FAA has two recommendations to avoid wake turbulence:

  • Stay at or above the larger aircraft's final approach flight path.
  • Note the touchdown point, and land beyond it.

Here's why. When an aircraft is flying, the wingtip vortices produced by the aircraft slowly descend behind the airplane. When the aircraft touches down, the vortices end. By flying your airplane above their flight path, and landing beyond their touchdown point, you're almost guaranteed to avoid a wake turbulence encounter.


Avoiding Wake Turbulence On Takeoff

Avoiding wake turbulence on takeoff is a bit trickier, because larger aircraft often climb much faster than GA airplanes. Here's what the FAA has to say about avoiding wake turbulence on takeoff:

  • Rotate prior to the point at which the preceding aircraft rotated.
  • Maneuver your aircraft to avoid the flight path of the preceding aircraft.

Because vortex production starts when an aircraft takes off, it's important for you to lift off prior to the point the previous aircraft did. However, after you've lifted off, problem #2 comes into play. Training airplanes don't climb nearly as fast as commercial jets, so if you maintain the same heading as the aircraft in front of you, the potential to fly through their wake is high. By maneuvering left or right of the runway after takeoff, you can ensure you'll stay clear of the vortices. So which direction should you turn?

Wind And Wake Turbulence On Takeoff

Wind is a key factor in avoiding wake turbulence, because wingtip vortices drift with the wind at the same speed as the wind. The FAA says that "a wind speed of 10 knots causes the vortices to drift at about 1,000 feet in a minute in the wind direction." Because of this, you should turn your aircraft in the upwind direction after takeoff, if possible. Unfortunately, you may not always be able to maneuver left or right after takeoff, especially at busy airports. The good news is there's one final option: wait it out.


The Final (And Best) Option: Wait It Out

Wake turbulence doesn't last forever, and it begins dissipating as soon as it is produced by an airplane. The FAA says that "If a pilot is unsure of the other aircraft's takeoff or landing point, approximately 3 minutes provides a margin of safety that allows wake turbulence dissipation."

The next time you hear "caution - wake turbulence", take a second to think through what you need to do, and you'll keep yourself in smooth air.

Want to learn more about wake turbulence and other hazards you can experience during takeoff and landing? Sign up for our Mastering Takeoffs and Landings course today.

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Colin Cutler

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder and lifelong pilot. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed the development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at

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