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How A Single-Engine Aircraft Created A Wake Turbulence Accident During Takeoff

If you've ever flown into an airport with large aircraft, you've probably heard the the phrase "caution, wake turbulence" from ATC. But how should you adjust your flight path to stay safe when ATC gives you the warning?

Wake Hazards From Any Aircraft

Wake turbulence can affect any aircraft, large or small. But the smaller the aircraft, the more susceptible it is to wake turbulence.

For most of us, when we think about wake turbulence, we imagine a large jet creating a wake that causes problems for a smaller aircraft. But in the video below, one single-engine aircraft was following another on takeoff: (you may want to mute your speakers for the unrelated music in the video)

And here's an example with two nearly-identical aircraft: a Cessna 172 causing wake problems for a Piper Cherokee that was following it in the pattern:

Avoiding Wake Turbulence During Landing

When you're in the pattern with other aircraft, you need to pay attention to where they're landing.

That's because wingtip vortices slowly sink, dissipate, and drift with the wind. So when you're following an aircraft on final, you need to do two things to stay safe:

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

By staying above their glide path, you guarantee clearance from the wake. And by touching down beyond their landing point, you guarantee that you won't encounter wake near the runway. That's because when an aircraft touches down, it stops producing wingtip vortices.

Do both, and you'll avoid any wake problems during landing.

Avoiding Wake Turbulence During Takeoff

Avoiding wake turbulence on takeoff isn't quite as straightforward. That's because if the aircraft in front you has better climb performance, you're going to have a hard time avoiding their wake. Here's what the FAA recommends to avoid 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

Vortex production starts when an aircraft takes off, which is why you need to rotate prior to the aircraft you're following. But once you've lifted off, the next challenge comes into play. If you're flying a small plane, and you're following a larger aircraft, there's a good chance you can't climb as fast as them. And if you maintain runway heading after takeoff, your chance of flying right through their wake is pretty good. So what should you do?

How Wind Affects Wake Turbulence

Since wake turbulence drifts with the wind, if you have any crosswind on takeoff, you want to use it to your advantage. According to the FAA, "a wind speed of 10 knots causes the vortices to drift at about 1,000 feet in a minute in the wind direction."

So after you lift off, simply maneuver your aircraft upwind to stay clear of the wake turbulence. And if there's no crosswind, just pick a direction and side-step the runway, coordinating your maneuver with ATC, of course.


If you're at a busy airport and ATC can't allow you to maneuver left or right of the runway, you have one final option to avoid the wake: wait it out.

Waiting For Wake Turbulence To Dissipate

Wake turbulence doesn't last forever, and it begins dissipating as soon as it is produced by an airplane.

According to the FAA, if you wait approximately 3 minutes after an aircraft takes off, it provides you enough margin to safely take off. If you can't maneuver around it during takeoff, or if you're uncomfortable doing so, just set your watch, let ATC know, and give yourself a few extra minutes to let the wake die down.

So the next time you hear "caution, wake turbulence" from your air traffic controller, or if you're at a non-towered field with other aircraft in the pattern, take a second to plan out how you'll maneuver your aircraft to safe air. If you do, you'll have a smooth ride all the way from takeoff to touchdown.

Want to learn more about takeoffs and landings? Sign up for our Mastering Takeoffs and Landings course here.

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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