Takeoff and runway heading


Can someone give me the FAR # that regulates the soonest you can turn your aircraft from runway heading after takeoff?


IFR departure procedures are designed around no turn before 400’ AGL but in VMC the tower can ask for an early turn. SFO is a good example of that with the parallel departures from 1L and 1R during good weather.
“Proper” VFR patterns are described in the AIM.
Otherwise don’t scrape the wingtip.
I can’t think of an FAR that specifically prescribes a minimum altitude for turning after takeoff. The one that comes close might be interpreted (by a lawyer) as the normal minimum altitude over a person place or thing.
Oh wait, that was 3rd grade English.


Thanks for the reply, porterjet. I left out IFR, but for shyts and giggles I’ll throw in VFR too.

It’s been so long since training and I distinctly recall my instructor telling me ( I don’t remember ever reading it ) that unless requested by the tower you had to maintain runway heading until you crossed the threshold. So in the case of an IFR clearance, even though your clearance does not stipulate “maintain runway heading”, you are not permitted to start a turn until… That’s what was drilled into my head and made it possible to reach pattern altitude before crossing the threshold on a cold day in a Cherokee 140 on a 10,000 foot runway !!! (exaggeration)

Now I read your reply and it’s a little different than what I practiced for 35 years. And to your qwip about not letting the wingtip hit the ground, what brought this up is a YouTube video of a DC-10 turning almost immediately (probably 300 feet altitude) after takeoff in Jersey. I think I commented that the pilot must have gotten clearance for or was ordered by the tower to turn almost immediately after takeoff. Then I got to thinking and went to the regs and couldn’t find anything. Now I know why.

Again, thanks for the response. Greatly appreciated.



400 AGL per the AIM


And to be more technically correct the TERPS departure procedures assume minimum climb gradients and using the entire runway. The takeoff ends 35’ over the departure end of the runway plus 400’ at 200 ft. per mile would put you almost 2 miles off end of the runway so your instructor was being optimistic with “no turn before the end of the runway”.


So IFR DOES require runway length+? If takeoff ends at (threshold + 35’) + 400’ AGL then IFR departure with turn at 300’ and short of threshold is a no-no. Can I post a link to that vid here or does FA frown upon that? I’d like to get some opinions on the DC-10’s turn.
Again, thanks to all for the replies. I really appreciate the feedback.



Well, IFR itself does not require runway length. That is part of the airplanes performance calculations. The TERPS departure procedures start at 35’ above the end of the runway which is the worst case scenario. In the case of your DC10 it sounds much like SFO. During VMC operations, even on an IFR flight, the tower can ask for an early turn while they apply VFR terrain and traffic separation, much like giving you a visual approach. They can offer that up, it’s up to you to decline it. AT SFO runway 1L departures quite often turn to 330 before the end of the runway and well before reaching 400’. But only when asked by the tower and only when a 1R departure is operating simultaneously. The 1R departures are normally runway heading which takes them pretty much over OAK on the way to LIN or MVA VORs. “As soon as practical” is seen by pilots as a license to have a bit of fun and do something that is otherwise frowned upon. And they are fun. :smiley: