What is a Flight Profile?

Most pilots of complicated aircraft use flight profiles. That includes pilots for airlines, corporate operators, and charters. There are even a few private pilots whose fancy airplanes demand the use of flight profiles and airplane-specific training programs. So just what are these magical profiles? 

A flight profile is a graphical step-by-step depiction of a maneuver or phase of flight. These diagrams range from the simplistic to the complex, and may include power settings, target speeds, and even verbal callouts.

Believe it or not, even the newest student pilot has used a profile, whether they knew it or not. Remember learning about the traffic pattern? Your instructor probably drew a picture of a runway, with a line depicting your airplane’s course through the air. In the margin, there may have been useful bits of information, such as those target speeds, 80 knots here, 70 knots there. Deploy the second notch of flaps after this turn. Unwittingly, you were using a flight profile right from day one.

As you progress to more complicated equipment, your profiles too will become increasingly complicated. Lets take a look at a takeoff profile for a Boeing 737.

B737 V1 Cut Profile

B737 Takeoff Profile

This profile steps the pilots through each phase of a takeoff and initial climb with one or two engines operating. For example, during initial climb, you would pitch for V2+15 to V2+25 with both engines operating, as opposed to maintaining V2 to V2+20 on a single engine.

On the next step of this profile, we come to a predetermined “thrust reduction height,” where we would reduce thrust for a lower climb-thrust setting, so long as we still have both engines running. If not, then we would maintain full takeoff thrust, as you might expect!

The profile then goes on to instruct flight crews as to the appropriate time to accelerate and retract the flaps. It then goes on to provide some guidelines for configuring the autopilot and checklist usage.

My company adds another level of complexity to our profiles with the inclusion of company callouts. Our profiles look similar to the above profile, but ours include dialog. For example, the flying pilot is required to say “set thrust,” after thurst lever advancement. Once the non-flying pilot has set the thrust for takeoff, he or she will respond with “thrust set.” In this way, a profile can take on the appearance of stage directions in a play.

This is actually a good way to think about profiles. You are an actor, and these are your directions. So long as you can remember your lines and actions, you will have no problem landing even the biggest of airplanes.

In training, pilots will review these profiles and chair fly each maneuver. Some companies will require pilots to recite each step and company callout verbatim, while others are more relaxed. Most professional pilots will occasionally review their abnormal profiles, such as a single-engine takeoff, approach, and landing every few months to maintain their proficiency and to stay sharp for an upcoming checkride.

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

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