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Hello, Goodbye: Going Around

Half of all general aviation accidents, and more than half of all transport category accidents (according to a 1992 Logistics and Transportation Review study), occur during landing.Half of all general aviation accidents, and more than half of all transport category accidents (according to a 1992 Logistics and Transportation Review study), occur during landing. The irony is that most of these could be avoided if pilots dusted off their go around skills. Yes, an airliner going around isn’t exactly good publicity for an already nervous flying public, but neither is an airliner running off the end of a runway. The truth is, if you’re not prepared to go-around, you’re not prepared to fly the approach.

EXPECTATION AND NEGLECT
As demonstrated by the link above, this problem isn’t limited to students or low-time pilots. The more we’ve been flying, the more we expect to land -- every time. I’m always shaking my head in bemused (but annoyed) disapproval every time I hear someone make a radio call like “Cherokee 87 Tango, left base to final, one-six, and this’ll be a full-stop.” How do they know? Of the hundreds of go-around errors, and dozens of go-around accidents, less than one-fifth are made by student pilots. Student pilots are used to going around, and they don’t have the high landing expectation that pilots tend to develop once they’ve logged a few hundred hours. Paradoxically, the more time you have, the more you should remind yourself that you really never know if your next landing will be a full stop. Whether you call them “balked landings”, wave-offs, missed approaches... the more you practice them, the safer you'll be. It’s already built into your pre-landing checklist; those prop and mixture knobs aren't full forward for engine cooling -- they're full forward so that they'll be just where you need them if you suddenly have to go around.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES -- you...

  • Squelch that fixation on salvaging the approach. We hate wasting our time, fuel, and money. We hate admitting our plans aren’t working out, we hate giving up, and we definitely don’t enjoy feeling like a sissy. Energy management is not easy during the landing itself, whether it’s due to wind, a short runway, the runway surface... or us. Pilots are a goal-oriented bunch, but in this case, the primary goal should be making a good landing -- not salvaging a bad one.
  • Learned complacency or creeping normalcy -- seeing so many happy endings helps us forget that there are other possible outcomes that require a Plan B.
  • Proficiency; It's not good enough to know that it's 'pitch, power, flaps, then gear' (and if you have a carbureted engine, dealing with carb-heat sometime soon after power is applied). These things must be muscle memory items that you do -- in proper order -- without thinking. You aced go-arounds when you were a student, but it's been awhile since you did one ... and now you're in a complex airplane ... and there's a deer on the runway.
  • Practice: Ironically (but for a good reason) some flying clubs and FBOs discourage touch-and-go landings (one version of the go-around), or they forbid them outright. The solution is to practice low approaches only, or better still, put a CFI in the right seat.
  • Anxiety: Remember to fly the airplane; if the tower is talking and you can’t spare the mental bandwidth to explain, don’t! (At least, not right now.)
  • Indecision: Going around after touching down past the half-way point on a short runway (then flying into trees at the other end) has caused more grief than a banana peel slide when the runway ran out. Make the decision early. If the thought has entered your mind at all, the answer is to go around!
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES -- the airplane...
  • Aircraft design: When we're trimmed and primed for landing, we have to be prepared to overpower the rapid pitch increase that (usually) comes from applying full power. (If you're already descending however, pitch up first to arrest the descent and simultaneously add power.) Maintaining level flight until you have accelerated to climb speed, particularly if you are still in ground effect with full flaps, takes presence of mind. Plus, we must remember to add power smoothly; firewalling the throttle too suddenly can cause an engine to either hesitate or quit altogether.
  • Directional control: Just as important as maintaining the proper attitude after you add power (and remembering that your pitch attitude will be lower than during a normal no-flaps climb) is: knowing that your feet need to be prepared to deal with torque and left-turning tendencies.
  • Airspeed: If you don’t want that “sinking feeling”, don’t raise the flaps past 20 degrees until you’re well above stall speed. Lift the flaps only in 10-degree increments. (Forgetting to raise the flaps at all is a common mistake.) New airplanes are supposed to be able to climb at a two-degree angle (at 70 knots that would be about 250 feet/minute) with full flaps... but don’t count on it.
  • Carburetor heat is actually not as important as the first three, although the best time to push that red knob back in is right after you’ve pushed the throttle. Gear: Retract it only when you have a positive climb. (With some airplanes, gear retraction briefly increases drag.) Then worry about re-trimming.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES -- You & The Airplane...
  • This is a team effort, but the aircraft isn't going to remember the things you forget. Some folks get so wrapped up with the go-around, they forget to check and properly reconfigure for the subsequent landing. Do not fly directly from the go around to the downwind. Fly away just like it was a departure and return just like it's a landing. Go over your checklist for each phase, get your head straight and do it again.
DEFENSE
There are several things we need to do. Here they are, right out of the FAA-S-8081-14A, the ASEL Practical Test Standards, Section I, Area IV, item L. (Note: This isn’t going to be effective until 8/1/2002.)
Figure 1
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re too fast, too far, too high, too far left and getting farther, if you’ve just bounced eight feet back into the air, or a rip-snorting gusty crosswind got you spooked, or you just noticed some jay-walking geese, or you see ice and you’re starting to slide sideways, or you notice the windsock now shows a tailwind, or another airplane just taxied out in front of you; or if you don’t have three greens, or the runway just disappeared in a fog bank, or the tower just asked you to land and hold short and you can't -- WHATEVER -- GO AROUND. (You can always tell your friends you were just practicing.)

Other iPilot reading:

Five Don’ts of Good Landings -- and then some.

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