June 22, 2009
Knowing When It Is Time to Go-Around
When I was learning to land my flight instructor spent significant time focusing on how to perform a go-around. She beat into my head that a go-around was not in anyway a failure but the smart and safe thing to do anytime you are unhappy with your approach or landing attempt. I know from conversations with my CFI one of the factors she looked for before signing me off to solo was solid decision making skills. She wanted to see that I was wise enough to recognize when a landing approach was not going well and that I was confident enough to make a snap decision to abort the landing an skilled enough to execute a go-around landing.
Bruce Landsberg wrote in an AOPA article that "...coming back for a second try at the runway is a skill that everyone needs but many lack." Bruce Landsberg. When was the last time you practiced or thought about a go-around?
Pat over at Aviation Chatter recently posted a dramatic video clip of a twin piston, making a landing at St. Barthelemy Airport, a small 2,100 foot airstrip in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, as you will see in the video the pilot failed to make the decision to perform a go-around. Instead the plane floats halfway down the runway before finally touching down then overshooting the runway. Take a look at this video. Then think about whether you have practiced or at least thought through the go-around procedures for your plane recently.
It is vital that as pilots we are accustomed to thinking about the go-around decision during each approach. Budd Davisson writes, "If at any time in the approach or landing, right into final flare, you feel as if it isn't right, go around." Pilots should know when to make the decision and the precise steps to execute the go-around. I had a valuable learning experience just a few months after earning my license that reminded me to keep "Power Up, Pitch Up, Clean Up, Talk Up" in the back of my mind on each approach.
On a turbulent and windy day I flew to Indiana to land at a narrow 40-foot single strip runway. I had a stabilized approach until I was about 100-200 feet above the ground. A gust of wind caused the plane to drift off the centerline and in fact almost over the left edge of the runway. I immediately realized this approach was not going well and I should not try to salvage a landing on this attempt. I made the go-around decision.
Unfortunately, I did not follow standard procedure and accidentally put in full power and retracted the flaps completely putting myself in a precarious position. It took a second or two, which felt more like a minute, to realize I was still descending despite the power increase and the pitch change and I quickly put in an appropriate amount of flaps for the go-around. Sure enough the plane started to accelerate and then climb safely over the obstacles at the end of the runway at which point I began to "clean up". That learning experience helped re-enforce for me the importance of getting muscle memory in place for performing the go-around procedure and also not delaying in making the go-around decision.