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.

Posted by at June 22, 2009 7:28 PM

Great post. I remember reading somewhere that "going around is the only decision you will never regret". In a way, going around should be the default decision and landing the exception when everything is right.

Posted by: Julien at June 23, 2009 2:20 AM | Reply

The version I've read a few places is, "Assume all approaches will lead to overshoots" or variations on that theme. It's not a bad thing to keep in the back of your mind, and you've got a great point about the decision-making ability/skill required.

That video made me cringe... the twin just floats, and floats, and floats... and then there's a cloud of sand...

Posted by: Wirelizard at June 23, 2009 11:15 AM | Reply

Great quotes Julien and Wirelizard!

Posted by: Todd at June 24, 2009 10:59 PM | Reply

I just looked up the official aeronautical chart for that airport (TFFJ). Runway is 650m long. Pilots require special training and approval for landing there, another indication of how tricky the place is. And if I may indulge in what Americans would likely call "armchair quarterbacking", I would say that a factor in the pilot not going around may have been his or her reluctance to fly a circuit in such a hilly area.

Posted by: Julien at June 25, 2009 9:38 PM | Reply

I might need to fly an approach or two into this airport on the Flight Simulator.

Posted by: Todd at June 25, 2009 11:07 PM | Reply

I think part of your approach and landing planning should be consideration for your latest touchdown point so if you see that you're not going to make that, then simply initiate a go around.

great post and video.
Fly safe!

Posted by: Kev at June 30, 2010 11:02 AM | Reply

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