A Safe Pilot is Always Learning

Training tips for students and pilots

Please go around…

Last month, we looked at rejected takeoffs and ways to determine when a takeoff should be rejected. Some of these are quite obvious, others less so. This month, we’ll take some of the guesswork out of rejected approaches, otherwise known as go- arounds.

Truth is, takeoffs are optional and landings are mandatory. However, takeoffs are much more critical as the aircraft doesn’t yet have those valuable things essential to every safe pilot – airspeed and altitude. Because of this, there isn’t a lot of time to trade one for the other. This minimizes options, making takeoff the most critical phase of flight. This is the reason the pre-takeoff abort plan is so essential. There is no time for thinking in the event of a system or equipment malfunction or failure. You need to have that plan top- of-mind and fly the plan. Decisions to reject the takeoff need to be timely and deliberate. Over-thinking is time wasted. Fly the plane, run your procedures.

Landings, while a mandatory part of each and every flight, are less critical. You have airspeed and altitude. You can use pitch and power at any point to add energy and change either or both of these as you see fit. At any point in the approach, you can use the ace up your sleeve – the go-around – to get out of there and try again or divert to another airport.

So, what are some reasons pilots don’t go around? The usual suspects…pride, ego, external pressures and, in many cases, a lack of situational awareness that a go-around is the best option for that particular approach.

What reasons are there to go-around? Any. First off, if anything doesn’t look right, feel right, sound right, etc…on your approach, go around! If you have a gut feeling you should abandon the approach, go around! Some reasons to go around should be obvious – aircraft, golf cart, fuel truck, pedestrian, or deer on or approaching the runway, wind shear, etc… should be automatic go-arounds. Other reasons may not be so obvious, but should be.

If you aren’t stabilized on final, make an early decision to go-around. A stabilized approach is one in which the pilot establishes and maintains a constant angle glide-path towards a predetermined point on the landing runway and requires none to minimal control pressures, power changes, or configuration changes to maintain that glide path. If you’re not stabilized, make the decision early and go-around. At the very latest, if you’re not stabilized by 200’ above ground level (AGL), go around.

Let’s address the situation of pilots who lose situational awareness and believes they are stabilized, but are actually 10 knots above approach speed…if they believe they are stabilized, they won’t think to go around. What’s going to happen during their level-off and flare? You guessed it – they’re either going to balloon, bounce, or float down the runway. That excess energy isn’t going away easily! Unfortunately, this is a recipe for a loss-of-control accident, especially if there is a crosswind.

So, every pilot needs to have a hardline, objective point on the runway where they will absolutely go-around if their wheels aren’t on the ground. This point should be, for most runways greater than 2,000 feet, no further than 1/3 of the way down the runway. Pick a spot off to the side of the runway, so you actually know if you’re going to float past it. Once you float past this point or, better yet, once you anticipate you are going to float past this point, go around! The pilot in this instance needs practice with an instructor to assist with airspeed awareness, especially by use of outside references (site pictures).

So, what is the procedure for a go-around? Consult the current Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) for your specific aircraft, but for ALL aircraft, the first step is to DECIDE to go-around and stick with that decision!

Always remember your priorities…Aviate, Navigate, Communicate – in that order! Too many pilots drop the plane to fly the mic, especially on go-arounds. There is no reason a radio call should be made prior to adding power, pitching appropriately, using lots of right rudder and configuring the plane properly on a go-around. Once you’re ahead of the plane, clear of all obstacles, maintaining extended runway centerline with no drift and pitched and configured properly with lots of right rudder, then go ahead and make the radio call, but never put radios before flying the plane!

Practice with a flight instructor along with a periodic review of the FAA’s ‘Airplane Flying Handbook’ and Wolfgang Langewiesche’s ‘Stick and Rudder’ is always helpful!

On downwind, always have the go-around top-of-mind. You should be setting up for a go-around, then only land if you are stabilized and everything looks, feels and sounds right all the way to the runway. If, and only if, that’s the case, the landing is a reward for your flying a stabilized approach!

Remember, a go-around is never a failure, but continuing an unstabilized approach to a landing is. The approach makes the landing. Why not enjoy a few more minutes of flying and get it right?

Be safe, have fun and keep learning! Matt D’Angelo

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