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Go-arounds seem like a simple maneuver. You push the power up, pitch up, and fly away from the runway.
But there's no shortage of go-around accidents in the NTSB database, and the accidents range in all sizes of aircraft. From Cessna 172s to Boeing 777s, go-arounds often leave pilots in a perilous situation close the ground.
So what goes wrong during go-arounds? There isn't one single factor, but it often comes down to too many distractions, and not flying the airplane throughout the entire go-around.
There's no "right time" to go around, but in almost all cases, the earlier you go-around, the better.
That's because when you get close the runway and the obstacles around it, your chances of things going wrong increases.
But regardless of where you start your go-around, you need to focus on the three rules that apply to any type of flying: aviate, navigate, communicate. In that order.
Go-around procedures differ based on the aircraft you're flying, but the basic principles are the same: power up, pitch up, clean up.
If you look at a Cessna 172S manual, it tells you to add full power (power up), climb at 60 knots (pitch up), and reduce your flaps to 20 degrees (clean up) during a go-around.
But there's something it, and other manuals, don't say. Even when you start a go-around, you might still touch down on the runway.
That's very important to realize, and it's often where things go wrong. Like this accident, where a 172 attempted a go-around, drifted right of the runway, and impacted terrain off the runway, collapsing the nose gear.
When you start a go-around, you're low, you're slow, and you have a lot of drag from your flaps.
When you start a go-around, you have to overcome all of those factors to get your airplane climbing again. So when you power up, pitch up, and clean up, you need to keep flying yourself down the centerline of the runway as well. That way, if you touch down and lift off again, you don't hit anything in the process.
A quick search of the NTSB accident database shows countless examples of go-arounds that ended with the airplane impacting something left or right of the runway, like taxiway lights, signs, and trees.
While there aren't many guarantees in life, there's an absolute guarantee that if you stay on runway centerline throughout your go-around, you won't hit anything left or right of the runway.
There is, of course, an exception. If you're going around because of another aircraft on the runway, you may want to side-step the runway to keep the aircraft in sight. But only after you've established a positive rate-of-climb.
After you're safely climbing and there's plenty of room between you and the ground, it's time to start talking.
Whether you're at a tower-controlled airport or a non-towered airport, announcing your go-around should come after you've configured your plane in a stabilized climb, and you're sure you're going to clear any obstacles near the runway.
If you execute your go-around in that order, you'll have no problem turning your descent into a safe climb, even if you touch down on the runway during the process.
Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at email@example.com.