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It's the easiest way to save a balked approach and landing: the go-around. Thousands of aviation accidents could have been avoided through performing a simple go-around procedure. So why don't pilots choose to minimize their risks and try a second approach when things don't feel right?
The real problem is that many pilots don't realize when a go-around might be necessary; in the fast paced nature of an approach and landing, it can be difficult to see the warning signs of a landing gone wrong, or to realize when a go-around may be necessary. We'll start off by showing this video of a crash at the Saint Barthelemy Airport (TFFJ) that easily could have been avoided with a go-around:
In the video, a light twin-engine airplane attempted to land in St. Barths, famous for its steep, downhill approach to Runway 10. In this case, the light twin came in far too fast, floating well past a standard touchdown point and landing with just over 1000 feet of runway left. As it touched down, you can see the airplane bounce a few times, signaling that it was still carrying enough speed to give the aircraft lift. Once full braking was applied and the aircraft started to skid sideways, there was no hope for recovery.
So what went wrong? The pilot failed to correct his high airspeed during approach and subsequently allowed the aircraft to float down the short, 2,133 foot runway. It's easy to see that this pilot continued the float with the hope that enough speed would bleed off to allow a safe landing well before the end of the runway. Sadly, this is how it ended:
The above scenario could have been avoided through a simple go-around. Generally, go-around procedures include the following steps:
1) Power: increase
2) Elevator pressure: apply
3) Stabilize the aircraft at full power
4) Flaps: gradually retract
5) Climb speed: establish
6) Trim: reset
Refer to your aircraft's POH for an accurate and more detailed checklist.
If at any point during your approach and landing, including your runway flare just above the ground, you feel your landing is taking a turn for the worse, go around. It's as simple as that. It could cost you 5 more minutes of flight time in your logbook vs. a much worse alternative.
Light aircraft such as a Cessna 152 (with low power and moderate trim use) do not pitch up rapidly during a go-around. No serious problems are presented for pilots of light aircraft like the C152 because there is no real trouble with keeping the plane at a safe attitude; as the power is applied, the yoke is held forward, and the trim is then rolled forward as needed.
For certification requirements of nearly all general aviation aircraft, the pilot must be able to manage the airplane in a full-power, full-trim go-around. Conversely, with high-powered airplanes, the nose may pitch up aggressively into a dangerous attitude during a go-around, especially when it has an aft CG. Pilots of powerful airplanes must be ready to handle this rapid attitude change.
Managing the flight controls during a go-around becomes much easier once flaps have been retracted, GRADUALLY. Lift generated by the wings decreases incrementally as the flaps are retracted; with decreasing lift, the aircraft climb rate is likely to decrease, or momentarily stop, as well. Drag decreases as the flaps are retracted, allowing the airplane to accelerate to a rate that will generate lift equal to that lost by the retracting flaps. The goal is to do this without losing altitude. If you follow your aircraft's operating handbook, once the pitch has been stabilized and power has been applied, your airplane will start gaining altitude.
Floating down the runway (especially short runways) leads to dozens of aircraft accidents every year. Floating occurs when pilots enter a flare with excessive airspeed and maintain a level or slightly nose-high attitude; the pilot waits and flies over much of the runway while the excess energy bleeds off in order to make a safe landing. Unless you're landing at a long runway, you should always avoid floating down the runway. It's a dangerous habit to form. Instead, go-around when you notice you're coming in over the runway too fast. Nailing that one landing isn't worth totaling your aircraft, like that of the crash at St. Barths. In the video below, you'll see a 737 on approach to Toncontin International Airport, Honduras (MHGT) float down the runway, touching down just a few thousand feet before the threshold, with a 50 foot cliff just off the end of the runway:
Gusting winds must be taken into account during a go around when the airplane is in ground effect during its flare.
A normal gust spread of 5 knots isn't anything to worry about, but when the gusts are roughly 10 knots and above, you must consider at what point you're initiating a go-around. If you begin a go-around during the peak of a gust and it dies, your airspeed will drop off with it. Imagine you've added power during a 15 knot gust, before the plane had the chance to accelerate, when the gust dies, there's a chance your plane could settle to the ground.
With extreme gusts, there's a risk that you could be pushed off of the runway at low speed, even if you're initiating a go-around. Here's what you shouldn't do: pull the nose up to counteract the sink - If you pull the nose and the gust doesn't maintain itself or return, you should expect to contact the runway.
A bounce during landing is more intense than a ricochet (which is comparable to the light skipping of a stone on a lake). In both bounces and ricochets, the aircraft impacts the ground at a high airspeed, well above stall speed. The difference between the two is that a bounce happens when the airplane impacts the runways at a much more vertical angle and higher decent rate. During a bounce, it's not uncommon for a pilot to hit the runway and be back in the air, 15 feet above the ground, wondering if they should save the landing or go-around. Why take the risk of porpoising down the runway when you can simply go-around?
Instead of saving the landing, lower the nose slightly so you don't bounce any higher, add full power, and build speed during a gradual climb. Once you've gained airspeed, begin a normal go-around climb. Just remember that this should all happen at once: you should push the nose forward as you add power - Both hands go forward at the same time.
It's one of the most dangerous situations on final approach: wind shear. Wind shear occurs when winds rapidly change heading (from a headwind to a tailwind) without changing velocity. This leaves aircraft experiencing dangerous and extreme airspeed, attitude, altitude, and heading changes. Basically, it's not a great thing to have happen to you while you're traveling at 75+ knots a few feet above the ground.
As the wind shifts from a headwind to a tailwind, your airspeed decreases rapidly, causing a dramatic loss of lift. When this happens, there's no time to think about how to save the landing, just go-around. You need to immediately add power, pitch up a little to arrest your descent rate, and go-around, when you encounter wind shear. If you hear wind shear reports from other aircraft or begin experiencing it yourself, do not risk the safety of yourself or your passengers, go-around. Below is an example of a wind shear encounter and subsequent go-around:
If something just isn't working out, or you encounter a dangerous situation during an approach, go-around and try it again. Adding 5 minutes to your aircraft bill and logbook is a far better ending than having to call the NTSB, or worse.
There are endless situations that might require go-arounds. It may sound like a simple procedure, but unless it's second nature to you, consider renting an aircraft at your local flight school and practice go-arounds during different points of an approach. It'll make you a better, safer, more confident pilot.
Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, commercially licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, and a commercial aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. Swayne's experience ranges from international flights in a King Air F90 to ferrying a 1943 Grumman Widgeon across the country. You can reach Swayne at email@example.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.