Are you prepared to go around?

5 min read
visual airline approach

Weather was good enough to accept the visual approach.

We were approaching the busy Orlando terminal airspace on a summer Friday afternoon. The typical afternoon thunderstorms were wreaking havoc on the local approach controllers attempting to work a high volume of aircraft into the local Orlando airports with non-standard routing because of aircraft deviating around weather. We overflew the Orlando Sanford Airport to avoid weather to the west before being vectored to final approach for runway 25 at the Orlando Executive Airport. Weather was good enough at this point to accept a visual approach.

After being cleared to land approximately five miles out, we were told there would an aircraft performing a high-speed taxi down the runway prior to our arrival. Minutes later we were told to slow to our final speed as the Falcon tri-jet had not yet begun its taxi. We were fortunate to have about 20 seconds at our 120kt final approach speed to discuss the possibility of a go-around given the slow progress of the Falcon’s taxi run. This discussion involved the steps we would take performing the go-around and the appropriate call-outs. On short final, with the Falcon still on the runway, I called for the go-around.

Go-around power, flaps 10, positive rate, gear-up. The same cadence as we had practiced in training and executed during this real event resulted in a safe outcome in this low-level maneuver with passengers aboard. After being offered several options for our return from the Tower controller, we opted for a visual right-hand pattern and landed uneventfully.

Are you prepared for your next go-around? Go-around are almost never planned and can occur because of the actions of others in the case of a runway incursion or controller miscue. Or they can stem from a faulty approach or balked landing attempt. In any case, go-arounds are a low-level, high workload task in an already stressful environment which is when training and instinctive reactions matter most. Here is how to help reinforce those procedures and affect a positive outcome.

1) Rehearse your go-around procedures on every approach. While fine details may vary slightly, go-around procedures are generally universal in any aircraft from pistons to jets. Apply takeoff (go-around) power while simultaneously increasing pitch to the takeoff/go-around attitude. Retract the flaps to the appropriate go-around setting to reduce drag. If flying a retractable gear aircraft, upon establishing a positive rate of climb, retract the landing gear also to reduce drag and improve climb performance. Upon reaching a safe obstacle clearance altitude, retract the remaining flaps and complete the appropriate checklists.

Even if you are not flying a retractable gear aircraft, it’s certainly OK to maintain a consistent rhythm to the go-around procedures by still calling for gear or verifying the gear position. This will help if transitioning to a retractable gear airplane or perhaps you fly a combination of aircraft. And the same rule applies to flaps even if you may have executed the go-around at the appropriate flap setting.

pilot flying

Rehearse your go-around procedures on every approach.

2) Fly the airplane first! In the aviation hierarchy, we fly the airplane first before navigating or communicating. Aviation, navigate, communicate. When executing a go-around, you are likely trimmed for final approach and not for takeoff power and a climb attitude. Anticipate that additional control force will be necessary when adding power and, in a single engine piston-powered airplane, the left turning tendencies will be noticeable. In many aircraft, the configuration and pitch changes will be significant in a go-around with little margin for error.

In our go-around scenario, the Tower controller (likely somewhat flustered) was providing various options for our return to landing including switching back to approach control for an instrument approach versus continuing in the pattern VFR. These options were being presented to us in our already high task load environment. It is perfectly OK and imperative, that you have the airplane under control before responding to ATC. A simply “standby” will alert the controller that you have higher priorities and will respond when able.

airplane landing

Aviation, navigate, communicate – in that order!

3) Carefully consider your options for return. Depending on the cause of the go-around, returning to the same airport may not be the best option. Weather, traffic volume or airport conditions can affect your options. It’s good practice to have some basic awareness of alternate airport options even when flying VMC. If the cause of the go-around was a disabled aircraft or strong crosswinds, that likely will not be resolved quickly and you may not have the necessary fuel to wait for conditions to improve. In small, piston aircraft a go-around may not affect your fuel status a great deal, but in larger aircraft, one additional trip around the pattern can eat into fuel reserves quickly.

Also consider that a go-around can be unsettling for passengers not familiar with the aviation environment. It is hard to not notice a big increase in power and climb away from the airport when a landing was anticipated. If time and workload permit, explain the scenario to the passengers which could also influence your next move.

It is my opinion that we do not practice or execute go-arounds frequently enough as a community. We attempt to salvage poor approaches of balked landings when a controlled go-around is the better option. My challenge to you is to at least rehearse your go-around procedure on your next flight and, when the conditions allow, execute a go-around. After all, don’t we want more time in the air?

Eric Radtke
1 reply
  1. James Price says:

    Points well taken. In my experience as pilots if we do not think there may be a problem, power loss on take-off, runway or traffic problem, and may more, then it is a big surprise if (when) it happens. If during run-up we at least consider a possibility it will give us a heads up and be able to handle any problem better.

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