Go-Arounds: Making the Decision

By Amy Hoover. Published in Pilot Getaways Magazine, 2000.

You roll out high and hot on final and just know you can save this landing; you could point the nose down, suck the throttle back, dive toward that midfield taxiway, and hope for the best.  Or you could abort the landing and execute a go-around. A go-around is a viable option for almost any approach, with the exception of landing in confined areas at one-way airstrips or at very high density altitudes.  However, pilots typically get into go-around trouble by making a poor decision, a latent decision, or by indecision.

Reasons for aborting a landing include other airplane traffic in the pattern or on the runway, ATC instructions to go around, a destabilized approach due to misjudging wind or to poor aircraft control, excessive floating, or a bounce or “botched” landing. In all cases, the earlier the go-around decision is made, the larger the safety margin will be for its execution.  In addition, the decision should be positive and the go-around should be executed without hesitation once the decision is made.

Does your pre-landing checklist include identifying results of possible go-arounds from different positions throughout the approach and landing? It should. When you study an airport layout during your preflight, and when you enter the traffic pattern, assess items such as surrounding terrain and obstacles, the departure path, and the airplane’s climb performance in the landing configuration.  Also, determine how density altitude will affect power available, groundspeed, and the airplane’s climb capability. Decide in advance at what point a go-around would become potentially hazardous and make a firm decision to abort the landing if criteria such as airspeed, altitude, and proper spacing from the runway are not met at certain “key” positions in the landing pattern. For example, If you are way too high and too hot in the turn from base to final, that is the time to go around if terrain and traffic permit.  Failure to make a positive decision, and to make it early, could result in a long landing with insufficient room to stop, or a latent decision to go around from a position too far down the runway to be safe. By choosing your action in advance, you are removing the element of indecision.

Go-arounds from a botched landing pose additional problems.  A typical bounce results from excessive airspeed, which usually results from a fast approach. If you are too hot on final approach you should ask yourself, “Would I takeoff in the landing configuration from that mid-field intersection?” because that is what you will be attempting to do if you float or bounce and go around.   It would be better to ground loop, run off the end of the runway, or run into obstacles on the ground than to attempt a go-around too late and hit obstacles, trees, or terrain while airborne, or to enter a departure stall, both of which can be deadly.

A few months ago a veteran pilot in the local area attempted to land with a tailwind.  The plane landed long and the pilot executed a go-around. Eyewitness said the plane bounced, went to full power, the nose pitched up radically, and the plane stalled and nosed over, killing the pilot in the post-impact fire.  The NTSB reported the airplane had full flaps with nose up trim. This situation represents a real snake in the grass called an “elevator trim stall”. For some airplanes set to the landing configuration and trim, application of power causes an enormous nose up pitching moment, which the trim setting exacerbates. The pilot may have to really shove forward on the yoke or stick to avoid a stall.  In a heavily loaded airplane with an aft CG the force may be too great for the pilot to overcome. In addition, an immediate and strong application of right rudder might also be necessary to avoid loss of directional control.

In a go-around you are not just starting a climb, you are transitioning from a descent to a climb, which could take a considerable amount of time and distance.  The key is to decide early, make a positive decision, and implement it without hesitation before a critical situation develops. Plan ahead and practice the actual sequence in which you will execute each part of the maneuver in your airplane.  For example, a typical scenario would be to simultaneously add power, right rudder, and push forward on the yoke or stick, retract flaps incrementally to takeoff setting after the descent is arrested, trim to relieve control pressures, then retract landing gear after a positive rate of climb is achieved.  

It is essential to practice the go-around transition sequence at different weights and center of gravity positions so you will know what to expect.  Take the airplane to a safe altitude, but one that is close enough to the airport elevation you will be using so you will have similar power and P-factor effects (regulations specify 1500 feet AGL for recovery from maneuver).  Set the plane up for a normal approach descent with gear and flaps down and trimmed for landing, then add full takeoff power and note several items, including: 1) how much forward force you must apply to the yoke or stick to avoid a departure stall; 2) altitude loss from the time of power application until you arrest the descent and initiate a climb; and 3) the time and distance it requires to transition from the descent to the climb. Do the transition to best rate and best angle of climb speed and note differences needed in control pressures and pitch attitude.  Then do some transitions “hands off” and let the plane enter a departure stall on its own; which may surprise you.

All too often a go-around is executed as a “knee-jerk reaction” type of maneuver, which can have disastrous results. By planning ahead you can add go-around safety to your flying mind set.  Consider any go-around to be an emergency procedure; plan for it, practice it, and use it wisely.

Published in Pilot Getaways Magazine, 2000, Volume 3, issue 2, pg. 54