During our pilot training we are taught this simple but important maneuver, the “Go Around.” Remember the first time your instructor told you to go around? Huh, What? The instructor might have said to add power, pitch the nose up, start climbing, gradually reduce the flaps, and get back into the traffic pattern.
At a non-towered airport, that would have been about all, but at a towered airport, there is a bit more to it. You have to let the tower know that you are going to go around also, and listen for instructions from the tower. For our first “go around” the instructor usually tells us in advance that we are going to do this maneuver, explaining how it is done and what he expects from us. Later in training, the instructor may just surprise us with “Go Around!” Why? Well, it is part of the training.
When we get into the traffic pattern, we usually expect to complete a landing, and most of the time we will. However, there are times when things are not set up correctly and your instructor may tell you to go out and do it again. Also, things can happen at an airport that you were not expecting, such as the airplane landing ahead of you forgetting to put his landing gear down; now you are on final behind an airplane sitting way too close to the concrete on the same runway that you were planning to land on. Go Around!
For most of us this is no big deal. Just add power, pitch up, climb, reduce flaps, and go to another runway (if one is available; otherwise, it might be to a different airport). I was at the FBO at Tucson airport waiting for a friend to show up. While waiting, I was watching incoming traffic. A Boeing 737 flown by an airline that flies nothing but 737’s was on short final. Suddenly I heard the engines power up and the airplane start climbing. The gear came back up and the flaps started retracting. I watched the plane make right traffic for the same runway and come back in for a perfect landing. This took a about 20 minutes total time for the plane to climb to the correct altitude, go back to the approach fix, and configure for landing again. I never found out why that 737 had to do a “Go Around.” It could have been something on the runway that I could not see, or an instruction from the tower for some reason, or even that the crew was not comfortable with the set up or speed for the landing. The important thing is that they made a safe landing, even if a few minutes later than planned. Even a Cessna 172 would have taken close to 15 minutes to go around, and make a safe landing.
I was doing some training with a student about 20 NM north of Pittsburgh at an airport with a single runway. The pattern was fine, and the student had the Cessna all set up for a perfect landing. As he put the wheels on the pavement, I noticed something in the middle of the runway, about half way down the 4900 foot runway. It would have been too hard to stop before reaching that so I said “Go Around!” As the student added power, a fox that had been resting on the warm cement, decided to get out of our way and ran into the bushes to the west of the runway. We were able to abort the go around and make a safe stop.
At another airport, here in Arizona, while set up for landing, and on short final, a Piper Cub taxied onto the runway for takeoff. We were less than a quarter of a mile from touchdown. I told the student to go around and make a left turn away from the runway as soon as practical. The Cub did not see us on final and we watched him take off and fly away, not sure if he ever knew we were there. You can’t be too careful!
Instructors get surprises, too. While training with a student that was not doing well in getting set up for landing, I had to assist in every landing. After several of these patterns, I decided to just let him alone to see what he would do. He was high and fast on downwind, base, and then on final. I knew that he could not make this landing, but said nothing. He drifted high over the runway, and at about half way down the runway announced that he was going to “go around.” Good decision, I said. We were in a Piper Warrior. The first thing he did was raise the flaps! Since we were already low and slow, the Warrior started to drop like a rock. I reacted quickly, added power and recovered before the wheels could hit the ground. We had already done enough “Go Arounds” that I expected him to add power first, pitch up, start climbing, then reduce the flaps. I told him that I would land the airplane, and we would have to talk about the “Go Around” again.
Doing a “Go Around” can be a surprise, but doing things in the right order is critical. You MUST add power first. The airplane is already low and slow and configured for landing with landing gear extended (if retractable), flaps set for landing, and power set to keep you at the correct landing speed. Landing check list complete. We expect to make a landing. Then that surprise comes at us in whatever form it may take. If we continue and try to complete that landing we may land long, and go off the end of the runway, or skid to the side of the runway. Add power and Go Around! There is no shame in that. There is shame in bending up an airplane. The passengers in that Boeing 737 were probably upset that they landed a few minutes late, but they should have been happy that the crew did the right thing and made a safe landing even if it was a little later than scheduled!
Why are there so many accidents in the landing phase of flight? There is a lot going on, and we need to train and practice for that. Train with your instructor in “Go Around” maneuvers, and even practice them yourself when solo. Your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION presents a safety seminar somewhere in the state every month. Look at the website for locations and time, and don’t forget to “Bring your Wingman.”