It basically doesn’t matter why you need to discard your visual landing approach and go around. It could be something as routine as another airplane or a vehicle on the runway, a poorly flown approach or configuration error, or a controller’s direction in response to something you can’t even see. But go around you shall, and you “suddenly” have a whole new task to perform, an airplane to reconfigure and a low-speed, high-power maneuver to fly. Did we mention you’re close to the ground?
We put suddenly in scare quotes above because there’s no reason you should be surprised by the need to go around. A landing approach has two outcomes: a successful landing or a go-around. (Supposedly, there’s a third outcome—bending the airplane—but that’s what we’re trying to avoid.) It’s a binary thing, and there’s absolutely no reason to be surprised the thing you desired most isn’t going to happen right away. Let’s look at the sequence of events.
The first step in the go-around maneuver is to decide to go around. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? The problem is that pilots somehow see needing to go around as a defeat of some kind, that they haven’t measured up, and have done it in public, for all the world to see. Thinking you should probably go around but might be able to save it is the real risk here. The odds are much better if you just decide to go around and perform the tasks you’ve practiced, and then fix the problem on the next approach. Once the decision is made, stick with it: don’t vacillate, which can mean no real decision is made, and you just let events unfold. You’re the pilot—act like it.
The next thing is to stop the descent by adding power. The typical personal airplane will want to pitch up, seeking its trimmed airspeed. Don’t let it. Adding full power from the landing configuration can raise the nose too high without appropriate input to the pitch control. Your real task here is to stop the descent with power, and you probably don’t need all of it immediately. You can begin a steep or shallow climb, or level off, but the immediate goal is to not contact terrain or an obstacle before you can establish a climb.
PITCH AND POWER
We lead with power during the go-around because raising the nose first likely will place us further behind the power curve and closer to a stall. Ideally, apply power and nose-up pitch at the same time, in a coordinated fashion. But get the power setting at least started toward the recommended takeoff/go-around target.
Depending on the airplane, we may not recommend adding full power immediately. It might be fine for something that’s relatively underpowered, but a lightly loaded high-performance single or twin in the landing configuration will react to suddenly applying full power in ways you might not fully anticipate. We touched on the typical airplane’s nose-up pitch tendency a moment ago.
One of the factors in how the airplane will react is pitch trim. If you’ve dialed a lot of nose-up trim for the approach, you’ll need a hefty push on the pitch control to keep the nose from rising too high. Electric pitch trim with a switch under your thumb makes this a no-brainer, while manual trim means you have to take a hand off something. Regardless, adding some nose-down trim likely is necessary, and needs to be coordinated with everything else.
Another issue with adding all the power is directional control. As the nose comes up in reaction to added power and increased pitch, the left-turning tendencies of U.S.-manufactured airplanes will yaw the nose left. (Airplanes with engines turning the opposite direction—counterclockwise—will exhibit right-turning tendencies.) That means using rudder—perhaps a lot of it—to keep the nose straight. The amount of rudder needed depends on the power, and it’s easier to apply both in a coordinated fashion than just jam the throttle to the stop and then think about directional control.
Once the descent is arrested and the climb begins, and control is assured, increase to full power and coordinate your flight control inputs.
While a go-around is its own maneuver, it can be broken down into specific tasks, which likely need to be performed in a specific order. The diagram above hits the highlights, and there’s nothing in this list you haven’t done before. The only real trick is you’re close to the ground, so there’s a narrower margin for some errors.
Overriding the priority of performing these separate tasks is your all-the-time responsibility to fly the airplane. That’s why we take things in a logical order, with appropriate modifications for operating limitations and manufacturer procedures: trying to do it all at once often leads to errors, and we’re too low and too slow to get this wrong.
The FAA and industry long ago decided that a normal landing is done with full flaps. But few airplanes have much climb capability in the full-flap landing configuration. To minimize drag and encourage the airplane’s acceleration, partially retracting the flaps, per manufacturer recommendations and operating limitations, likely is the next step. Manual (Johnson bar) flap controls make this easy; electric or hydraulic flaps without a preselect setting may require more effort.
It’s likely your airplane’s procedures call for an intermediate flap setting at first when going around. In any event, removing all the flaps at low airspeed and altitude is rarely a good idea. Once power and cowl flaps are properly set, that’s it, right? What about the landing gear?
It depends. Some go-around procedures advise waiting to raise the gear until the airplane’s positive rate of climb is verified and/or all obstacles are cleared. The trick is raising the gear may momentarily increase drag as gear doors cycle or wheels pivot in the slipstream. Regardless of the manufacturer’s recommendations, the configuration changes aren’t complete until the gear’s fully retracted.
By this time, you’ve verified the airplane is climbing, it’s in the correct configuration and engine parameters are normal. Your next task depends on why you went around. If it was ATC-directed, they’ll have some input. If the crosswind was too stiff, you’ll need to find a different, better-aligned runway, and need to make a decision on where it will be. If you simply screwed up, you need to know why and what you can do to fix the problem next time. If you need to think about it, exit the pattern and get your act together. If not, know what to do so it’s right the next time.