Gusty Go Around

The go-around from a balked landing, even in a gusty crosswind, shouldnt be this hard.


One of the first things student pilots learn-right about the time theyre learning to land-is how to go around. If theyre like me, they got a lot of practice adding full power and reconfiguring the airplane in those first few frantic hours.

Early in my flying career, I learned the airplanes configuration mattered. I was flying a Cessna 150, with wing flaps that were fully deployed at 40 degrees. Some other Cessnas Ive flown could only muster 30 degrees, a design change the company presumably made because it didnt affect landing distance all that much while making go-arounds easier.

That well-worn 150 also didnt have pre-select detents in its flap switch as later Cessnas do. When asking for all 100 of those ponies to carry me and my instructor over the threshold and up for another trip around the pattern, I was holding full throttle, re-trimming and “milking” up the flaps while maintaining heading and airspeed, listening to the instructors critique of my aborted approach. It could be a busy time, especially if the instructor felt like introducing a system failure. Those were the days.

A go-around in each airplane Ive flown since is always some variation on that same basic theme. But the workload varies. For example, there often is landing gear or a prop control to add into the mix, along with manual “Johnson” bar wing flaps that can be immediately retracted or the slower-than-Christmas electric variety. Dont forget carb heat or cowl flaps.

Retracting the wing flaps, of course, is something of a balancing act. Fully retract them too soon and the airplane may sink back to the runway. Leave them extended too long and climb performance suffers. The Momma Bear solution was, and still is, to establish a positive climb rate while adding full power, then retract them 10 or so degrees at a time, re-trimming as we go. How fast the trim reacts, whether its electric or manual, and the airplanes loading all figure prominently in how busy things might get during a go-around. All of this remains true today.

One trick in all this, however, is properly managing pitch trim. Some airplanes-especially heavier, faster ones-can present substantial stick forces in a go-around when theyre trimmed for the full-flaps, power-off configuration. If a pilot hasnt performed a go-around lately, the force required to keep the nose down can present an unpleasant surprise.


On April 22, 2007, at 1543 Eastern time, a Piper PA-23-250 Aztec was destroyed when it impacted terrain near the Windham Airport (IJD), Windham, Conn. The private pilot/owner with 3794 hours of experience and the 1141-hour commercial pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

A witness reported calm winds at the airport all day; however, at approximately 1530, the wind increased and became gusty. The witness observed the accident airplane on final approach to Runway 27, then heard it “sound as if it was taking off again.” The witness stated the airplane was climbing away from the runway at an “unusually steep angle,” and then turned to the left at a 50-degree angle from the runway, into the wind. At approximately 200 feet, it “appeared to stop in midair, while still at a steep angle.” The witness stated that the airplane then started to turn left, “from its stalled position,” and “appeared to start flying.” The airplane then began to roll and pitch nose down until it reached a near vertical attitude. It then impacted the ground.

The witness additionally reported that the airplanes engines were “revving” during the entire sequence. Photographs taken by the witness revealed the airplane in a go-around attitude with the flaps and landing gear fully extended for the entire sequence.


The airplane impacted a wooded area, about -mile from the airport, and came to rest in a nose-down attitude. The airplane was consumed by a post-crash fire, with the exception of the main wing spar, and both engines.

Examination of the cockpit throttle quadrant revealed the left throttle, propeller and mixture controls were in the full forward position. The right throttle control was in the aft position, and the right propeller and mixture controls were in the mid-range position. Impact damage was also noted to the throttle quadrant. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the area of the flight controls to the cockpit.

One blade of the right engine propeller assembly was bent aft at a 90-degree angle. The other blade was relatively straight. Examination of the left engine propeller assembly revealed one blade was S-bent, and one blade was relatively straight.

No pre-impact mechanical difficulties with either engine nor with the airframe were found.

A weather observation taken at 1552 included winds from 190 degrees at 10 knots, gusting to 17 knots, 10 miles visibility and a clear sky.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause(s) of this accident to include: “The pilots failure to maintain control of the airplane during a go-around.” Sure; but why?

Although the pilot/owner had lots of experience, both overall and in the accident airplane, its not known how often or recently he had performed a go-around. Id suspect a lightly loaded Aztec would be a handful in this situation, especially if lots of trim had been added to counter the fully extended flaps. That the flaps and gear remained fully extended throughout the accident sequence is additional evidence the go-around was mishandled: The flaps at least should have been partially retracted by the time the airplane departed controlled flight.

The sudden onset of gusty crosswinds may be the answer to many of these questions. There you are, droning along in smooth air, and suddenly youre getting bounced around just as you want to land. While the workload increases, the additional mental bandwidth needed to process it all might not be available. As the approach falls apart, its time to go around. Bring up the power to full and-all of a sudden-youre riding a bucking bronco and presented with a situation you might not have seen for a while.

The solution is the same as it was back in my 150: Bring up the power as control forces are trimmed away, start climbing, milk off the flaps and control the airspeed, a bit more of which might be needed in a gusty crosswind. Above all, dont let high stick forces dictate airspeed. Its that last step that seems to be missing here.


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