We were inching our way in a long, twisty conga line toward a runway 27 departure at this years Oshkosh AirVenture. Weather, an airport closure for a T-6 fly-by and arriving traffic had conspired to jam up the departures. When we were finally number five for takeoff, I noticed a Bonanza on a low, close-in right downwind.
The Bonanzas base and final approach werent much more than a tight, descending 180-degree turn. During the maneuver, the Bonanza developed an extreme sink rate and overshot final. I thought to myself, This guy has got to go around. But he pressed on in what was obviously an unsalvageable approach. I turned to my rightseater and said, Hes going to crash.
And he did.
He hit left wingtip first, the airplane cartwheeled, then came to rest heading opposite his direction of approach with the landing gear collapsed. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries; the occupants emerged banged up but alive.
Sitting under the shade of our wings waiting for the runway to reopen, several of us pilots – experts all, of course – debated the cause of the accident. One wag expressed relief that nobody was killed in the crash, but then suggested that we all head for the emergency room to line up and stooge slap the pilot for screwing up our day. Such was the frustration of waiting a long time for takeoff only to have a rejected go around add three hours to our day.
A rejected go around? Thats not an accepted industry term, of course, but it applies in this circumstance. As witnesses, we all agreed that the Bonanza pilot should have made a go around instead of trying to salvage a landing. But why didnt he?
Had the Bo pilot perfectly executed his descending 180-degree turn, he would have been wings level over the runway threshold at about 30 feet.
Instead, I got to witness my first airplane crash and I had lots of company. The pilot rolled out of his turn to final with significant roll oscillations at a low altitude, about 50 feet south of the threshold in a high sink rate. He struggled to line up with the runway to the very end.
The NTSB preliminary report says that the pilot stalled the aircraft but to those of us watching the event unfold, it appeared that he simply flew it into the ground adjacent to the runway.
Earlier in the week at OSH, a pilot of a Glasair had been lured into a fatal stall/spin trying to shoehorn a fast airplane into a slow sequence, so concern about ATCs problems may have been a factor. But guess what? As a pilot, thats not your problem; its ATCs problem.
True, a go around certainly would have thrown a wrench into the controllers busy and chaotic pattern but controllers are at Oshkosh because theyre pros. They can handle it.
Shortly before the Bonanza crashed, we watched a DC-3 go around twice and then change runways before making a successful landing. The Oshkosh world didnt end.
Some might argue that ATC actually contributes to such accidents by pressing the pilot to comply with unsafe instructions. To make a sequence work, OSH controllers arent above phrases like bring it to the runway or slow down now. But as we observed in the August issue article about exercising command authority, its the pilots prerogative – his or her duty – to reject a clearance thats unsafe.
The Bonanza pilots failure to go around may have been the result of something worse than concerns about ATC: pilot ego. Many pilots consider a go around as an open indication of failure.
Years ago I flew my old Mooney to an unfamiliar rural grass strip for some maintenance. When it appeared that I wouldnt touchdown in the first third of the runway on my initial approach, I went around.
On my second try, the driver of a tractor doing some mowing thought it would be a good time to make a pass right next to the narrow runway. I wasnt sure that my wingtip would clear the John Deere, so around I went again.
When I taxied to the hangar after my successful third approach, the pilots of the resident Airknockers and Cubs were having a good hee-haw about the city slicker pilot in his fancy Mooney and the trouble he had landing at their little airport. I didnt say a word.
I would much rather listen to their barbs than call my insurance company with instructions to collect my airplane now piled up at the end of a country runway.
I dont know where or how the go-around-as-failure attitude got started but we see it in the GA and airline world, so much so that my airline has instituted what it calls the no-fault go around policy.
As airline policies go, its a model of brevity – a simple 10-word statement: No pride, no pressure, no hesitation, no explanations, no fault.
The text that accompanies the policy says that even though go arounds are part of every pilots initial and recurrent training, safety is compromised by the reluctance of pilots to begin a go around when the approach becomes destabilized.
It cites personal pride, peer opinion and the desire to operate on time as factors that can cloud judgment at the expense of safety. Not all airlines are this progressive. At least one we know of requires pilots to submit a written report if they go around. Nothing is ever done with the report, of course, but the subtle underlying message isnt lost on pilots. Sure, go around anytime you want but just tell us why you did.
A Stable Approach
The so-called stable approach has become the Holy Grail of flying.
An airplane in the slot on a normal final approach will have the flaps and gear down and be trimmed to hold a speed somewhere near 1.3 Vso.
Depending on its groundspeed, the airplane is descending 350 to 700 feet per minute at a low power setting. The pilot should be able to release the controls and not have the airplane veer off on a tangent. In other words, its properly trimmed for the right approach speed.
During a go around, the airplane has to be transitioned to high power and to an attitude that will yield a flight path and speed to allow safe flap and gear retraction while avoiding other aircraft and obstructions. Its one of the busiest and most complex tasks a pilot faces which, in part, may explain why so many of us avoid it.
If the go around is started from a stable approach with wings level and airspeed constant – even if not on the desired target – youve reduced the variables youll have to contend with when making the transition back to the climb.
If the go around is made from a destabilized approach where one or more of the elements of a normal approach are out of bounds, the difficulty ratchets up proportionately.
The high-level survival skill at this point is this: A little salvage work is okay, but make the decision to go around before the situation becomes desperate.
The earlier the decision is made, the better.
Its one thing to try and correct an unstable approach a mile from the runway, something else to be still fighting it while over the numbers, as the Bonanza pilot at OSH clearly was.
Push and Pull
When youve determined to give it up for another try, do so decisively and with no hesitation. Apply takeoff power – smoothly and briskly – while simultaneously setting a pitch attitude that will produce an airspeed near Vx. Then retract flaps to a takeoff position. In some airplanes, reaching Vx may require an uncomfortable pitch attitude, but youll only have to hold it a short time.
When a postive rate of climb has been achieved, retract the landing gear and transition pitch to Vy or better climb speed. A common error in go arounds is retracting the gear first, then adding power. Or adding partial power, then gear, then full power.
Another error instructors see is failure to add a bit of right rudder when the power comes in. If not corrected in an airplane with lots of power, this will cause enough yawing to provoke a left roll and turn, something you definitely dont want in a go around, where youre potentially slow and near the ground.
After the initial clean up and when trimmed to climb at an appropriate airspeed, talk to ATC, refine your power setting, open the cowl flaps, finish retracting the flaps and complete the after takeoff checklist.
When pilots get into trouble on go arounds, its usually caused by lack of pitch control, either due to mistrimming or just not applying sufficient control input. It might take a surprising amount of stick force to achieve and maintain the desired pitch attitude during the initial power application.
Expect another pitch attitude change and some potentially strange stick forces when flaps are retracted. You may have to muscle the elevator some and you should be ready for that.
The first 10 seconds of a go around determine its success or failure. Dont get distracted by looking at power instruments, with radio calls or excited passengers. Get the airplane established in a safe climb, trim it, and then take care of less essential business.
A number of airplanes are lost every year during botched go arounds. In these accidents, the die is usually cast in the first few seconds.
Go around technique varies by model and type, of course, and the method you use may vary from airplane to airplane. Find out what works best by consulting the POH, experimenting and, yes, practicing go arounds as part of your routine proficiency work.
Dont be shy about trying a go around from the flare, either. It can be done safely.
Go Around or Missed?
We tend to think of missed approaches under IFR as go arounds but theyre not the same. Unless you fly a lot of IMC, you probably dont do a real missed approach in weather often.
If you arrive at the missed approach point or DA without the runway environment in sight, the go around sequence has to be made by instrument reference only.
A decision to go around while maneuvering to land from DA or MDA may require halfway measures, where the go around is started in visual conditions and completed in IMC.
This maneuver can really tumble your mental gyros. Be ready for it and fight it by keeping up a brisk instrument scan.
The survival skill is to stay on the gauges and exercise monk-like discipline over pitch control. And remember, almost every go around is – or should be – initiated from wings level, with the climb established first, then any required turns.
From Cessna 150 trainers to jets, I cant think of a go around Ive made that I regretted. But I can think of several landings Ive made where I wished I had gone around instead.
Airline bulletins are usually stuffy documents with a no monkey-business writing style. But the No Fault Go Around bulletin my airline issued ends with a twist on an old axiom: What goes around, gets to come around again.
-by Bill Kight
Bill Kight is a captain and a simulator instructor for a major U.S. airline. He owns a Mooney M20J.