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Missed approach

Like a go-around, but harder

Go-arounds are fraught with challenges.
Illustration by Charles Floyd
Illustration by Charles Floyd

The airplane is close to the ground, there’s a transition from descent to climb, and likely there are plenty of distractions coming in the form of other airplanes, obstructions, and air traffic control. Now imagine doing it without looking outside.

Going “missed,” or performing a go-around at the end of an instrument approach, is a stressful maneuver with even more risks than the visual variety. Safely transitioning from the final approach segment to the missed approach segment requires solid instrument flying skills, and more important, the right mindset.

  1. Perhaps the hardest part of going missed is deciding to do it in the first place. Instrument approaches take a long time to establish and fly, and there’s always the sense that if you descend just a bit lower, the runway will reveal itself through the murk. Don’t do it. Scores of accidents have happened when pilots push the approach minimums too far and don’t commit to go missed. Before beginning the approach, vow to go missed if the airport environment isn’t in sight at the minimums.
  2. Like flying a visual go-around, starting the missed approach begins with stopping the descent, often at the missed approach point (MAP). Raise the nose to a level attitude while adding power. Verify the descent stopped with the attitude indicator, vertical speed indicator, and altimeter. It’s ideal to pause just for a second in a level attitude to maintain positive control and avoid rushing the transition from descent to climb, which can be destabilizing.
  3. Establish a normal climb and clean up the airplane by raising flaps and gear. There’s usually no need to climb rapidly or quickly clean up the airplane. The object is methodical, decisive actions. Focus on flying a straight climb without immediately worrying about the avionics or missed approach course.
  4. At a safe altitude, sequence the GPS or change the VOR frequency as needed. Each model of GPS is unique, but many require the pilot to manually phase the unit out of Suspend mode to begin the missed approach procedure. Other airplanes have a go-around button on the throttle that will sequence the GPS and bring up the command bars.
  5. The initial climb of the missed approach procedure should be memorized as part of the approach briefing. Only after reaching a safe altitude should you steal a glance at the approach plate to confirm the turn and holding instructions.
  6. Once safely established on the missed approach, call tower, or announce on CTAF, then over to approach and advise of your intentions. Beware the trap of repeating the same approach multiple times. A poorly flown approach might be a reason to try again, but solid flying to minimums without breaking out is usually an indication it’s time to go elsewhere. Many pilots have crashed trying to re-fly the same approach, no doubt after convincing themselves the ceiling or visibility was going to somehow rapidly improve.
Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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