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Don’t wait to go aroundDon’t wait to go around

By David Jack Kenny

For those who fly either airplanes or helicopters, the go-around is like Monopoly’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.  (Glider pilots don’t have it quite as easy.)  Coming up long on final or short on a practice autorotation?  Having trouble holding centerline in a crosswind?  Just go around and try it again. As long as you paid some attention to fuel planning, you can do that a couple of times before concluding that you might do better to just go somewhere else instead.

The go-around is not a difficult maneuver, but it does get harder the longer you wait. The earlier you commit to it, the better. In airplanes, control authority decreases with airspeed while the ground gets closer and closer. Margin for error diminishes with altitude. Initiated early, still at flying airspeed with a buffer of a couple of hundred feet, it’s a fairly relaxed affair: Ease on the throttle and clean up the airplane as you transition back into a climb. Minding the pitch attitude, avoiding over-rotation, and applying adequate right rudder are all easy in this situation. Done late, that transition requires more power and more time.  As the end of the runway (and perhaps other obstructions) approach, there’s a growing temptation to jam in full power and maybe pull up the nose—just when the rudder will be least effective in countering torque reaction.

Late in the afternoon of Sept. 25, 2013, a Cirrus SR20 attempted to land on Runway 18 of the Clow International Airport in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois. Winds at the nearest reporting station (five miles away) were from 070 degrees at 8 knots. Four witnesses, including a designated pilot examiner, saw the airplane touch down “three-fifths to three-quarters of the way down” the 3,362-foot runway and bounce. Two airport surveillance cameras also captured footage of it touching down “multiple times” before lifting off again. The DPE reported that as power increased, it began to climb and then rolled left. The pilot was able to level the wings before the airplane crashed nose-low into the parking lot of a bank, almost immediately catching fire.

One of the witnesses was a fire department lieutenant. He was on the scene almost immediately, with the airport rescue and firefighting crew no more than a minute behind. The 300-hour private pilot survived long enough to describe what had happened, which proved to be exactly what it looked like:  “… His speed was too fast so he decided to abort and attempt the landing again…. As he was banking, he … lost control of the aircraft.”  He succumbed to his injuries later that day.  The only passenger—his wife—never escaped from the airplane.

Not explained is why he chose to land a fast airplane on a fairly short strip with even a slight quartering tailwind. Well before touchdown, though, it must have been clear that he wouldn’t make it down on the first third of the runway. The moment that becomes apparent is the moment our instructors taught us to forget landing and start going around—while there’s still plenty of elbow room and lots of airflow over the control surfaces. While a 210-horsepower single’s not subject to the kind of torque roll that can afflict a Mustang P-51, a sudden increase in power at low speed still imparts enough left-turning tendency to challenge a low-time pilot. 

CFIs giving flight reviews frequently encounter clients whose go-around technique has gotten a little rusty. Some even boast of not having attempted one in the two years since their previous review. Whatever they might think, this speaks more of a casual attitude toward basic airmanship than superior landing technique. Even if the procedure’s straightforward, does it make sense to never practice an essential, even life-saving maneuver? Would you boast about not having made any crosswind landings for two years?

In primary training we’re taught to expect every landing attempt to end with a go-around. Is it too much to suggest that every session in the pattern should include at least one? If yours haven’t, it’s time to start.  Don’t wait.