Don't Mess Up the Miss

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It is rare to execute a missed approach at the end of an ILS to minimums. But when it happens you don't want to be all thumbs.

So there you are, coming down to the decision height (DH) watching as the approach lights emerge from the clag—all configured and at the right speed. In a few seconds the wheels will kiss the pavement and you will have logged another perfect approach and landing.

But this is not to be: The tower orders a miss as the preceding aircraft has blown a tire and can't clear the runway. What would have been a simple, gentle flare to a touchdown is now a flurry of activities.

Both statistics and personal experience can attest to the fact that go-arounds can be both difficult and dangerous—especially when they put you back into the overcast—initiating a full-power climb with an airplane configured for landing.

There are many phrases used to describe the procedure where the aircraft abandons the landing to commence a climb out. Go-around is perhaps the most common one—aborted landing, pull-up, wave off are others. The missed approach is of course the maneuver flown on instruments. They all however, describe the same transition between two distinctly different phases of flight. Your flight environment determines which phrase you use.

Making The Transition

On approach and landing the aircraft is configured for maximum drag with flaps and gear down. Engine power is usually low and in the flare, often idle. Speed is low and aircraft trimmed appropriately.

On climb out the landing gear will be retracted and the flaps either full up or at a low setting as prescribed for initial climb. Power is at maximum and speed will be higher than on approach. All this causes a very different pitch trim (as well as rudder trim if available, in some aircraft). There may be ancillary devices such as cowl flaps that need adjusting

As an added complication there are radio calls to be made, quite possibly an intricate missed approach procedure to be flown as well as checklists to be handled. If the go-around was caused by excessive crosswinds or below minimums weather the pilot now has the added mental stress of having to prepare to execute plan B involving a possible diversion.

"There's an aircraft on the runway, GO AROUND."

As always, the old saw aviate, navigate, communicate holds true. First and foremost we must maintain positive control of the aircraft at all times. And this is a time where it can indeed be very difficult to do so, requiring all your physical and mental attention.

Only after this is accomplished must we assure that the spinner is pointing in roughly the right corner of the compass and that the good folks in the tower know what's going on.

There are few instances in flying where you need to react quickly to an emerging situation. I'll describe one of the exceptions later. Repeatedly I've seen my fellow aviators get themselves into a planeload of trouble by rushing instead of taking their time.

The most common reason for a go-around is probably the unwanted conclusion of an instrument approach, a miss. Unlike our example presented at the start of the article, it will most likely not occur below the ILS category 1 decision height of 200 feet.  It is simple mathematics to deduce that a touchdown at the sink rate (roughly half the ground speed for approach) even of a jet will not occur for at least another 20 or more seconds.

This is more than sufficient time to safely transition the aircraft into a climb. Note that the pilot is allowed to descend below the DH if the aircraft is transitioning to the miss.

Nature has bestowed a dizzying array of flying creatures with many different "configurations." Man has been no less inventive. Singles, multis, props and jets with all sorts of different systems. The procedure for a successful go-around is however similar. Let me illustrate from my current workplace, an Embraer 175 fly-by-wire airliner: The go-around call out is: 1) Go around, 2) TOGA, 3) Flaps 2.

Three Simple Steps

When the decision is made, the flying pilot calls "go around." This is important as once the decision is made it must be clearly communicated—there is no going back. Oh, but don't tell the tower—not yet.

TOGA is an acronym for Takeoff/Go-Around  (power). In a normally aspirated piston engine this requires nothing more than pushing the throttle all the way forward. Turboprops and jets can easily produce more power than is healthy for them so here the thrust levers must be pushed no further than to achieve whatever instrument value such as torque or rpm that qualifies as takeoff power.

Simply put, there's a lot of complexity involved with a missed approach: mixture, prop, power, flaps, gear, pitch change . . .

Newer turbine engines incorporate computer controls, FADEC, (full authority digital engine control) that vastly simplifies engine management. The pilot just shoves the thrust levers all the way forward while the system sets power and makes sure no limitations are exceeded.

Flaps will most likely have been deployed fully for high drag—high lift for landing. These must now be retracted to the takeoff setting.

Decide on a course of action and execute. We have added power and reduced drag. If pitch is smoothly increased while doing this the aircraft will almost immediately start climbing with very little loss of height thus having achieved our primary objective. At this point the landing gear can be safely retracted for better climb performance.

In the G1000, as another example,  the ritual is pitch-up, power-up, clean-up, purple-up (switch to the GPS for the miss procedure).

Sounds Simple? Maybe Not

When power goes from idle to max most normal aircraft will pitch up, trying to maintain trim speed. This may require two hands pushing on the control wheel (and a third to run the trim) to prevent a stall. Powerful propeller planes in particular will require a large rudder input to keep the ball centered.

In addition flap retraction induces pitch changes, somewhat dependent on the configuration and type.

Clean it up.

In combination, this behavior defines the meaning of the word "handful."

This is the reason why professional flight crews do many more go-arounds in their simulator training and checkrides than actual landings.

For those without access to a simulator, go-arounds can be practiced safely and efficiently at altitude in any airplane. Set a target altitude (say 3000 feet), configure the aircraft for the approach and descent towards it. At the designated altitude, initiate a go-around. The visuals may be different but the aircraft behavior will be the same.

Having a fellow pilot or other trustworthy person ride with you and randomly call for go-arounds to simulate the "turtle-on-the-runway" scenario so beloved by flight instructors. Then do it over again under the hood.

A couple of hours of this training will take most of the rust off your go around skills and provide you with the much needed muscle memory needed when it actually happens.  After having dealt with the aviate part now comes the navigate.

Miss On The Gauges

Instrument missed approach procedures can go from the simple to the ridiculously complicated. Sometimes that complexity can be explained by terrain and/or complicated airspace. Often there is no better explanation than the inherent evilness so often attributed to the FAA.

Luckily, even though you are required to train to fly these misses they rarely, if ever, happen in real life. For myself I have never had an abandoned landing result in anything but flying a heading to an altitude to be vectored back for another attempt. Or, high tail it to an alternate airport.

As for communicate, wait to announce your go-around until configured and safely established in your climb-out. You do not want to copy a missed approach instruction, departure frequency and such until you are prepared to do so.

The tower probably knows you're missing the approach. Make sure you have the airplane collected and are climbing before you worry about making a radio call.

The tower will (most likely) know you're not landing. They will hear you power up, they will see it, visually or on the radar screens most towers are equipped with these days.

There is one exception to the general rule of taking your time when going around. Low visibility caused by patchy fog or snow showers for instance, will vary in intensity. Inherent in that scenario is that you cannot see any upcoming areas of worsening conditions on landing. You may break out at minima with the required lights in sight and adequate flight visibility only to lose all references a few feet above the runway in the flare!

This does require quick action with an immediate pitch-up and power application. You may indeed briefly touch down before becoming airborne again. Safe? Well certainly more so than attempting landing and roll out in essentially zero/zero conditions. And yes, they do exist.

There are many calculated risks in flying. Go-arounds are certainly higher up on the list than other phases of flight. As always though, training and planning can help assure a successful outcome. Don't allow yourself to be caught wanting.

Bo Henriksson is a Captain with a major carrier and has more than 10,000 flight hours. He currently flies the Embrier 175.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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