It was a clear VFR day, winds were light and variable with a maximum speed of six knots. This was a perfect day for golf in a mountain resort in North Carolina. But what was to be a fun golf outing ended in tragedy. While landing at the fly-in community the plane bounced twice and attempted a go around. The plane then departed the runway destroying three airplanes and damaging two others. All aboard perished. My friend was to golf with them that day but fortunately he decided not to go.
Wanting to better understand the accident, I attempted to discuss the situation with my friend. I did not get very far due to the emotional pain which resurfaced when either the pilots name or the accident was mentioned, so I did my own research into the accident. After reading the NTSB report I discovered this was a go around accident, many of which end in a fatality as it did for my friend’s golf partner.
Landing Accident Is Safer Than A Go Around Accident
It comes as no surprise that the highest number of accidents occur during landing while transitioning from a three dimensional environment to a two dimensional one. In 2009 29.5 percent of all accidents were during landing. Even though these are the most numerous types of accidents, landing accidents only have a 1.7 percent risk of a fatality. Much of this is due to the aircraft speed being relatively lower and the aircraft control maintained until the impact.
Go arounds on the other hand are much different. Go arounds accidents although few in number, result in a 20 percent chance of fatality because of the uncontrolled nature and speed at which many of these crashes occur. So why don’t we practice more go arounds? Maybe because the number of go around accidents are very rare with only three percent of the total accidents attributed to go arounds. Or maybe we don’t realize that doing a go around improperly may not cause an accident but can cause damage to the airplane and an expensive maintenance bill.
Why we need to practice go arounds.
Even though few fatalities result from go arounds we seem to be doing a poor job when we execute a go around, especially in complex aircraft. This speaks volumes to both training and towards recurrent training. Don’t feel bad because airline flight crews also have difficulty performing go arounds.
I spend much of my time going between a jet and a single engine aircraft. Most of the go arounds I see in single engine aircraft have been better and I think it might be due to the fact that single engine pilots do more go arounds per hour flown. In the jet I might fly a thousand hours between go arounds but in the single engine it might happen every fifty to one hundred hours. And when I’m instructing they happen almost every day.
I find the more complex the aircraft and the more crew members involved in flying the aircraft, rejected landings have a lower probability of being performed properly. For example, I was flying a jet into Newark Airport in IMC, instrument meteorological conditions, and we where told to go around because we were to close to a Boeing 757 in front of us.
I pushed the thrust full forward and pitched up. I then asked the monitoring pilot for flaps retraction to the takeoff position. It is here that the person I was flying with froze. I could tell he was angry that we had to go around and knew he was now disengaged from flying the airplane.
As I called out the procedures for the monitoring pilot to perform I had to do most of the task myself until I finally said to him, listen don’t worry about why ATC made us go around, let’s fly the plane. Afterwards, we retracted the flaps and gear on schedule as the plane climbed and received vectors back to the airport for landing.
It not only is the pilot monitoring in a multi crew situation that can get in trouble. The flying pilot’s job is to control the plane. But as you will see the flying pilot can also become disengaged from the task of flying as is demonstrated in my next example.
On approach to Houston I was the monitoring pilot. On the ILS at about two thousand feet above the ground we were told to go around because we were too close to the 757 in front of us. I noticed the flying pilot doing nothing so that is when I said go around . Still he did not do anything but he did call for maximum thrust and to retract the flaps.
The only problem is we were still pointed towards the ground and a jet at maximum power with the nose down accelerates very quickly. So that is when I turned to him and said in a calm but direct voice, “could you please just point the nose up so we aren’t heading towards the ground”. I think this finally broke his translike state and he finally pointed the nose upwards.
How To Perform Better Go Arounds
As you can see pilots of all skill levels have problems with rejected landings so don’t feel bad if you might be experiencing a problem with the go around maneuver. To better prepare yourself I have a few suggestions. First, practice your rejected landings from all altitudes and positions during your approach to landing. Second, never expect a landing always expect a go around. Third, practice your procedures at home with a simulator or by visualizing the maneuver. By the way if you decide to practice while parked in your car you might want to look around and make sure no one is looking. They might think it is strange that you are calling for gear up. Oh and definitely don’t make those cool airplane noises, that always gets people’s attention.
Practicing Go Arounds
The more we practice a maneuver the more likely we will accomplish it correctly. Many times we practice a go around at the same altitude and airspeed, especially during instrument training. Typically we fly to a few hundred feet above the ground with the airport in front of us and then practice our go around. Although this is a great place to start we also need to practice the go around maneuver in other situations.
Next time you are practicing a rejected landing do it from many different altitudes and airspeeds. For example, practice go arounds after you put the first notch of flaps in for the approach prior to alignment with the runway. In this scenario I find many people forget to bring the flaps up until they realize the plane is not accelerating.
You should also be proficient in go arounds before the flare, as you pull the power to idle before landing, and as the wheels touch down.
For a complex aircraft you should practice go arounds in all configurations to include wheels down on final and just prior to putting the landing gear down. The procedure should be the same for all configurations. As a matter of fact there are three things I do in all airplanes that I fly so as not to forget anything.
Go Around Procedure
No matter what plane you fly you will need to complete three primary tasks:
Power Up- bring the power to full by moving the throttle or thrust lever forward. If you are not producing full power you may not have completed your before landing checklist so verify that the mixture and propeller controls are also full forward.
Pitch Up - make sure you are not heading towards the ground and rotate the airplane to a climb attitude. Don’t over rotate because you might stall but make sure you are climbing.
Clean Up - bring the flaps to the proper go around position. This will normally be around 10 to 20 degrees on most airplanes but consult your airplane operation handbook for the proper setting. After you are climbing this would be a good time to also get the gear up. Once climbing and at a safe altitude you will need to retract the remainder of your flaps. As you can tell this is a three step process in a complex airplane. Many instructors teach this procedure as Flaps, Gear, Flaps. The second flap retraction may also include opening the cowl flaps if you have them installed.
After you have powered up, pitched up, and cleaned up the airplane it is important to perform the after takeoff checklist. The checklist will catch the items you might have forgotten during the go around. I use a checklist but also back it up with an after take off checklist I have been using for years, the GIFT checklist. Gear, Indicated Airspeed, Flaps, Transponder and Throttles. You can read more about this check list by clicking here.
There are some common mistakes made during go around. First is not verifying full power. Maybe you have not pushed the mixture control or the propeller control all the way in. Some people as a habit push all controls forward. Most of the time this will work but at high altitude airports full rich mixture may not produce full power.
The second most common mistake I see is the pilot not reconfiguring or “cleaning up” the aircraft after initiating the go around. I spend much time in aircraft with 40 degrees of flaps and if you don’t retract the flaps to at least 20 degrees the airplane will not climb especially on a hot humid day. Also, after climbing I see many pilots forget to retract the flaps completely and then they overspeed the flaps. At the very least leaving the flaps down will burn extra fuel.
The same problem we have with flaps we also have with landing gear. Forgetting to bring the gear up may be a bigger problem because with many airplanes the gear must be retracted at a lower speed since the gear motors may not have enough energy to overcome the wind resistance. This is an awkward position to be in but if you find your speed above the gear retraction speed then you will need to slow and get the gear up.
The majority of airplane accidents are during landing and very few result in a fatality, whereas go around accidents have a much higher fatality rate. To reverse this trend we need to practice more go arounds, especially if you fly complex aircraft. This is true for pilots of all experience levels.
I encourage you to review your go around procedures in all the airplanes you fly. Afterwards, practice your procedures at home then take the plane up with an instructor and practice go arounds. You may be surprised at how difficult the maneuver is especially if it has been years since you practiced a go around.
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