We all have had that unnerving feeling that this approach is not going quite the way we anticipated or planned. The wind is different than expected, traffic is heavy, and LAHSO is in effect or any other collection of variables that makes flying challenging at that particular 3 minutes segment, though it feels like an hour. There we are, 800 feet and descending rapidly trying to make that landing zone and suddenly the aircraft banks hard right then left then we drop like a rock and the pilot flying goes full throttle hits the runway bounces off and he/she hears the me say ” My aircraft” and I have to grab the controls and get us airborne safely again. It’s like a broken record, and it happens so frequently during training it’s a hassle and almost feels nonsensical at times. What’s worse is with experienced instructors such as myself and others that same pilot has a briefing with explicit instructions on go around decision to be made by a certain altitude, and it usually occurs when we are working fervently to prepare for that first solo or that checkride coming up. Well, if you can identify with this situation or a situation even remotely similar don’t worry, you are not alone and there are rules of thumb you can utilize to aid in avoiding putting yourself in this position in the first place. But first, I am writing this as a conversation to be discussed with a professional, these suggestions are meant to be discussed and utilized with an experienced instructor and not as an instructional manual and you should be sure to follow the directions of the FAA’s guidance on stabilized approaches, landings, go arounds and risk management along with the guidance of your particular FAA authorized instructor. The FAA textual guidance is the final authority when it comes to the “how to” and “standard operating practices” and we are merely offering additional insight. Okay with that out of the way let’s start with some basic bullet points on why instructors need you to make the decisions, and some flow oriented ideas to remove some obstacles from making the right decision at the right time. We will map out some areas to begin re-thinking your processes and procedures to make better decisions and feel more confident during those landings and go arounds.
1. Pre-Flight Planning
Before the flight every pilot should collect and understand as well as have access to ALL information regarding taxi, take off, landing and alternatives if the flight cannot be completed as planned. To see all that is required review FAR 91.3 and 91.103. During this time, a lot of attention to weather, NOTAMS and performance planning should be recorded and incorporated into your plan of action for the flight. Crosswind, headwind, tailwind and runway conditions are all critical regarding your landings at your home airport, destination and alternate airports as well. At this point we need to make some other critical decisions such as our personal minimums, and the procedures we will utilize for go arounds etc…
2. Who is flying the plane?
In most commercial operations especially the airlines, there are very specific roles each pilot will play during the flight. If you think your instructor is there to help you avert suicide, it might be a suggestion to check on your attitude, or find a new form of personal amusement like Golf or Fishing. If an instructor is present, it’s pretty simple, a positive exchange of controls, and what will be communicated and how it is communicated. Every instructor has a style of corrective action and you need to be clear as does the instructor on what that looks like. We are going to touch on some other points that affect who is flying the airplane and when it needs to be made clear. But, early on agree to the process of exchanging the controls and in fact verbally review it together so you are both familiar with the process, it’s prudent this is done each flight. If you are not with an instructor but with a fellow pilot, you both need to be clear on who is doing what and who will take the landings, take offs, and you both need to agree that if either of you feel the need for a go around then you call it out on the radio and the other will comply. Accidents have occurred with two idiot private or commercial pilots even CFI’s wrestling about whether to go around or not and who is flying the plane… Settle that on the ground, don’t fly with a cowboy, there is a reason you don’t run into too many Cowboys out there.
3. Describe the Limitations and Procedures you will follow.
There are a number of things on a flight, particularly a VFR flight that are filled with hidden risks and dangers. To manage those it’s best to get clear on how we will handle the common issues that arise. Here is a list you can add to, but this describes critical phases of flight where we have to make decisions, and the decision to go around becomes critical at certain points in the approach or landings.
1. Crosswind/ Total wind/ Tailwind limitations: Have a crosswind calculator/app or a crosswind chart/diagram handy and readily available to reference prior to your approach and landing brief. Runway landing distance should have been calculated during the preflight planning.
2. Approach/ Landing brief: After almost 20 years of instruction, this is the one area that every single PPL, Instrument rated, or commercial pilot always skips, and like clock work some part of the landing experience is left to chance.. This is probably the most vital hint we can leave for you to get in gear for a good landing or make the appropriate go around decision. For VFR pilots, you should brief your approach/ landing prior to your descent checklist. You should know what runway is in use and plan your landing on the shortest available runway with the worst crosswind component. This let’s you know what you are up against and let’s you decide to change runways, or change airports altogether. In the brief keep it basic but set yourself up for a good landing situation. This is primarily aimed at the VFR guys, but if you are IFR you can inject this into your IFR approach briefing you are already doing, or should be doing.
Some of the items to think about and cover aloud are :
Current and forecast Winds
Obstacles/ Terrain on arrival
Tower Frequencies/ Ground – Taxi Frequencies preset
Pattern entry/ Altitudes
Runway/ Runway conditions/ Runway landing distance/ NOTAMS
Type of landing: (Flaps setting ____,Final approach speed:____, Short/ soft/ special)
Stabilized approach (no more than 800-1000 fpm descents on final). AT 500 feet AGL the aircraft should be continuously in a position to land using normal maneuvers, and by 200 feet AGL you should know whether you are landing or not. Obviously, something could happen at the last minute but if you are stabilized and staying with me here, you are already set up for a far better landing and approach than you probably normally execute.
Airport Diagram – Taxi Brief: A copy of a taxi diagram whether paper or an EFB (iPad or Tablet version) Should be ready or on ForeFlight placed in the auto setting to auto display after landing. Decide now which FBO or taxiways you will exit to.
By making a thorough briefing that aligns with your particular aircraft operating procedures that concurs with the FAA FLying Handbook, a number of decisions are being made. If any of the items you just briefed change, or you find yourself out of those tolerances you simply have to go around.
Obviously, there are more reasons to go around.. But we have to plan properly to make that decision and make it quickly without a lot of back and forth.
To arrive at a good go around decision, requires a process of decisions that equate to a safe outcome. As I stated from the start this is a short blog piece meant to inspire discussion between you and your instructor(s) and meant only as a way to increase the awareness that more pilots need to go around anytime they are outside of the stabilized approach parameters, but to make that decision we have to be very clear on what those parameters are. We all know to go around anytime ATC says to go around, and when we want to avoid a collision hazard. At Flight-Logic Aviation LLC we are available to consult with you regarding the specifics of flying, whether you are looking to improve your skills, purchase an aircraft, rent an aircraft, or make the move to turbo props and jets. If you are looking for additional information and would like to hear more on this subject simply go to our Facebook page, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.