Our last blog post, Exercise 19: First Solo, placed you in the right seat of a Cessna 172 with CPL student Cam, as he flew his first solo flight. Now, before he even progressed to the point of solo, a great deal of time was spent flying in the circuit, and in turn, practicing “go-arounds”.
What is a go-around?
Defined by Skybrary, a go-around occurs when an aircrew makes the decision not to continue an approach, or not to continue a landing, and follows procedures to conduct another approach or to divert to another airport. Go-arounds can happen at any point from the final approach fix to wheels on the runway.
A go-around has its own unique set of conditions, however every go around consists of two elements:
- The decision to continue the approach or to go around and;
- The execution of the decision.
It is the decision aspect of the go-around that we, as flight instructors, try to instill in our students. At Cooking Lake Aviation, we work to create a culture of, “It is perfectly ok, to discontinue the approach, and go-around”. We stress this both in our ground school and flight training. Part of training a pilot, is training him or her to be able to make decisions quickly, and confidently. Referring to the elements of a go-around above, the decision to go-around must be made quickly, and the execution must be made confidently. Now, you may ask, how do we instill this culture upon our students? Or how does one train a student pilot to make these decisions quickly and confidently? The answer is practice and experience.
We referred earlier to the circuit. The circuit is where a student pilot practices his/her approach and landing, one of the toughest, however arguably the most important, aspect of flight training. We, as instructors, work to develop a sense of procedure and stability while on the approach, with the end goal of placing the aircraft down on the runway centreline. The procedure is outlined for the student on the ground, addressing specific goals the student must work towards. Ultimately, the procedure is designed to create stability, the keyword when flying any approach.
For example, the procedure outlines that a student should loose approximately 500 feet on the base leg, and at least have either 10 or 20 degrees of flaps down by the time the aircraft turns final. As a result, in order to meet this criteria, the procedure begins on the downwind leg. A reduction in power is needed first of all loose altitude, and secondly, to meet the flap extension speed. The final leg is composed of maintaining runway centreline as well as adjusting power to maintain a stable glide slope for the runway. The student must develop a sense and perspective of if he or she is too high/low, left/right of track when to add/reduce power. This process is practiced over and over again until the student can react to changes and make decisions quickly and confidently.
In addition to the circuit pattern, we also practice intentional go-arounds. The instructor will purposely instruct the student to initiate a go-around. Nose up, power up, clean up; the procedure for a go-around. This practice increases the confidence and comfortability of initiating a go-around as well as maintaining a culture that go-arounds are perfectly okay.
Experience in anything improves ones confidence and knowledge base. The beauty about aviation, is that every day is different. Varying winds, precipitation, cloud formations, turbulence, wind shear, fronts & visibility are all present while garnering flying experience. As a result, many of our students develop a great deal of experience by just working towards their license and/or rating. Now, it goes without saying that we don’t go flying in IMC conditions, however we do practice things such as crosswind landings. We also experience precipitation, turbulence, wind shear and varying visibility on a daily basis, including flying on the approach.
The factors listed above must be accounted for in order to meet your goal airspeed, altitude and aircraft configuration while flying an approach. It is this variability in conditions that creates a challenging environment that the student must manage in order to meet the outlined goals, and ultimately, land the aircraft. As a result, these ever changing conditions constantly increase the value of the experience bank, which further develops a sense of when and when not to initiate a go-around.
What conditions are means for a go-around?
Approaches, at the end of the day, come down to a stability. Stabilized approach criteria have been in use by aviation organizations for over 20 years. They were designed to reduce the risk of approach and landing accidents (ALA). If an approach is not stable, there is no argument, go around! Further to that argument, if an approach is not flown stable, the chances of the student having a successful and properly executed landing diminish exponentially. We always tell our students, if your approach isn’t stable or you don’t meet any of the circuit goals, your landing won’t meet lesson standards.
As a result, being too high/low on the approach, too fast/slow, or not on the centreline, are all means of a go-around. Further, experiencing low level wind shear with a noticeable change in airspeed, is also means of a go-around. Precipitation plays a major role in determining means of a go-around or not. Heavy precipitation coupled with associated low visibility could result in an approach becoming unstable, and as a result, a go-around if required. Here are a number of go-arounds due to a storm & poor weather.
Air Traffic Control also has an impact in go-arounds. Perhaps the runway is occupied after a landing clearance was given, or aircraft spacing on the approach is too tight, a go-around order will be made. Here is a go-around initiated by ATC at Toronto Pearson International.
First Hand Go-Around Experiences
Every pilot will have their own stories regarding a go-around experience. For myself, one in particular stands out. It was a night flight in the middle of January. The flight was a standard cross-country flight from Whitecourt (CYZU) to Cooking Lake (CEZ3), as I was working to build my hours for my Commercial Pilot License. On the approach back into Cooking Lake, I remember there not being anyone else in the circuit, as a dark cold winter night set in on the city. I turned on the ARCAL lighting, made my downwind call, final call and was approaching on the VASIS. 2 white, 2 red, just what I wanted, everything was looking great until I began to pull the power back.
As I began my flare, the landing light began to shine its way up an object of some sort; an object with 4 legs. As I levelled my flare from a nose down pitch to a landing pitch, the landing light slowly shone up this object for what seemed like ages. The reason is felt like ages to realize what the object was, was because it was a female moose standing near the runway edge-line. That was it, nose up, power up, clean up, initiate the go-around!
I managed to scare it off, with the powering sound of the Lycoming engine. I re-entered the circuit and came back around to land safely. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and by far the most memorable. It goes to show that means of a go-around can be a variety of conditions, including animals!
Ryan Holdinga, a former instructor and now First Officer at a major regional carrier has added some insight on go around experiences in the commercial world.
Here is a scenario that we would like you to think about, whether you are just ready for your first solo flight or you have thousands of hours in your logbook.
It is a beautifully clear day, the winds are calm, the turbulence is almost non-existent, and you are just lining up for final. You had a great journey that day, the conditions were great with a favourable tailwind. The perfect flight, when suddenly you hear the following: “ Pull Up and Go Around”.
Were you ready? What did you do?
We recently had a similar situation, when we were returning to Toronto Pearson International Airport. It was a great day of flying, all our flights were on schedule, the weather in Southern Ontario was finally cooperating after 12 straight days of poor weather and it was our last leg before 3 days off. We were coming in from Kingston Ontario after a short 35-minute flight and the sun was just beginning to set. We had just flown a visual approach to Runway 24 Left and were 30 feet from touchdown according to the radar altimeter. In the aircraft I fly, this is pretty much the time that you are transitioning to the landing attitude. We were stable, on speed, on the appropriate glide path… everything was good.
That was when Toronto Tower comes on the frequency and says: “Pull up and Go Around”.
Were we ready?
Sure, we had briefed our approach plan and what to do in the event of a go around not even 15 minutes prior. Its always in the back of my mind, however did I expect this?
Not at all.
YYZ employs a sophisticated ground radar system that will track all aircraft on the ground, but vehicles as well. It even has an alert system that will warn the Tower Controllers of an aircraft or vehicle approaching a runway they were not cleared to cross.
We were later informed that there was an alert that a vehicle had entered the runway environment and gave the controller an alert. Due to the setting sun, it could not immediately be confirmed whether this was a legitimate alert, and therefore Tower had instructed us to “Pull up and Go-Around”.
I am a firm believer that the go-around should always be a primary thought during an approach to landing and that if there is ever any doubt, a go-around should be conducted. However, as we saw in this case, go-arounds are often unexpected.
In the Airline Environment, sometimes a go-around can be predicted. If the weather is near minimums for an instrument approach, or the traffic ahead of you is going slower than usual, you can anticipate a go-around. That’s not always the case, a go-around is often unexpected and therefore should always be in the back of your mind.
It is very important to recognize the conditions that require a go-around in any stage of your flying career and be prepared in the event of a go-around. Its never a bad idea to brief a go-around if you do happen to recognize conditions that indicate you may have to conduct one.