On the Go (climbing out)

On the Go (climbing out)

On the Go (climbing out)

One of the most perilous conditions confronting a pilot is making the ol’ switcheroo from landing to climbing out. The aircraft starts in a low-power, high-drag configuration, flying with a limited amount of airspeed, near the ground or possibly already on it. The conclusion, if successful, is to be in climb power and drag configuration, accelerating and rising in obstacle-free airspace. This is a handful of changes for the pilot; no wonder it sometimes turns out badly.

The situation can be planned, or unplanned. It can involve a certain amount of runway acceleration (a touch-and-go) or begin a few hundred feet above the terrain (a missed approach). In any case, the workload is high, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) or loss of control (LOC-I) are very present dangers. Technique and adherence to procedures are important if we’re to pull it off.

As with any critical flight condition, the go-around needs to be planned and practiced. The airplane will act and feel decidedly different than in most other realms of flight. If you haven’t been there and haven’t experienced it, you may not understand what’s taking place, particularly with poor or non-existent visual references. This is not a time for vacillation and too-late reactions; you must be ahead of the airplane.

Flying The Miss

Let’s consider the missed approach segment of an instrument approach, seldom actually used but vital when it’s needed. You should have at least an inkling that it might have to be flown, particularly if in IMC close to the ground. In low weather, I prefer to think in terms of the miss being the likely outcome, with landing only an option. In that mindset, I’m ready to execute.

If flying level at MDA, perhaps with less than the landing flaps setting, you’re in a pretty good position to start the wave-off. You’re already carrying quite a bit of power, so all you need to do is to add climb power, set flaps to takeoff and retract the gear–and fly the airplane. There will be trim changes as the thrust builds, drag reduces and speed increases; your job is to fly the appropriate pitch attitude and follow the MAP. You should have it loaded in your mental and electronic memories; this is no time to be glancing down at the approach plate. In lieu of other guidance, climb straight ahead until you’ve stabilized things, getting away from the ground.

If following vertical guidance, you are likely to be closer to the surface, with landing flaps out, powered down for the descent. In this case, the changes required to execute the missed approach are more radical. While power is building, you’ll need to establish the initial go-around attitude and begin the clean-up; there may be a little sag below DH while the descent rate is reversing, but you’re not landing, so retract the gear and most of the flaps. Expect more extreme trim shifting; stay sharp on the attitude indicator. There’s less margin for error while escaping the clutches of the terrain.

Focus on flying the aircraft, rather than communicating with ATC and figuring out the next move. The controller needs to know your status and intentions, but not at the cost of abandoning attention to the flight path. As with all flying, you should have the miss planned, and fly your plan.

Going Around

A little further into the landing scenario is the possibility of having to fly a go-around below MDA or DH. At this point, you may have committed to the landing, powered back in a landing configuration, with speed bleeding off as sink rate is being arrested. This is dangerous territory, requiring prompt, correct handling to escape with a whole airplane. Your first priority is to hold altitude and accelerate. Apply full takeoff power, not just an approximation of lever movement, roll in some trim and keep the aircraft straight. Bring up flaps carefully, reducing their drag but not surrendering all the benefits of their lift. Leave the gear down until you’ve established a positive rate of climb, just in case you hit windshear or energy is slow to build. If the airplane touches down while going around, make sure the wheels are aligned and you’re tracking straight.

Again, your target is to move away from a ready-to-land condition into a climbout state. Maintain control, trim to oppose shifting forces, pitch up as energy builds into the aircraft, and get away from the dangers associated with the ground. Join the climb profile with gear retracted and climb power after you’ve escaped the low-level environment. Gain altitude, not excessive airspeed. Remember AFTA; always fly the airplane.

Touching And Going

Finally, there’s the challenge of bringing the aircraft back into the air after it’s touched down on the runway. In the majority of touch-and-goes, the maneuver is planned as a time-saving alternative to a full-stop rollout, but it involves some risk. Most of the time, once the airplane has settled onto the surface it’s better to keep it there. Initiating a go-around from a completed landing takes much more runway than you think, and any obstacle clearance calculations are probably bogus. Only if you act quickly and have oodles of pavement ahead should you attempt the touch-and-go as an escape maneuver. It’s better go off the departure end at 25 knots and slowing than to hit the fence at 100 knots while attempting to fly under full power.

That said, there’s a right way to conduct the touch and go. Position the flap lever (not the gear handle!) to the takeoff setting, then immediately add takeoff power; if power is applied with full flaps extended while still rolling with near-flying speed, there is a chance of lifting off, then settling back as the flaps retract. Acceleration is the goal, so reducing drag and maximizing power is primary. As in all major configuration changes, the aircraft will require trim and control pressure adjustment; don’t swerve off the runway while looking at the pitch trim indicator, just make an initial resetting and fine-tune it later.

Rotate the nose up on schedule and fly the normal climbout attitude, bearing in mind that you may be closer to the trees or noise-abatement profile than you would have been during a normal takeoff. If required, establish an obstacle-clearance airspeed to steepen the climbout path.

Reasons To Go Around

Why would one initiate a go-around? Losing sight of the runway environment due to visibility restrictions obviously calls for abandoning the attempt at landing, and sighting a hazard on the runway or in the approach path certainly demands a go-around. Most commonly, a go-around is needed when the approach is unstabilized; airspeed is too fast or is deteriorating rapidly, or the sink rate is excessive, perhaps because windshear has entered the picture.

Adding an extra 10 knots to the normal reference speed increases the landing roll by a huge margin. It’s no mark of skillful airmanship to be able to turn a fast, long landing into a smoking-brakes turnoff at the departure end of the runway. Good piloting means determining that the approach is not falling within normal parameters and should be re-done.

Air traffic control may instruct you to perform a go-around, even after landing clearance has been received, most typically because of an anticipated loss of required separation. Preceding traffic might not have cleared the runway as quickly as expected, or dissimilar speeds were a greater factor than the controller foresaw. Even the best of airspace managers have to move an airplane out of the string once in a while. Separation is an “at least” requirement; your actual mileage will have to be greater, to give a cushion for contingencies. If ordered to go-around for a clearly visible reason, move to comply instantly and acknowledge as you do so.

If you institute your own go-around, make sure you tell ATC what you’re doing. An off-site control facility assumes you are conducting a landing, particularly in VMC, and your return to the vacated airspace requires accommodation. Therefore, an immediate check-in is needed. Hopefully, you have retained the last-used frequency after switching to the local communications link, so you can return to it at a touch. Remember, you are now rogue traffic, popping up into the stream of other aircraft. State your intentions, whether it’s to return for another attempt, fly the missed approach and hold, or go elsewhere.

If in uncontrolled airspace, make an advisory call and conform to the circuit if returning for another landing attempt in visual conditions. I often see hurried traffic patterns after a wave-off, when a too-eager pilot climbs only a few hundred feet and tries to get back into the queue like he’s laying down suppression fire. Safety first is the rule, with minimizing noise impact a close second. Pulling up to 1,500 feet above field level to avoid low-and-slow traffic is the wisest procedure.

Common wisdom is to conduct the go-around to one side of the runway, so that the pilot-flying has a clear view of any traffic on the runway below. Do not make an extreme deviation to do this; climbing out on the runway heading until assigned otherwise is the expected procedure. Once completing the balked-landing checklist, your immediate task is to remain clear of obstructions, both laterally and vertically. Remain spatially oriented, pay attention to the terrain warnings and verify that ATC’s vectors are in a
safe direction.

The time and fuel invested in another landing attempt should not be wasted by doing the exact same thing–expecting, somehow to achieve different results. If a go-around was needed, change whatever was its cause, so that the next outcome will be different. That may require switching to another runway, an earlier flap extension, and most probably a wider visual approach. Learn from the previous experience and don’t repeat the mistakes. Call up the “before landing” checklist and adhere to it with diligence; this is a perfect time to overlook something important while rushing to finish the now-extended flight.

The important point is to make a decision, early rather than late. The expected outcome from every approach is to land. But always be ready to accept the alternative, going around if the aircraft is not in a good position to touch down on target and stop within the confines of the runway. Sitting there passively while pavement is burning up, runway lights streaking past you, is not piloting; at that point, you’ve become a passenger, hoping the airplane will stop.

Any reconfiguring of the airplane from a landing to a takeoff will take careful flying, whether it’s an aborted approach or a last-second pull-up. If tasked with this challenge, be ready with planning and
prior practice.

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