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When Should You Go Around?

The art of knowing when it’s time to take another lap and try again.

When Should You Go Around?

My student, Sarah, was on her very first solo flight, negotiating for room in the traffic pattern after I had hopped out and situated myself in my “lucky spot” beside the taxiway intersection. I knew she could do a good job because I had only been an observer in the right seat for the past hour. She was consistent with her outcomes, and, more importantly, I was satisfied with the decisions she was making to create that consistency.

So, it was without trepidation that I watched her opt for holding short instead of rolling out to take off when unannounced traffic entered the downwind. Her subsequent circuit of the pattern was uneventful, and she was quickly back in the air for another landing. That time, her approach came up a bit short, and her correction with added power was too little, too late. I observed her too-slow condition over the threshold; instead of attempting to fix it at the last second, she went around.

“Good decision,” I thought. As trained, she took a wave-off when she was out of the comfort window on short final. Again, I felt only pride, even though I really wanted to get back in the warm airplane because I was beginning to shiver in the stiff breeze. Her next arrival exhibited a bit of frustration that was affecting her technique; she ballooned in the flare and opted to go around again rather than fight her way down from 10 feet above the pavement. “Can’t complain about that,” was my reaction. Her third pass was right on the money, and she rolled out to exit the runway, rescuing me from frostbite.

Being A Pilot

Going around is all too often seen as a sign of poor airmanship when, in reality, it should be regarded as just the opposite. A well-executed aborted landing is just another maneuver to be used whenever the situation warrants. It’s the act of not going around that reflects poor piloting. As I’ve intoned ad-nauseam to my students, “A pilot is in the airplane for no other purpose than to make decisions.” Allowing a poor landing to continue is simply abdicating your responsibility.


Thus, we should practice going around as a matter of course. Landings are always optional unless the airplane is on fire or out of gas. Unfortunately, I see a lot of poorly flown go-arounds, simply because we don’t do them very often. When you’re flying a maneuver you haven’t done for a long time, you’re likely to be making it up as you go along. That never works very well.

“Going around is all too often seen as a sign of poor airmanship when, in reality, it should be regarded as just the opposite.”

At What Point Do You Give Up?

Taking a wave-off instead of completing an arrival is an option throughout, and even during, the landing. As one gets nearer to the ground, the difficulty of executing the maneuver becomes trickier and trickier, but it’s never impossible. 

If you spot an intruding airplane on final approach while you’re on the base leg, you can simply apply full climb power, reposition flaps to their takeoff setting, bring up the landing gear if it’s retractable, and climb straight ahead until crossing the extended runway centerline. At that point, you can turn upwind, keeping the runway and departing traffic in sight as you seek out a gap in the flow of airplanes to turn crosswind and then downwind, leveling off at pattern altitude.

As soon as you’re stabilized in the climb, make a brief call to announce your new status: “Cizner four-two-Lima is going around on runway 18.” The most frequent error I see in go-arounds is ignoring the attitude and airspeed cues, compounded by failure to retrim, leading to a weak climb at nearly cruising airspeed. Your goal should be to put some distance between your airplane and the ground as quickly as possible while respecting airspeeds. It’s important to keep looking outside, but you should be able to establish a Vy climb a few seconds after beginning the go-around.


Perhaps you’ve turned onto final, and you can see that the approach is not going well. Maybe the runway is way below the nose, or the treetops are getting too close. Action needs to be taken in an attempt to salvage the approach. If you’re too high, perhaps reducing the power setting will bring the airplane back onto a normal glideslope, targeted toward the first third of the runway. Or drag can be increased to steepen the descent by adding the rest of the flap travel or crossing the controls to create a sideslip. Care must be taken to avoid continuing a high sink rate close to the ground, which requires careful handling when executing the flare and level-off. 

Conversely, if the approach has gone low, increased power may bring the airplane back onto a normal glidepath. The point is, there is a little time to make adjustments before a go-around becomes necessary. An unstabilized approach can’t be allowed to continue, but light airplanes can be brought back into a stabilized condition in the last seconds of the approach if promptly corrected. If it doesn’t work out, the go-around remains an option. As the ground grows nearer, there’s less opportunity to correct a flawed approach, making an aborted landing the only valid course.

As you reach “short final,” generally defined as a quarter-mile out, about 100-200 feet high, if your airspeed is not stabilized close to the normal final approach speed, at or slightly above 1.3 times stall speed for your configuration, seriously consider going around. An extra 10 knots adds too much to the stopping distance, especially when aided by drag-reducing ground effect after you flare out. Conversely, getting slow late in the landing approach is inviting a rough landing at best or damage to the airplane at worst. If you’ve allowed the aircraft’s energy level to deteriorate, do a go-around and make another approach at the correct airspeed.


Your Fault, My Fault, Nobody’s Fault!

Maybe your flying isn’t to blame. The wind can be gusty, turbulence may be encountered, maybe there’s an airplane entering or failing to clear the runway. There’s no point in continuing a situation that’s beyond your ability, or the airplane’s, to control. An obstruction on the runway definitely calls for a go-around. Night approaches are particularly subject to last-second aborts, when a hazard only shows up in the landing light beams. Doing a wave-off in the dark requires your full attention, using skills practiced during daytime.


What needs to be done is to promptly place the airplane into a post-liftoff climbing condition, through applying takeoff power—not partial power, not cruise-climb power, but all available power—followed immediately by reducing the flap setting from its high-drag landing selection. Turn the carburetor heat off if you’ve had it on to gain maximum power. Leave everything else alone, concentrating on managing the trim changes as the airplane accelerates.

Once you have retrimmed into a positive rate of climb, you can open the cowl flaps, retract the gear if appropriate, make a radio call and tweak the pitch attitude to generate Vy airspeed. Slide over to allow observation of the runway and make any climb power adjustments for noise abatement that are needed. Don’t be in a hurry to rejoin the circuit; climb out to a few hundred feet below pattern altitude before making a turn to the crosswind leg and plan to level off as you reach a normal downwind leg spacing.

What if you’ve reached the runway, flared out or perhaps touched down inelegantly when things go wrong? By all means, stay open to the idea of turning this into a go-around. Better to put the airplane back into the air rather than to bend it trying to prove a pointless point. The last-second go-around is an extremely busy task because you must maintain a correct position over the runway while reconfiguring into a climb, in case the airplane touches down during the process. Keep the nose aligned with the runway, arrest any sideways drift, don’t let sink rate build up. If the tires kiss the pavement before flying away, don’t worry about it; think “takeoff” at this point.

Going around after the wheels are rolling is merely a touch-and-go maneuver. The difference between it and a true go-around is that flaps should be brought up (to the takeoff setting) before applying takeoff power, so there’s no chance of boosting yourself back into the air under power with full flaps extended, then unceremoniously dumping the airplane back to earth as the flaps retract. Manage the liftoff attitude as you would with a normal takeoff, accelerate to Vy or Vx as required, and complete the transition into a departing aircraft. 


“Assuming you intend to return for another attempt at landing, think about what just occurred and plan to make adjustments to avoid a similar fate.”

Avoid Insanity

Assuming you intend to return for another attempt at landing, think about what just occurred and plan to make adjustments to avoid a similar fate. Insanity, after all, is defined as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. If you were high, extend your downwind before turning base. If you were coming in too low, keep additional power for the next approach. If you were out of position turning onto final, make the turn from base leg earlier or later. If the crosswind got the better of you the last time, get your correction going sooner and hope to catch a lull in the gusts. Don’t keep repeating the same mistakes.

In my memory, I can vividly recall a first solo on Oct. 26, 1960. The student pilot took 45 minutes to accomplish three full-stop landings, making go-around after go-around in an attempt to tame the bounding Cessna 140. Perfection, ever the enemy of progress, eventually surrendered to acceptance. But I learned, early on, that going around is far better than losing the fight. 

Go-Arounds Are Not Shameful!

Why Can’t We All Just Go-Around?


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