Aborted LandingsBy Fred Herold
Every pilot flying today can clearly remember his days as a student pilot. One day, after having finally mastered coordination of hands on the yoke or stick and feet on the rudder pedals, you had made what you thought was the perfect approach and were about six feet from the perfect landing when the instructor yelled, ďGo around!Ē You couldnít believe it. You were in a perfect landing attitude, full flaps, engine at idle, and stall warning just starting to chirp, and this idiot wanted you to abort a perfectly good landing. But being the good student that you were, you dutifully shoved the throttle to full power and attempted to comply.
You learned your first lesson immediately; the nose tried to pitch up to the sky (due to the full flaps), and your trusty steed refused to climb as it always had in past takeoffs. It was a good thing your instructor was there to guide you in this lesson Ė reduce the flaps to 20 degrees or 10 depending on the type of plane you learned in, hold the nose down till flying speed is attained before leaving ground effect, and fly the plane. (Those are procedures youíll never forget, and the effect of that experience will remain with you for the rest of your flying days.) Once you mastered the art of going around, or aborting landings, it became easy to abort a landing when an unexpected gust hit you, your approach was unstable, or a crosswind suddenly became too much for you to handle, thereby making you a safer pilot.
Avoiding Landings That Must Be Aborted
Iím going to digress a bit and tell you the difference between a good pilot and a great pilot. A good pilot will use his superior reflexes and extraordinary flying skills to be able to salvage a landing or go-around and safely bring the aircraft home. A great pilot will use his superior judgment to ensure that he never gets into a situation where he has to use extraordinary skills or reflexes to control the aircraft and never puts himself or his passengers at risk. Say you have just soloed or are a relatively new or not very proficient pilot and want to practice your flying and landing skills; you just drove 90 minutes to the airport and the wind picked up a bit by the time you got here. You donít want to waste the day, so you check the weather and find that the wind is just under your solo or personal limit.
Do you really wish to fly with the conditions that close to your limit? This is something you must carefully evaluate before making the flight, keeping in mind that conditions may deteriorate. You decide to take off and find it a bit too bumpy for your taste, so you decide to land. The wind has indeed increased a couple more knots, and the first couple attempts to line up didnít go too well. What to do, what to do. Well, you could stay up and pray for the wind to die down, or you could attempt to land in winds beyond your ability and risk causing an accident. As a prudent pilot, you could check the chart, push ďnearestĒ on the GPS if the plane is so equipped, and find an airport that has a runway with better angles on the wind. The only thing hurting will be your pride, and youíll have learned a valuable lesson. Someone will be happy to drive you back to the originating airfield and possibly fly back with you when the winds are more favorable.
Points to Ponder
When in doubt about safety for any reason, remain on the ground. Thereís always another day. If you canít land due to wind or weather at your home field, land at the nearest field where itís safe and call for help. The aircraft owner and your instructor will appreciate your honesty and concern.
There are bold pilots, and there are old pilots, but very few old bold pilots. May the sky remain blue and the shiny side of the plane stay upright.
Fred Herold is a certificated flight instructor at Chesapeake Sport Pilot, located at Bay Bridge Airport, Stevensville, Maryland.