I believe most pilots would agree the execution of a missed approach is one of the most demanding situations a pilot may encounter, short of an emergency. Appropriately, we practice them numerous times during initial instrument and recurrent training. But when was the last time you executed a missed approach outside of the training environment? Knowing that your next missed approach could occur tomorrow, let’s take a moment to review the fundamental elements so you’re prepared for your next IFR flight.
The FAA’s Instrument Flying Handbook, a primary reference in instrument training, states the following: “When a missed approach procedure is initiated, a climb pitch attitude should be established while setting climb power. Configure the aircraft for climb, turn to the appropriate heading, advise ATC that a missed approach is being executed, and request further clearances.” This advice follows the principal pilot mantra, “Aviate, navigate, communicate.”
I can assure you, as an instructor who has worked with hundreds of instrument students, there’s a bit more to the story. Saying “Aviate, navigate, communicate” is one thing; doing it is another.
It’s quite simple: Without aircraft control we have nothing. However, the simplest tasks are sometimes the most difficult to complete. This is because we have many other tasks vying for our attention, such as getting established on the missed approach course, communicating with air traffic control and completing the missed approach checklist. With so many distractions pulling at our attention, it is almost no wonder I have been witness to numerous student crashes (in the simulator) immediately after initiating the missed approach procedure.
How can this be? Without the proper patience we may tend to believe that the airplane is safely established in a climb after the initial pitch-up and a couple of turns on the trim wheel.
But after the initial power application and pitch adjustments, we have to monitor the airspeed to ensure it stabilizes appropriately. And the pitch trim must be adjusted until the airspeed is stable. It’s easy to apply trim until the control pressures seem to be gone, but if the airspeed is trending up or down, the pitch will ultimately change — sometimes unbeknownst to the pilot.
Most missed approaches also involve at least one, if not many, configuration changes (i.e., retracting the landing gear and flaps, etc.). This will certainly change the pitch of the airplane and, thus, the need for trim.
A few seconds invested to ensure the airplane is properly configured and trimmed will go a long way in aiding you to safely adjust navigation equipment and make the necessary calls.