Be Prepared for the Missed Approach

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.

Let's assume you've exercised good patience and the airplane is fully configured and trimmed, climbing safely to the missed approach altitude. The initial climb, while close to the ground, is not the time to be figuring out which way to fly and to begin programming navigation equipment.

Nowadays, the average IFR-­certified training airplane is equipped with the avionics to fly the approach and, at the same time, to have the missed approach navigation aids tuned and set. Use your approach briefing (while safely en route prior to the approach) as an opportunity to preprogram your avionics for the missed approach.

Make sure you are completely familiar with the process of sequencing your GPS receiver into the missed approach phase. All receivers require some pilot action, which consists of pushing a button, usually labeled “SUSP,” “OBS” or “G/A.” Some airplanes have a TOGA (take off and go around) switch that is also used to transition to the missed approach.

Here is some food for thought: Even if you are not flying a GPS or RNAV approach, you can have the approach loaded into the electronic flight plan for help during the missed approach procedure. The use of a properly sequenced GPS flight plan is especially helpful during complicated missed approach procedures with more than one navigational aid.

In addition to the preparation of your avionics, make sure your mind is prepared as well. When performing your approach briefing, review the entire missed approach procedure. It is a bit optimistic to commit the entire procedure to memory, but at a minimum remember the first step of the missed approach.

While there is the occasional exception to the rule, communicating with ATC always comes in third place behind controlling the aircraft and navigating safely. My students are always in a rush to report the missed approach, sometimes even doing this before the climb has been initiated!

The question is: Are you ready to listen to what ATC is about to tell you?

If I am playing the role of ATC for my students when they report too soon (in the simulator), I seize the opportunity to assign a new communication frequency along with modified missed approach instructions. This results in degradation of aircraft control and loss of situational awareness. I don’t do this for my amusement, of course, but it sure leads to a very beneficial debriefing during which the student relearns the importance of aircraft control and workload prioritization.

With a little patience and a firm respect for this manner of workload prioritization, you will be fully prepared for your next missed approach.

Matthew Golden was the 2007 Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He holds Airplane Land and Sea ratings, Flight and Ground Instructor certificates, a type rating for the CRJ-700, an Aircraft Dispatcher certificate, and a graduate certificate in Instructional System Design. For nearly a decade, he has served as a flight instructor, check instructor and professor at ­Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.


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