Air Force One Go Around!

As my good friend Bob Martens is fond of saying, the Go Around is the least practiced maneuver in Aviation.

During initial training as student pilots, the instructor teaches us the Go Around.  The Practical Test Standards (PTS) require us to demonstrate the Go Around/Rejected Landing maneuver.  The FAA objective for the task is “Makes a timely decision to discontinue the approach to landing”.  Virtually every rating, endorsement or flight test will require a Go Around.  Instrument students practice endless missed approaches, which is really just a Go Around under the hood.

For many pilots, the last checkride, however long ago, was the last time they performed a Go Around.

Why is that?  Do we view a Go Around as failure?  Somehow, are we less of a pilot because we acknowledged that the approach was not going properly forcing us to break off and try again?  Are we afraid that we may upset a passenger who may be a nervous flyer?   Or, do we think “I can make this work – just a little slip and we’ll land long.”

Maybe it is the fear of looking bad to other pilots.  A Go Around can disrupt the Tower’s pattern by forcing the Controller to reset the sequence.  At our local non-towered field, the airport gang is watching and commenting on everyone’s landing from the lounge chairs.  Are we afraid of the taunting of the airport gang?

Well, suppose you are flying the most famous airplane in the world – Air Force One.  Moreover, you have the Leader of the Free World – the President of the United States – in the back.  As you make your approach, the press and public are lining the runways and ramps.  TV cameras are recording your every move.  The approach is not going the way you would like.  Do you try to salvage the approach or execute a Go Around?  Imagine the pressure on the Pilot in Command of Air Force One.

This is exactly what happened to the crew of Air Force One several weeks ago at Bradley International Airport.  As is typical in many incidents, it started with something nonstandard.  ATC gave the flight a “Direct to the Airport” clearance rather than the usual arrival route.  This put them in closer and higher than normal.  Compounding the situation was an area of precipitation on the final approach course that required a deviation off the localizer. They turned back onto final but too close and too high to the Final Approach fix (FAF) for a stabilized approach. You can listen to the exchange here courtesy of LiveATC.Net.

Kudos to the crew; they realized that the approach was unstabilized and executed a missed approach – knowing that it would make headlines on the Evening News. Compare that to the ribbing you would get from the airport lounge gang.