Go-Around in a PA46…

Of all the aviation maneuvers I see during Refresher Training, the one that is butchered the most is the Go-Around (or Missed Approach).  This is disappointing because the Go-Around is so critical.  Everything changes at the Go-Around…the airplane goes from dirty to clean, low-power to high-power, descent to climb, and (often) flight with the autopilot to hand-flying…all at (potentially) 200ft above the ground. If the pilot flies it poorly, there may not be enough altitude to recover.  It is one of the most dangerous phases of flight, and one that every pilot must be able to handle well.

I think most pilots mess up the Go-Around because they don’t have a plan, don’t prepare,  and don’t practice.  My hope with this article is to help you develop your plan, and then I hope that you prepare on every approach (even VFR approaches) and practice (not just during recurrent training!).  Developing your plan depends upon which autopilot you have installed.  But, before we get to the autopilot discussion, let’s talk about the basics of a Go-Around…

There are three fundamental requirements for any Go-Around in any airplane…non-negotiables that MUST be performed. A pilot MUST:
* Pitch Up
* Power Up
* Clean Up

The first two (pitch up, power up) happen at the exact same time, and the last (clean up) happens literally seconds later. If a pilot doesn’t do all three, the safety of the flight will be seriously compromised.

Here’s a discussion of the “Big Three” in a PA46:
Pitch-up: On any PA46, a 7.5 degrees nose-up attitude is almost always the target. This pitch attitude will provide a good angle of climb while not overtly risking a stall.
Power-up: In a piston PA46, the entire quadrant should be moved full-forward (the prop and mixture should already be forward, but the wise pilot will push everything forward with a full hand). There’s no threat of over-torque by pushing the throttle too far forward, and maximum power is needed because there isn’t much additional power available in a piston. In a turbine, more careful power management is required, but more power is available…so, obtaining maximum power is not critical. A pilot can advance the Power Lever to climb power, but not threaten an “over-torque” by staying well under Red Line.   Usually a turbine pilot will get “reasonably close” (within 200 lbs?) of the Torque Limit (Red Line), which provides plenty of climb power and also a safety margin from an over-torque. The Power Lever can be tweaked for more power once the airplane is in a more settled position in the climb, safely away from the ground.
Clean Up: In a PA46, the Landing Gear always comes up first. It could be argued that the flaps should come up first if 36 degrees of flaps are applied, but 36 degrees of flaps should never be applied in a PA46 until the runway environment is in sight and a landing attempt is nearly-assured…and that requires VMC conditions. We are discussing an “instrument go around”, and I do not teach any pilot to put full flaps down on an instrument approach. So…gear first, then flaps…

With those basics out of the way, let’s develop a plan…and the plan for any PA46 depends upon the autopilot installed. I’m going to group the autopilots into 3 groups:

* “Go Around Switch” Autopilots: Those autopilots that have a “Go Around Switch” (GFC700, STEC 1500, and KFC-225)
* Attitude-Based Autopilots: Those autopilots that DON’T have a Go-Around Switch, but DO have the ability to fly a pitch attitude (KFC-150 and DFC90)
* Rate-Based Autopilot: STEC-55X

If you have a “Go-Around Switch” (mounted on the throttle/PL), you have one of the best autopilots in the industry. On all of these autopilots, pressing the Go-Around Switch will do three things:
1.) Disconnect the Autopilot: The FD will still be present, but the Muscle (trim actuation) will NOT be present…you’ll have to fly the airplane…YOU are the “muscle” after pushing the Go-Around Switch. Never forget this…I cannot tell you how many times (in training) the pilot will push the Go Around Switch, apply power and NOT fly the airplane!
2.) Move the Flight Director (FD) to 7.5 degrees nose up: Again, this is the perfect climb attitude, and the smart pilot will “snuggle” the wings into the FD to provide the proper pitch attitude.
3.) Move the Flight Director to “wings level”: Wings level is what is needed for 99.9% of missed approaches. There are a FEW airports that have mountains (or other threats) that demand a turn at missed approach (Aspen, CO and Hot Springs, AR are examples), and the safe pilot will consider those directives listed in the FLIP-IAP Missed Approach Procedures. But, for MOST missed approaches the INITIAL response should always be a wings level attitude.

Plan for “Go Around Switch” Airplanes: If you’ve got a PA46 with a “Go Around Switch”, my Missed Approach Plan would look like this at Decision Height:

* Push the Go Around Switch while advancing the throttle/PL, and manually fly the airplane to the FD (pitch up/wings level). Notice I presented all of this work in one step, for it should all be done in one fluid movement of both hands on the primary flight controls.
* Raise the Landing Gear
* Incrementally raise the flaps
* Confirm a proper positive Rate of Climb (ROC) and proper airspeed
* Turn on the Autopilot (if desired)
* Select the desired ROLL Mode (HDG, NAV/GPSS) as per the missed approach procedures
* Select (and ARM) the altitude desired to level off
* Contact ATC and advise that you are “Missed Approach”
* “Clean up” any cockpit switches (lights, change A/P pitch mode (if desired), etc.)

Attitude-Based Autopilots (KFC-150 and DFC90):  Don’t let the fact that neither of these autopilots have a Go-Around Switch dissuade you from thinking highly of them…these are two FABULOUS autopilots!  The KFC-150 is in all of the early PA46’s (1984 thru 1998) and it is one of the best reasons to buy an early PA46.  The DFC-90 (100% digital) is starting to show up in many Avidyne PA46’s, and it’s a SERIOUS upgrade to the STEC-55X.  I love both of these autopilots, and I love them because they are ATTITUDE-Based!

The KFC-150 and the DFC-90 are “attitude based” autopilots because they utilize the attitude indication from the attitude indicator (KI256, KI300, G500, Aspen, or Avidyne display) and have the ability to hold a pitch attitude.  I’m going to bet right now that 90% of PA46 pilots (even the ones that have flown these autopilots for years) do not know that they will hold a pitch attitude!  In fact, they will DEFAULT to pitch attitude when no other command is given.  For instance, if you simply push the FD button, the FD will pop up on the attitude indicator.  What pitch mode is it displaying?  You got it…the pitch attitude of the airplane when the FD button is depressed.  Guess what happens if you push only the HDG button?  Right again…the FD will provide a roll indication to hold a heading, but it will default to ATTITUDE Mode until some other mode is pressed (ALT, VS, GS…or IAS for the DFC90). And…here’s the good news for anyone wanting to do a missed approach…if the pilot pushes the CWS (Control Wheel Steering) button (on the yoke) with the Autopilot either OFF or in APR Mode, the FD will command the pilot to Wings-Level for ROLL and ATTITUDE Hold for pitch.  The FD will command whatever pitch attitude the airplane is at when the CWS is RELEASED.  So, the pilot can fly the missed approach (Pitch Up, Power Up, Clean Up), press and hold the CWS until 7.5 degrees pitch up is reached, release the CWS, and then turn on the Autopilot.

Go Around Plan for Attitude-Based Autopilots:  If you’ve got a KFC-150 or a DFC90, I think your Missed Approach Plan should look like this:

* Advance the throttle/PL to climb power and Push the CWS Button while manually flying the airplane (and FD) to 7.5 degrees nose up, then release the CWS.  Notice I presented all of this work in one step, for it should all be done in one fluid movement of both hands on the primary flight controls.
* Raise the Landing Gear
* Incrementally raise the flaps
* Confirm a proper positive Rate of Climb (ROC) and proper airspeed
* Turn on the Autopilot (if desired)
* Select the desired ROLL Mode (HDG, NAV/GPSS) as per the missed approach procedures
* Select (and ARM) the altitude desired to level off
* Contact ATC and advise that you are “Missed Approach”
* “Clean up” any cockpit switches (lights, change A/P pitch mode (if desired), etc.)

STEC-55X: If you have an STEC-55X Autopilot, then you have (arguably) the least of the prominent PA46 autopilots, but it is still an acceptable autopilot.  It is a Rate-Based autopilot…and this means that it uses the turn coordinator for ROLL inputs and uses only the Vertical Speed, Altitude, or Glide Slope for PITCH inputs.  So, it will not hold a 7.5 degrees nose up attitude (or any attitude), but it will only hold a Rate of Climb during a Missed Approach.  When the CWS Button is pushed, it reverts to V/S Mode for Pitch.  At Decision Height, a pilot can push the CWS, fly the airplane to 7.5 degrees nose-up, and then check the V/S indication on the autopilot display to ensure the desired V/S is being commanded/flown.

There’s another issue with the STEC-55X…there’s a panel-mounted 3-position switch that has these positions:

UP = Autopilot ON
Middle = FD only ON
Down = Autopilot and FD OFF.

So, if the autopilot is ON (switch in the UP position) on an approach (and A/P is flying the airplane), the pilot must either push the RED Button on the yoke (which turns OFF the FD and A/P) or push the panel-mounted button to the MIDDLE (FD only) or DOWN position (A/P and FD OFF) in order to land the airplane.

And…there’s yet another issue with the STEC-55X…when the CWS is pushed, in the roll axis the A/P automatically reverts to “Bank Mode”.  In this mode, the autopilot will hold whatever bank angle the airplane had when the CWS Button is RELEASED.  So, if the pilot pushes the CWS Button and flies the airplane poorly (maybe with a bank close to the ground), when the CWS is released the A/P will fly that bank…and a bank at low-altitude can be deadly.

If the pilot elects to use the RED button while descending on the glide slope, the A/P and FD will turn OFF, but the second the pilot pushes (and releases) the CWS Button, the A/P will come back ON.  Again, it is absolutely critical that the pilot fly the airplane PERFECTLY on the Missed Approach!

For this reason, I teach pilots to turn the panel-mounted switch to the MIDDLE position (FD-only ON) while still descending on the glideslope (and hand-fly the airplane).  When it is time for the Go Around, the pilot must hand-fly the initial stages of the Go-Around, cross-check the instruments, and then re-engage the autopilot.  Confusing?  Exactly…that’s one reason why the STEC-55X is NOT my favorite autopilot.

Go Around Plan for the STEC-55X Autopilot:  If you’ve got an STEC-55X, I think your Missed Approach Plan should look like this:

* Switch OFF the Autopilot while descending on the glideslope to the MIDDLE position (FD still ON) and hand-fly the airplane; then…at the Missed Approach point…
* Advance the throttle/PL to climb power and Push the CWS Button while manually flying the airplane (and FD) to 7.5 degrees nose up, then release the CWS. Notice I presented all of this work in one step, for it should all be done in one fluid movement of both hands on the primary flight controls.
* Raise the Landing Gear
* Incrementally raise the flaps
* Confirm a proper positive Rate of Climb (ROC) and proper airspeed; adjust the V/S with either the CWS or by adjusting the V/S on the autopilot face
* Select the desired ROLL Mode (HDG, NAV/GPSS) as per the missed approach procedures
* Turn on the Autopilot by moving the Panel-mounted switch to the UP position
* Select (and ARM) the altitude desired to level off
* Contact ATC and advise that you are “Missed Approach”
* “Clean up” any cockpit switches (lights, etc.)

After originally posting this Article, I received an email from a client that felt I was unjustifiably harsh on the STEC-55X Autopilot, and offered this simpler STEC-55X Missed Approach Plan:

* Press disconnect at DH
* Power / Attitude / Positive rate / Gear up on RWY heading
* Press HDG then VS…Autopilot is now engaged and vertical speed captured on last actual vertical speed
* Clean up flaps
* Fly the missed approach with the HDG Mode or change to NAV Mode

While I have a couple of “minor dislikes” with this plan, it is reasonably solid and shows a good understanding of the idiosyncrasies of the STEC-55X.  I present this plan to highlight the fact that not all plans are identical.  There are many ways to safely pilot the airplane through a missed approach.

As you can see, each PA46 pilot needs a plan based upon the autopilot.  The “Plans” I present in this Article describe what I would use for a normal ILS or WAAS approach, but they are not the only plan that would work.  A pilot must know the modes of the autopilot installed and formulate a plan that works for the approach being flown based on the installed equipment.  There is no “standardized” way of doing the missed approach, but each pilot should develop a plan that “works” and practice that plan.

A wise pilot will “plan for the missed approach”, but hope to land the airplane normally. Unfortunately, most pilots “plan for a landing” and are unprepared for the missed approach if it is required to be flown.  Developing a plan, preparing the cockpit for that plan, and practicing the plan are the keys to success for any missed approach.

About Joe Casey

ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G Commercial Pilot - SE, ME, Rotorcraft, Glider US Army AH-64 Pilot and UH-60 Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner
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