November 16, 2020.   Around and Around.

Go-arounds, missed approaches, aborted landings. Call them what you will; on Sunday, for the third time in my life, I was on board a plane that made two of them consecutively.

The first two times I was at the controls. In 1991 I was flying a 15-seater into Hyannis, Massachusetts, when twice the plane in front of us failed to clear the runway in time. Then, in 2008, I was flying a 757 landing into La Guardia when ATC twice misjudged our spacing on approaches to runway 22.

This time I was a passenger. I was in row 12, on a regional jet landing in Detroit. The winds were gusting to fifty knots, and the approach had been unusually turbulent the whole way down. I could see the treetops doing pirouettes. At about 500 feet the engines revved, the gear came clunking into the wells, and up, up, up we went. Whether it was crosswind issues or shears from the gusts — or both — I never found out, but something made the approach unstable enough to discontinue. The pilots did what they were supposed to do: break it off and go-around.

The second try was a carbon copy of the first one, and I was a little surprised when the captain let us know we’d be circling around for attempt number three. I assumed, after two good efforts, we were headed for Chicago or Cleveland. This time, he explained, we’d be switching to a different runway where the crosswind component wasn’t as strong. Still, I wasn’t optimist. From the window I watched the branches bending and the water rippling madly across the lakes and ponds, waiting for that tell-tale upward pitch and surge from the engines. Except this time it didn’t happen. We settled gently over the threshold and, plunk, we had arrived. The passengers broke out in applause.

Go-arounds can be abrupt and noisy, scaring the daylights out of customers. For airplanes, however, the transition from descent to ascent is perfectly natural, and a maneuver that pilots practice all the time. For more, see here.

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