Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It's 9:20 am and I am in Delaware, which is apparently a state and not a city.

There is a nice trough of low pressure sitting in the area, which is serving up generous helpings of low clouds, mist, drizzle, fog and rain. We shot the ILS down to minimums today, fully expecting to go around until the last second when we saw the runway lights. I enjoy the adrenaline of the final few minutes on an ils, when we are genuinely wondering if we'll be able to see the runway or if we'll have to go around and then figure out where to go to next - keep in mind that the nearest airport doesn't necessarily have customs service, and we need customs if we are arriving from Canada.

This next story happened when we were coming back into Pearson one recent afternoon, when the weather was crap. I think it was 400' overcast or so, with a couple of miles visibility in rain. It was my flying leg, and I was lined up with runway 06L in Pearson, riding the ils down. We wanted runway 05 because it's about 2 miles closer to our hangar than 06L, but the controllers were jammed due to the bad weather, and 06L was what we were offered.

Anyway, we set up for the approach and we saw the runway at around 800' above ground, so we relaxed and headed down. We were over the runway lights and the foxy lady who lives in our Ground Proximity Warning System had just called "50 feet". I was pulling the throttles back to idle when the tower said "Pull up and go around immeditately, climb to three thousand and contact approach".

I was in disbelief. "Did she just say go around?"
"But I see the runway and it's clear. Do you see the runway?"
"Ahh crap. Go Around. Set go-around thrust, set flaps to approach"

I pushed the Go-around button on the throttles and pushed them forward. I pitched the nose up and was pressed into my seat when the engines quickly spooled up to 100%, inhaling huge parcels of air and pushing us skyward at a great rate of climb.

We quickly climbed to 3,000' and cleaned up the airplane, then pulled back the throttles so we didn't overspeed. At low altitudes even a little jet such as ours has so much extra power, we have to pull the engines back to around 60% so we don't blow the 250 knot limit below 10,000'.

"Approach, we are on the go-around. Not sure why we are going around, but here we are"
"Yeah, tower was worried you might have been lined up on runway 06R. The visibility was poor and they were departing an aircraft on 06R, so they didn't want to take any chances"

We looked at each other, then looked at the radio frequencies we had dialed in. They were all correctly set. We looked at the magic tablet PC and it too showed us as having been lined up on the correct runway. Had we done something wrong? We both started to second guess what had happened.

"We were lined up with the runway that had the approach lights on, and I'm pretty sure it was 06L"

"The lights are turned off for 06R, the only lights are for 06L"

"We are 100% positive we were correctly aligned"

"I'll pass that along to tower"

So we shot the approach to minimums a second time, and we quadruple-checked our radios and gps and adf and every possible way of determining our location. As we were handed over to tower on the second final, we heard the controller again.

"You are cleared to land. I think that last go-around might have been my mistake. Sorry."

"No worries. Who do we send the bill for fuel to?"

There was silence for a second.

"I'm just kidding ma'am."

"Oh good. I was thinking about how much overtime I'd have to put in"

"I think we'd bother rather you erred on the side of caution. No problem."

She handed us over to ground and that was that.

Hmm, now that I read this, it's not nearly as exciting as it was in my head at the time. I guess I should have put in a disclaimer at the beginning ;)


david said...

Customs is always a hard choice when I'm flying my Warrior down to the U.S.: do I add an extra stop (which always works out to 45+ minutes) right across the border in Massena or Watertown just to be safe, or do I shoot straight for Teterboro, Philly, etc. and cross my fingers that I won't have weather or mechanical problems? There aren't a lot of airports with customs in the 2 hours or so between the border and the big cities.

Aviatrix said...

A go-around is exciting. Following it by several moments of second-guessing "oh crap how could we have possibly, did we really?" would up the excitement level just as the pulse rate was supposed to be tapering off. And nice of the tower controller to admit her mistake. She could have made up something about having lost contact with a maintenance vehicle that was crossing the runway.

I had a boss who said, "it's okay to go around just because you have misjudged the approach, but tell the passengers there was a chicken on the runway."