Complacency leads to sloppy flying.
I did a go-around today when landing in Sedona.
It was the second go-around I did in just over a week.
If you’re not a pilot, you might be wondering what I’m talking about. A go-around is a flying maneuver you perform when you realize that you’re botching up a landing beyond what you can smoothly — or perhaps safely — fix.
[To be fair, sometimes it isn’t the pilot doing the go-around who’s botching up the landing. Sometimes the tower tells a pilot to go around when the plane that landed before him is still on the runway. I was in a commercial airliner that did a go-around because of that. There are lots of reasons to do a go-around, but I won’t lean on any of those.]
In both cases, I was expecting a routine landing and simply wasn’t paying as much attention to what I was doing as I should have been.
Last Saturday it was while landing at a helipad at a rides event. I came in too high. If I’d been alone on board, I could have made the landing safely by simply descending from a high hover. But I had three passengers on board and enough fuel to put us right about at max gross weight. I could easily see myself running out of power in an out-of-ground effect hover with that crosswind. Why fight with it? I went around. I joked with my passengers that they were getting a half landing for free.
Today, I think my brain was out to lunch while I made my approach. The AWOS reported that the wind was 170 at 17 gusting to 28. I came in almost parallel to runway 3. What was that all about? The gusty quartering tailwind had me fishtailing all over the place, dancing on the pedals as I tried to make the pad. All the time, I’m pulling more and more collective. I knew I’d run out eventually — like the guy who landed his R44 there in a bush. So even though I was only 25 feet off the ground, I pushed the nose forward, gained speed, and flew out of there. I came around in on the taxiway parallel to runway 21 (duh-oh!) and had a smooth landing, despite the gusts.
Although I’m not happy about having to go around, I’m glad I had the presence of mind to do so. Too many pilots try too hard to make a sloppy landing work. That’s where you get hard landings, bent rotor blades, chopped off tail cones, and mangled helicopters.
But today’s go-around was a real wakeup call for me. It reminded me that I’m probably not thinking as much as I should be when flying. I’m at about the 2200 hour mark and complacency is rearing its ugly head.
Flying isn’t automatic; there is thought involved. Any “routine” landing can go south at any time for any reason. I should always be prepared. I should see problems before they become problems.
And there’s no excuse for sloppy flying.
So I’m scolding myself, publicly. And I’m hoping a few more experienced pilots scold me, too. (Try to be gentle, though, okay?)
I don’t want to be involved in an accident that gets linked to from someone else’s blog.