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Go Around

"Why aren't we climbing?" Janet asked.

I was busy. I had just bounced a landing and didn't think much of our prospects for setting down safely on the remaining runway. We were at full power and the stall horn was chirping as I began alternately raising the flaps in increments and re-trimming to accelerate in ground effect. All 150 of our little Cessna's horses were running as hard as they could. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally developed a positive rate of climb as the last of the runway disappeared behind us. After a slight turn to avoid the tallest of the trees ahead, I answered my patient wife.

"Because it's hot."

After a slow climb back up to pattern altitude, I made a decent approach and landing. As I tied down the airplane, I felt shaken and embarrassed. I had realized we were too high on our first landing attempt, so I slipped the airplane hard to make a steep final approach. I managed my airspeed poorly in the slip, though, so by the time we crossed the threshold, we were coming in too hot. After bouncing twice, the second time higher than the first, it was time to go around.

No. It was well past time and I knew it.

We'd come to Lampson Field in Lakeport, California late on a Summer afternoon to attend a concert at a nearby resort. Because our taxi was scheduled to arrive in a few minutes, we placed a to-go order for dinner at the airport restaurant. While we waited, I reviewed my recent decisions. Preoccupied with other traffic in the pattern as we turned downwind, I misjudged our distance from the runway. With higher than normal ground speeds because of the high temperature, we were turning final before I realized just how high we were. Pressed for time, I tried to salvage a bad approach with a full-forward slip. Jittery about the thermals bouncing us around on final, I let the airspeed creep too high. By the time I flared, a bad landing was virtually assured. It was a classic error chain, just like those I'd read about in all those "never again" stories.

Our taxi arrived. To Janet's great credit, she'd already put the experience behind her and was ready to enjoy the evening. She knew the danger we'd been in and the seriousness of my mistakes, but she had the presence of mind to let it go. I decided to do the same, and we went on to have a great time.

When we departed late that night, I climbed high in the traffic pattern before proceeding on course to give us plenty of terrain clearance. It was a beautiful night and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip home. As we cruised high above the Napa Valley wine country, I reflected on the day. The picnic dinner on the lawn with my honey had been most enjoyable. The concert was great. The taxi driver was a kick. But mostly, I allowed the day's primary lesson to sink into my bones and become encoded in my DNA.

The time to go around is the instant the approach doesn't feel right.

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