From the early days of instrument training, we are taught to expect to go missed at the conclusion of an instrument approach. I think we all understand why: the point is not to get too cocky, and to remind yourself that minimums are just that: minimums. Point well taken, but when things get real are you actually prepared to fly the missed approach?
A missed approach is a very busy segment of a flight. In a short period of time, the airplane goes from landing configuration to climb to cruise. Fly this heading, intercept that radial, level off at missed approach altitude. Meanwhile, a decision is looming in the back of the pilot’s mind: do I proceed to my alternate now or wait it out a bit? That’s an awful lot to cope with. And let’s not forget about figuring out that holding pattern entry.
To do all of this on the fly is to ask for trouble. Instead, plan ahead for the missed approach. Professional pilots make this part of a complete “approach briefing,” and it’s a good idea for private pilots to do the same.
During your initial approach preparation, take a good look at the published missed approach procedure. Get familiar with the chart and compute your holding pattern entry. Check out my post on Holding Patterns Entries Made Easy, it should help.
During the final segment of your approach, take a quick peek at your chart and memorize the first step of the missed approach. Usually this is just a heading and an altitude. Now would be a good time to set any altitude or heading bugs as a friendly reminder.
If you do get behind the airplane on an actual missed (hey, it happens!) do not just wing it! Confess your situation to the tower and ask for a vector and altitude. Remember: safety is the name of the game here. Contrary to popular belief, controllers do not carry pitchforks. They are there to help so ask for it if you need it.