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Let's assume that I'm on a check-ride and my next requirement is to perform a short-field landing.

If I'm coming in for landing and it's obvious I'm not going to hit my mark, can I perform a go-around and try again? Would that be considered a fail?

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    $\begingroup$ At the risk of stating the obvious, if you are not going to make it and you don't go around you are also going to fail, but in a much more spectacular way. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Mar 13 '17 at 0:45
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In general, you get one free go-around.

  1. First of all, any checkride which involves short-field landings probably also involves demonstrating go-arounds. If you don't do one on your own, your examiner will have to ask to see one later.

  2. Going around when it's obvious you're not going to make your point demonstrates good judgment. It shows that you're not going to try to force the airplane into an unsafe situation just to hit your mark. If the runway you're landing on really is a short field, continuing the landing attempt would not only be a bad idea, it would be unsafe, and the examiner would be correct in taking the controls from you, as well as failing you. If the runway is long and you're simulating a short field landing, the same applies.

  3. If you go around on a short-field landing and then go around on the next one as well, the examiner is going to start to wonder whether you really know what you're doing. Let's face it, it should not take you three tries to get properly set up for a short field landing, unless perhaps if the day is remarkably turbulent or there is a strong gusty crosswind. If that's the case, though, why in the world did you decide to take your checkride in those conditions?

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    $\begingroup$ This is almost verbatim what I tell students. It's true of any phase of the checkride, in my opinion. If you're in a situation you don't like, do what you would do if the examiner wasn't sitting next to you. $\endgroup$ – egid Jan 19 '14 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I believe good judgement, aeronautical decision making, weighs heavier than making the perfect approach. You will need to demonstrate that you know how make a good short-field approach but you also need to demonstrate a go-around and my experience reflects that of Steve's in that the examiner will let you choose to go around on your own and count it towards that. Some will even purposely try to put you into a situation where you need to go around to see if you make the correct decision. Go-around is ALWAYS the better decision than a bad landing (unless you waited too long to clear trees). $\endgroup$ – p1l0t Jan 19 '14 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ "why in the world did you decide to take your checkride in those conditions?" Maybe you didn't, and the conditions blew up once the checkride was already in progress? $\endgroup$ – Sean Feb 13 at 4:20
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In short, No.

I messed up both my short field, and soft-field landings.
I properly called and executed a go-around, and hit the landings on the second tries.

The examiner passed me, and gave me credit for executing properly when the landing couldn't be saved.

I think the important thing that he called out after the flight is that a Private Pilot's License is a "License to Learn" in a very literal sense. You are not required to execute every maneuver perfectly to pass. You are required to execute to a tolerance such that the safe outcome of the flight is not in question.

All instructors and examiners understand that learning is a life-long process, and recent events have repeatedly shown us how even the most experienced commercial pilots still need improvement on some skills. As long as you demonstrate that you can control the plane, exercise good judgement, and keep everything safe, you're likely to pass.

The corollary to this is that once you have your license, you cannot believe that you are done and qualified. Having a PPL just means you have a ton more to learn, but you can practice and learn a lot of that on your own, without an instructor constantly next to you.

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No, you shouldn't fail if you're going around for a valid reason and the go-around is well executed. If you're well prepared, the way you operate on the checkride should be how you would operate if the examiner was any other passenger.

If you take a look at the Practical Test Standards for Airplane (FAA-S-8081-14B), there are a couple of areas that help answer your question. The biggest one is that Normal & Crosswind Landing (Task B, p. 43) includes this as a subtask:

the applicant [...] 11. Executes a timely go around decision when the approach cannot be made within the tolerances specified above.

...while Go-Around/Rejected Landing (Task L, p. 50) includes:

the applicant [...] 2. Makes a timely decision to discontinue the approach to landing.

That said, it's interesting to note that none of the other landing tasks include the "timely go around decision" subtask from Task B, so this possibly gives examiners a bit of leeway. You should be executing the go around as early as possible, at the soonest point you think that your setup is not correct. If you're too high on base, or you're not descending enough, or you forget to get your flaps in at the right time - reset the maneuver! And when you execute your go-around, make sure it is well executed (and to the PTS standards).

Ultimately, a lot of your checkride comes down to the criteria under Examiner Responsibility (p. 10):

Satisfactory Performance

Satisfactory performance to meet the requirements for certification is based on the applicant’s ability to safely:

  1. perform the Tasks specified in the Areas of Operation for the certificate or rating sought within the approved standards;
  2. demonstrate mastery of the aircraft by performing each Task successfully;
  3. demonstrate satisfactory proficiency and competency within the approved standards;
  4. demonstrate sound judgment and exercises aeronautical decision-making/risk management; and
  5. demonstrate single-pilot competence if the aircraft is type certificated for single-pilot operations.

Between "mastery of the aircraft..." and "demonstrate sound judgment", there is a wide range left up to the examiner. Most examiners, I feel, are pretty sympathetic to students' nerves and the day's conditions. If it takes you one (maybe two) go-arounds to nail your short-field landing, and the rest of the flight went well, you're set. If they have to take over because you're constantly going around... you're going to get to try again later after some more practice.

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I did a go around on the short field for my PPL checkride. I was floating too much and even with a slip and s-turn I couldn't make it. So I went around and tried again. On my second try I turned base further downwind so I had a long final. Then I dragged it in for a spot on landing. The DE asked me if I knew why I was floating so much and I told him I had a tailwind but on the surface the windsock showed totally calm. He said I was right and that he calculated a 15 knot tailwind while I was flying. There was a lot of other traffic in the pattern so I didn't have the option of switching sides.

The DE told me that the go around was the right thing to do because he can't fail me for my landing if I don't land. He said if I was doing a lot of go-arounds for no reason that would be a problem, but otherwise a go around isn't a landing.

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