Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Exciting wind shear -induced go-around at LAS

Travels today delivered an exciting occurrence: a go-around while on final approach to Las Vegas McCarran on account of wind shear. Here's a snapshot of the flight:

Flight details from flightaware.com
Zoomed-in flight path near LAS

The radar data superimposed by FlightAware does not do justice to the weather conditions we encountered; indeed, the weather time-stamp is about 20 minutes prior to UA 963's transit of it.

While on the 270-degree right-hand turn to establish ourselves on the 1L approach, we were really rocking and rolling. From my vantage point on the right, relentless beads of rain were assaulting the wing and engine (which were dramatically illuminated by the leading-edge lighting), intermittent lightning was illuminating the crevices of the barren hills below, almost as vividly as if the sun were momentarily above, our pilot-not-flying was making a report to ATC that our B757 was encountering light-to-moderate chop. (And thank goodness that this flight crew had sufficient love of aviation to enable Channel 9, the live ATC communications audio channel on United!)

Once established on the visual to 1L, our enterprising flight deck crew radioed a request to side-step to a visual 1R approach, so as to reduce our ground taxi time. This was immediately granted, and we proceeded further in. Our gear went down, the aircraft was noticeably decelerating further, but then a pronounced increase in bumpiness occurred, perhaps akin to light chop but slightly more disconcerting because of the proximity of the ground. And suddenly, full, exhilarating power as though we were expeditiously launching down the diminutive runway of Washington's Reagan airport or the fabled Orange County field!

Yes, the go-around was exciting to be sure: a combination of the raw power of an aircraft, the poise of flying professionals executing non-standard maneuvers, the adrenaline flowing from the non-zero chance of further hazards ahead.

At this point, UA 963 communicated a request to remain at 5000 feet while establishing itself on the downwind leg, presumably to keep away from more hostile air above. Yet the ATC response was a curt and non-apologetic negative: UA nine six three, climb and maintain 7000. Around this time, our pilot-not-flying also reported (to ATC, not to the cabin) that the reason for our missed approach was the hazard of wind shear along our descent path.

Soon enough, our ride was over; we touched down very gingerly on 1L. And then we had that long taxi around the airfield after all.

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