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Alternator failure during IFR flight to Martha’s Vineyard in VMC

While in route to Martha’s Vineyard my friend and fellow flying club member Stephen and I experienced an alternator controller failure (basically a voltage regulator). It wasn’t a big deal since we were in day visual conditions and the engine does not require electrical power to operate. I have learned a few things from watching the video..

Let me know what you think.

I am glad I had Stephen along for the flight. He was not only my IFR safety pilot (there to look out for other aircraft) but also offered some good suggestions. One of the suggestions was to contact flight service to ask for the location of a restaurant in the area that we couldn’t find (the 121 cafe at Oxford KOXC). This was an unusual request I bet but they were more than willing to assist.

It turned out to be a fun flight. Best of both worlds. IFR hood work out to Groton CT and some old fashioned VFR flying with VFR flight following back to Morristown. The airplane was down for two weeks waiting on parts / service. I apologize in advance for the bad language..

A few things learned:
1. The checklist is king. I should have pushed for the checklist first instead of following my own flow. I missed some things like turning off the autopilot GPS MFD etc at first. We did pick up on the missed items but not until later on. Use the checklist. (After reviewing the checklist for my aircraft I discovered that it was practically useless but nevertheless. It is a good habit to use it).

2. During my first flight with Stephen I noticed that he kept his backup radio up front while I kept mine tucked away in my flight bag. If this were a real emergency (i.e. lost coms during IFR or even IFR in VMC) it would have been hard for me to reach back and find my standby radio especially if the autopilot was out of service due to an electrical failure. I will place my standby radio up front whenever operating in IFR or at night going forward.

3. I need to watch the chit chat thing. I have a bad habit of getting involved in conversation during flight though this conversation was in reference to our planned approach, it turned into a conversation on holding pattern entries. I will keep my (How am I? How is my airplane? What is next?) dialog going from now on.

4. Resetting the circuit breaker. I have since learned to only reset a circuit breaker once otherwise you run the risk of starting a fire or causing damage to the electrical system.

5. Landing with full flaps with an electrical problem was not the best choice. Next time (you just know there will be a next time) I will land without the use of flaps if able. If I needed to retract the flaps (IE go around) I might not have been able to.

6. Voltage gauge. If you have one keep an eye on it. There is no exact voltage at witch all things drop out, but knowing the rate of discharge is a good tool. Normally things like Nav/Coms will fade or the displays will flicker just before becoming useless.

7. Normally you have 30 minutes of battery power available under full load. That does not take into account the condition of the battery to start with, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

8. By all means shutdown all nonessential equipment for your particular flight. If you are flying in the middle of nowhere you could even shut down your transponder. I have learned that the transponder uses allot of energy.

Closing notes:
My goal is to become a professional pilot. Even if I am not “working” as a professional I want to act like one, fly like one, talk like one and think like one. There is much work to do but I think having that goal is going to serve me well. As they say: Good airmenship has more to do with attitude than skill though skill is important attitude and mindset play a big role in aviation safety. Please post your comments or suggestions below.
Thanks for watching.

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Amanda Michelle (Younkin) Franklin 3/14/1986 – 5/27/2011 Click for information on Amanda