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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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  • You should post what you picked up what you learned from the video. I love picking up things in my own videos that I may have missed in flight so these videos became the best teaching tools of flying in the real world. The only thing I would have done differently since you work out of a controlled field that requires a radio is I would have turned back home. There would have been no guarantee your radios would have worked for your navigating around complicated airspace and if you were based at a controlled field pick up your landing clearance. Hope you are up to speed with light gun signals :-).

  • Thanks for the comment Allen. We did turn back to Morristown and stopped at Oxford witch was on the way home. We had an emergency backup radio ready just in case. We received flight following and let them know the situation while en route to Morristown since the airport is under the NY class Bravo airspace. We had a backup plan to bypass the Bravo and land at an unrolled field if we lost the transponder. We don't need VORs or GPS to navigate. No doubt the NY area has some complicated airspace, but I learned to fly here without GPS or VOR and yes I know my light gun signals. Michael Bennett 973-934-1254 Sent from my BlackBerry

  • I enjoyed the video and chuckled over your discussion of if you were declaring an in flight emergency. It reminded of a flight out of Boeing Field, Seattle WA when I was taking a good friend for his first helicopter ride. I left the pad south, climbing to my left in a tight turn, so I would be heading north over Interstate 5, which was immediately adjacent to the airport and our main north south route through the city. Reaching 500 feet I saw my warning indicator flash. It had been in the shop because of an alternator issue, it obviously needed a little more work.

    Interstate 5 passes directly through the downtown core of Seattle, which makes for a great first flight. Passengers get the excitement of waving at all who were inhabiting the office buildings as we would pass. The weather was sunny, with broken clouds. My good friend was enjoying the view of the approaching buildings and Seattle's beautiful waterfront. He was not from the area, so it was a memory maker ride for him already. I had cleared Boeing Field's airspace and wanted it to be a good ride, even though I was going to call it short, so I flew to just south of the high rises. The King Dome still stood in the Pioneer Square area at the edge of downtown. I moved out of the flight corridor and pulled into a hover over the Dome's empty parking lot. I slowly rotated, looking for other traffic, while my friend got a wonderful view of all the down town activity.

    By all descriptions my buddy was a tough guy, working in a tough profession, but he had never been flying before. I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with why we would be cutting the flight short. I showed him the warning indicator and explained that we were fine and would have no trouble returning, but I would be calling the tower and didn't want to surprise him. He seemed OK with it, although somewhat apprehensive. Then I called the tower. After telling them I was returning and that my alternator had failed the tower clearly asked if I was declaring an in flight emergency, and if I wanted to be met by an ambulance and fire. I was graciously declining the offer for such services when I saw my friend's face go white, he grasped the edges of the seat, somehow gave me the impression that he was able attach his feet to the floor, and did not speak again until he was inside the hanger.

    I was glad I had taken the second set of controls out before the flight, felt sorry for my friend who was clearly shaken, but still chuckle when I remember my conversation with the tower.

  • Thanks for the great comment. Would you like to post it as a separate story?
    Just let me know.

  • Nice job. Looks like you handled the situation well!

  • Thanks Jeff! By the way congratulations on your IFR rating.

  • Great idea Allen. I posted some of the things I learned form the flight and will include that in my posts going forward.

  • hey,Great blog post dude! i am Tired of using RSS feeds and do you use twitter?so i can follow you there:D.
    PS:Have you thought about putting video to the blog to keep the visitors more entertained?I think it works.Yours, Ray Varian

  • Thanks for the comment. You can follow us on twitter here http://twitter.com/110knots

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  • thanks nice stuff…Keep bloging

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