Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Didn't go flying today.

The CFI was a little amused by the thoroughness of my preflight inspection - but when you take an unfamiliar aircraft, and put it in the hands of someone who has rebuilt one, there's a lot more things that I now know can be cattywampus to check. Example 1: They'd never had a student check that the ignition wires were firmly attached to the spark plugs. (Look, it only takes once, okay? I learned that lesson from somebody else's exciting flight, and now I check every time.) Example 2: I identified the "we can't find that oil leak", and pointed out that it was very clearly from which spot on which seal on which cylinder - which means that fixing it would require cracking the engine. Given it is a very minor oil leak indeed, I can translate the mechanic's "can't find" quite clearly as "Don't want to crack the engine to fix."

The CFI was less amused when I pointed out previously unnoticed hangar rash that needs fixing.

But be that as it may, no preflight reveals the dead battery. That waited until we got in and pressed the start button, and got a single click from the solenoid as reward. So, we got the plane jumped. Now, once the plane is jumped, there's one instrument that needs extra special loving attention on the checks, and that is the ammeter. It should read as solidly charging the flat battery.

This one didn't. It didn't show as discharging (ie, dead alternator and we're running on the freshly jumped battery), but it didn't show charging, either. Hmm, I thought, that's hinky. Either the ammeter isn't working, or something's funky with the alternator. Better keep an eye one it, especially on the runup. 

Three minutes later, as we were rolling toward the runway, the GPS and the Com Panel went dead. Yeah, my apprentice mechanic skills are saying that alternator's either dead, or putting out so little power that we're draining the freshly-jumped battery past the point of sustaining the heaviest electrical load (the big glass screen and high-powered GPS avionics.) My CFI, who has the mistaken impression that I fly no radio because I fly one of those ancient taildragger-type airplanes, leaned forward and shouted (Com panel dead means the headsets don't work.) "I know you're used to flying no-radio, so I'll give you the option of continuing the flight!"

I looked at 'em like they were asking if I wanted to tango with a thunderstorm. "Unfamiliar airspace, unfamiliar airplane, no comm, no electrical? No way!"

So we taxied back to the mechanic's hangar, and waved one over so they could see what was going on. He leapt up on the wing as we slid the canopy back, and I pointed out the dead GPS, dead com, and the backup nav/com and transponder were still live. Then I asked (or shouted, over the engine and prop), "Beacon is switched on! Is the light on?" This is one of those helpful cross-check things, because the beacon is wired to the master switch, not the avionics master. It wasn't - there's enough juice to run the surviving avionics, but not the lights. Definitely sounds like an alternator that's putting out just enough juice that it tests fine under no load when tapped with a voltmeter - but not enough to power the lights and avionics and charge the battery at the same time. Ah, intermittent electrical issues, how I hate thee.

So I shut her down, and rescheduled.


  1. Better on the ground than in the air... :-)

  2. What Old NFO said. Better you identified the problems, no matter how unpopular with those responsible for fixing them, too.

    I'm glad you're still here to tell the tale.

  3. Great moments in aircraft checkouts: I'm getting a refresher in a C-182. It makes A Noise. CFI looks at the enginish part of the gauges and says . . . "I've never seen one do that. What's going on?"

    Almost did a 360 overhead break to landing in order to get back on the ground. Oil pressure light came on and so did the overheat light. Happily, the pressure light was a failure in the circuit, but we found a partial blockage of the airflow over the engine because of damage to baffles and a rag in the wrong place.

    Yes, first flight after engine work. Why do you ask?

  4. Years ago, we drove from Okc to Sacramento to visit Jennifer's family for a couple weeks in my 18-y.o. Civic. Incidentally, the odometer rolled past the 200k-mark on that trip. When we started out, the electronics were acting... (what's the word you used?) ...hinky. I had a feeling it was the alternator, and although I must have stopped at half a dozen shops, the alternator tested good, even under a load every time. We were out in the middle of the desert, somewhere between Hither and Yon, not another car in sight, in the afternoon, when the battery light very slowly dimmed on. I watched it suspiciously with an "ah ha!" when suddenly, there was a squealing from under the hood and a momentary drop in engine power, as the alternator fully locked up for just a moment. When the squealing stopped and we had full engine power again, the battery light was on brightly. The car was carbureted, with no electronic controls. We rolled down the windows to shut off the AC and turned off the radio. I didn't know how far we were from civilization, and I didn't know how far the battery alone would run the ignition system, but it was all we had. Later that evening we rolled into an AutoZone, where I was able to get the battery charged and tested, the alternator finally confirmed bad, and the guys in that store were able to get me fixed up with a new one. No, I wouldn't want to be caught in the air with a bad one, but being caught out on some lonely desert highway probably wasn't much better.

    Good job on knowing the machine so well! Stay safe.