|Posted by Aaron Harrington on February 10, 2011 at 10:20 PM||comments (0)|
This is probably one of my favorite stories of something that happened to me once durring my training when I was in the cross-country phase.
It actually doesn't start with me, but starts with a friend of mine, Cyrus Abdollahi. Cyrus was also working on getting his license at the time and was a little ahead of me and so we often talked about our progress to each other. One day he told me a story of how he was going on a solo cross country from KGAI in Gaithersburg, MD to KMDT in Harrisburg, PA. About half way he noticed that his instruments were slowly dying and eventually he had a total electrical failure in flight due to an alternator failure. This is very rare. This was an 'urgent situation' for him (to say the least) and he safely landed at a nearby airport in the middle of rural Maryland and was stranded for a few hours until a local instructor and student flew him back to Gaithersburg. We had a good laugh over the story.
Up until this point, the only thing that I have ever really been afraid of while flying, was hitting a bird. Well, this didn't instill a new fear by any means, but every once in a while it would cross my mind, "Aaron, what if you had a complete electrical failure right now?" Well, a couple of weeks to a month after Cyrus told me his story, I was on a solo cross country flight from KBWI to KLNS (Lancaster, PA) The flight went very well (although visibility was a little low) and I safely landed at Lancaster. I shut down the airplane and topped off the tanks. When I got back into the airplane, I went through my normal checklist and went to start the engine. *click* *click* *click*...... nothing happened. "uh oh" I said to myself. "This isn't good" We had been having problems with the battery being weak durring starting the past few weeks and Nizar (my instructor) was in the process of narrowing down what exactly was causing the weak battery. (Which by the way, was fairly new and so we had no reason to suspect that the battery was the culprit which it later turned out to be) Nizar had left me a voltmeter in the glove box (yes airplanes have them too) and I plugged it in to see the battery charge which read out around 10.5 volts. Only two volts low, I didn't suspect this would have a significant impact on the engine's ability to start but aparently, the battery did seem to be 'dead'. My 'electrical failure' was upon me. At least I was on the ground.
Well, that didn't make me too nervous other than the fact than now I knew that when I got the plane jump started, if the alternator had failed on me, then I would most likely have a complete electrical failure on my way back to BWI. So, I get out of the airplane and head over to the nearest hangar where an older gentleman was washing his truck. He had seen me at the self-fueler and said "Is your battery dead?" I told him it was and asked him: "Do you have any jumper cables?" he kinda stared at me like I was crazy. "What?! Jumper cables? I didn't know you could start a plane with jumper cables!" Aparently he wasn't a pilot of a small 12V Cessna like 'mine' and after a few more questions, learned that he wasn't a pilot or mechanic and knew nothing about airplanes. (Which kinda beggs the question as to why he was washing his truck on the ramp in front of an aircraft hanger but I was more interested in getting back to BWI) I used my cell phone to dial 411 and get the number for the maintenance shop on the field and they sent two young guys over in a Dodge Dakota pickup truck to jump start my plane for me. This is where the second bit of fun comes into play. Up until a few weeks earlier, I myself was the 'proud' owner of a Dodge Dakota pickup. I say up until a few weeks earlier because that was when my truck had a conplete electrical failure of its own where a shorted out wire, failed to blow a fuse and fried just about everything electrical in the car. Now that is ironic.
Well, the rest of the story isn't terribly exciting as we sucessfully used the truck to jump start the airplane and I made it back to BWI safe and sound. Nizar replaced the battery and that was the end of our troubles.
I do want to ease the fears of any non-pilot out there that this story might have made uneasy. Mechanical and/or electical failres are VERY rare. People who take good care of their planes almost never have problems and Cyrus's and my story are definitely ones that we will remember for a long time as this will probably never happen to us again. In any case, it was never a 'real' emergency for Cyrus or myself, but more of an urgent situation. We train for in flight emergencies and Cyrus acted according to his training and I luckly didn't have to worry about much other than finding a pair of jumper cables. I hope to have some more interesting and funny stories up soon so stay tuned!