A total electrical power failure
I can now confirm that after a complete and total electrical failure, a light aircraft engine continues to operate and the most important instruments continue to work. Fortunately, this happened on the ground (just as we were about to line up) rather than in the air. There are procedures to deal with radio failure in flight, but without even the transponder working, it might not be immediately apparent to ATC what was happening. I hope I don’t have to find out for real. After shutting down, we had to resort to calling ATC by mobile phone to explain what had happened and then manually push the aircraft back to its stand.
What if it had happened in flight
It certainly made me think about the consequences of such a serious failure mid-flight, especially if in IMC. Not transponding and without radio, I’d still be able to use the main instruments to fly headings and maintain control. The onboard GPS display had also failed, but if I had been using my portable GPS SkyDemon or Aware then these could continue to run for up to an hour on their own internal batteries. I’ve heard of pilots in this situation using their mobile phones to call ATC to communicate their situation and receive directions and/or clearance, although I imagine it would be difficult to hear properly without using the headphones. In good VFR conditions, I’d think the best idea is to find a landing site and get down safely as quickly as possible – who knows what else might go wrong next, there could even be an electrical fire. Let’s hope I don’t ever find out or have to do that for real.
No IMC skills test today
The flight was to be my IMC skills test, scheduled for a weekday evening after work. The aircraft and instructor/examiner had just returned from an earlier IMC flight (they are quite popular at the moment), and not shown any signs of distress. All our preflight checks had gone as normal. My instructor had thought he smelt a whiff of some electrical problem, and perhaps his sixth sense alerted him to it in good time. As the saying goes, I would rather be on the ground wishing I was airborne than the other way around.
[Update: The fault was later diagnosed with the main electrical solenoid which needed to be replaced]
Already running late, there was still enough time to fit in a flight before sunset which was 21:26, being this close to summer solstice. Another aircraft was sitting ready for use and we quickly rebooked out with ATC and started our preflight checks. However, we quickly found the other aircraft lacked enough fuel and there wasn’t time to refuel it and have enough time to make the flight worthwhile.
So instead a short ferry flight to a nearby (and new to me) airfield
One of the other aircraft, which isn’t IFR capable, needed to be ferried across to the maintenance team at nearby Oaksey Park. We volunteered to do this and I was given the opportunity to fly into another new airfield. The short flight of little more than 5 minutes included identifying the airfield – which doesn’t stand out strongly from the surrounding countryside – although I confess I did cheat a bit by looking at the Aware GPS. It seems a really well kept and attractive field, which I know has a great reputation.
Having got a lift back to Lyneham, we rescheduled for the following evening. One of the aircraft owners reckoned he’d identified the fault as a blown fuse. Whether this is the fault or a symptom remains to be seen – I’ve booked the other aircraft just in case.
Here’s hoping there won’t be any hiccups with the arrangements tomorrow and that the weather will remain as good as the forecast.