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  #1  
Old 11-27-2022, 02:22 PM
Ed_Wischmeyer's Avatar
Ed_Wischmeyer Ed_Wischmeyer is offline
 
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Savannah, GA
Posts: 1,830
Default Alternator failure flying home from Thanksgiving

Halfway home from Knoxville, TN to Savannah, GA, in the lower corner of the PFD, two red warning texts appear: VOLTS and AMPS. Uh, oh.

I’d waited for good weather to fly home from Thanksgiving as IFR, the Smokey Mountains, possible icing and light single engine aircraft don’t mix. I had to wait a bit that morning for IFR and low IFR to dissipate on the south side of the Smokies, because I don’t fly single engine IFR over ceilings less than a thousand feet.

I was on flight following and talking to Augusta Approach when the texts appeared. No circuit breakers had popped and there was no electrical smell, so I hypothesized (that sounds better than saying that I guessed) that it was a broken wire or broken fan belt. I recalled the Swissair Flight 111 (MD-11) accident in which all control was lost 15 minutes after an electrical fire started, so I was watching for signs of an electrical fire, in which case I would have landed on the nearest suitable terrain, airport or not.

Fortunately, I had already checked Savannah weather and, although I seldom do this, I had the aera 660 GPS programmed with the flight to Savannah.

I told Approach that I had an electrical problem and was going off the air for a moment. I cycled the master switch but that didn’t help, no real surprise. I then declared a Pan and asked them if they could contact Savannah and get me landing clearance for Runway 10, taxi to parking on Bravo. A minute later, they said that Jacksonville Center was aware of my situation. No thanks, I needed confirmation from the airport, turned everything off, got air data from the G5 and navigation from the aera 660 portable GPS.

I was concerned about the situation but was surprised how much my voice wavered. Later communications had normal voice quality.

I checked the moving map and the only airports in close proximity were private airports. With possibly no flaps and no elevator trim, I wanted to avoid an unfamiliar airport with a short runway. It was only a few weeks ago that I did a no flap landing, just for practice, but that was on an 8,000 foot runway, and I knew that the nose up attitude would block the view of a narrow runway.

I have in the past done a simulated electrical failure, turning off the left side G3X Touch screen. I was comfortable flying with the G5 and aera only, but I knew from experience that setting the engine power properly was at best a guess with no engine instruments.

I’d flown for an hour so the battery probably had a good charge, but it had sat for five days before this flight.

Fuel was not a concern. I took off with more than four hours of gas for a two hour flight, so I wasn’t concerned with running out of gas nor running a tank dry. LESSON: Pay attention to how much time each tank has been used, even when relying on the G3X Touch to tell me to switch tanks after every four gallons burned.

The ADS-B in (receiver) has its own battery, but I had already checked destination weather before the alternator quit – 4,500 broken and I was at 7,500. A very manageable forward stick pressure gave 200 feet per minute down, and I was content with that. I pulled most of the circuit breakers, but when I had the power on momentarily, I gave the electric trim a little blip and was surprised by the sudden response. LESSON: with the flight control system turned off, the trim is no longer airspeed-sensitive and runs at full speed all the time. This didn’t show up when I simulated electrical failure by turning off the left screen.

I tried the cell phone, bluetoothed to the headset but that didn’t work. I turned on power so I could try it through the audio panel, but didn’t have a connection long enough to communicate much when I called the tower, although I did give them a heads up.

As I passed an airport 25 miles out, I called approach control but they were not able to pick me up without transponder or ADS-B out. They asked me to call back when 15 miles out. Did that and asked for Runway 10, taxiway Bravo to parking. Granted, with an admonition to watch for light signals if communications were lost.

Ten miles out, approach handed me over to tower, but tower was unaware of my situation. I told them I was PAN with an alternator failure and a possible imminent radio failure. They cleared me to land, confirmed my parking location (they already knew where I parked), and all was good. Even better, I had full flaps for landing and elevator trim. They also held a departing regional jet, lots longer than normal, so I had no possible wake turbulence to deal with.

Decisions and justifications:
• Since the engine was running well and weather was VFR, I chose to fly 50 minutes home to a familiar airport with long runways rather than land at an unfamiliar airport with the possibility of no flaps and no trim.
• I should have turned on the engine instruments during descent to double check the EGTs.
• The controllers at my home airport know my N# and my competence, reinforcing the decision to fly home.
• I conserved battery power very aggressively, turning off the master switch, which turned off everything that didn’t have a standby battery. Probably more aggressive than I needed to, but better safe…
• I always fly with the aera connected to ship’s power, so I knew it was fully charged.
• Foreflight on the cell phone was another backup.
• After the initial power failure, five pounds of forward stick gave a descent rate of 200 feet / minute, and that worked well.
• Decided to fly home rather than land out and need repairs before I could fly the plane. I’m more confident with getting repairs done at my home field.
• Decided to navigate with the Garmin aera 660 GPS. I flew my newly purchased RV-8 home from California with only it for navigation.
• Fortuitously, got the destination weather well in advance and that reduced workload after the alternator failure.
• Did not take the cowling off and try to debug right after landing, as there was residual stress to deal with.
• The Garmin G3X has room to display the actual voltage next to the word, “VOLT.” I’ll suggest this to them, along with related ideas.
• I should compile a list of current draws for everything on the airplane, and put it on the iPhone along with the other airplane stuff. I had thought some about power failure and practiced some but had not thought things through 100%.
• I knew my airplane well enough to assess risks of landing at various airport if I had no flaps and no elevator trim.
• A standby radio would not have helped that much in this case. The plane has an unused comm antenna, but getting to the cable…

The ASRS report is already submitted, both for whatever safety lessons may be appropriate to pass on and also to CYA.
__________________
RV-9A at KSAV (Savannah, GA; dual G3X Touch with autopilot, GTN650, GTX330ES, GDL52 ADSB-In)
Previously RV-4, RV-8, RV-8A, AirCam, Cessna 175
ATP CFII PhD, so I have no excuses when I screw up
  #2  
Old 11-27-2022, 02:46 PM
Bevan Bevan is offline
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: BC
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Default

Considering the type of flying you do, maybe add a backup alternator mounted on the vacuum pad; assuming the vacuum system is not used on this highly electrical airplane.

Bevan
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  #3  
Old 11-27-2022, 03:51 PM
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RV8iator RV8iator is offline
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Saint Simons Island , GA
Posts: 1,717
Default Hmmmmm

Added words for clarity..

Hmmmmmmm…
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  #4  
Old 11-27-2022, 03:54 PM
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bjdecker bjdecker is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Georgetown, TX
Posts: 1,418
Default One more thing

Ed,

For a little more diagnostic/early warning capability, you may also want to connect the Alternator lamp output (active lo) to one of the discrete/sensor inputs on the G3X -- mine is labeled ALT OFF on the CAS.

Glad you made it back safely - please advise on root cause of electrical failure.

Cheers!

B
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RV-7 (Flying)
  #5  
Old 11-27-2022, 04:08 PM
gasman gasman is offline
 
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Location: Sonoma County
Posts: 4,768
Default

PAN............. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWpwl-NPnrM&t=577s
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  #6  
Old 11-27-2022, 04:10 PM
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Tankerpilot75 Tankerpilot75 is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Posts: 819
Default Good write up

Ed,

Thanks for sharing your alternator failure story with us. Overall I think you did an excellent job analyzing your situation and taking appropriate action. People can always pick apart certain decisions but the end result is what matters. Your decisions resulted in a safe recovery and no additional aircraft damage.

I always appreciate reading how others handle adverse circumstances and their logic behind the decisions they made. It makes me think through specific situations and analyze what I might have done if faced with similar circumstances. People need to share these experiences more often.
__________________
Jim Harris, 2008 RV7A, 2nd owner, N523RM (2015) Superior XPIO-360 B1AA2, MT9 CS prop, Two PMags, Dual GRT Horizon EX with ARINC, EIS, Garmin 340, 335 w/WAAS gps, Dual 430s (non-WAAS), TruTrak 385 A/P with auto level & trim, Tosten 6 button Military Grips, FlightBox wired to EX, Dynon D10A w/battery backup, 406 MHz ELT, Mountain High O2, CO2 monitor, Custom Interior, TS Flightline hoses, ETX900 Battery, Bruce Cover

Retired - Living the dream - going broke!
  #7  
Old 11-27-2022, 04:30 PM
Ed_Wischmeyer's Avatar
Ed_Wischmeyer Ed_Wischmeyer is offline
 
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Savannah, GA
Posts: 1,830
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by bjdecker View Post
For a little more diagnostic/early warning capability, you may also want to connect the Alternator lamp output (active lo) to one of the discrete/sensor inputs on the G3X -- mine is labeled ALT OFF on the CAS.
Not sure what an additional warning light would provide -- the G3X Touch already provides that function, and I was surprised how attention-getting that VOLT was...
__________________
RV-9A at KSAV (Savannah, GA; dual G3X Touch with autopilot, GTN650, GTX330ES, GDL52 ADSB-In)
Previously RV-4, RV-8, RV-8A, AirCam, Cessna 175
ATP CFII PhD, so I have no excuses when I screw up
  #8  
Old 11-27-2022, 04:45 PM
bjdecker's Avatar
bjdecker bjdecker is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Georgetown, TX
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Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed_Wischmeyer View Post
Not sure what an additional warning light would provide -- the G3X Touch already provides that function, and I was surprised how attention-getting that VOLT was...
I wasn't suggesting another light - just another CAS message.

Not sure what your Voltage alarm thresholds are, or what rails you are monitoring. Mine are Battery primary and EFIS backup, and they are set pretty high (13.1V). With a lithium pack, I've noticed that it takes a little while to discharge to the point of generating the VOLTS 1 message on the CAS.

With the alternator's lamp output wired into the G3X allows me to see the fault the instant the alternator drops off line versus waiting for the Voltage alarm threshold to be hit.

Again, great write up - glad you made it ok.
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RV-7 (Flying)
  #9  
Old 11-27-2022, 05:00 PM
JMiller JMiller is offline
 
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Location: Milton Freewater Oregon
Posts: 6
Default Good information

Thanks for writing this up.
  #10  
Old 11-27-2022, 05:03 PM
Bonanzatom Bonanzatom is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Lincoln, CA
Posts: 11
Default

Excellent report Ed. I think you covered all your bases. Had this happened to me, I would have been concerned about the engine driven fuel pump failing, but because the chance of that happening also is slim, I too would have pressed on.
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