Alternator failure: Get Down Now!

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Alternator failure: Get Down Now!

Postby Tol3458 » Fri Apr 03, 2015 8:08 pm

I enjoyed the video. I wonder if in a real-world situation Keith might have handled it a little bit differently. That is: You know your avionics depend on battery power, which is failing. How long do you have? You don't know. You need to get on the ground.

What is the weather? That is,do you need to fly an ILS to minimums, or a non-precision approach, or better yet, can you fly through a hole through the clouds and go VFR? The objective, of course, is to get on the ground quickly.

On conserving power: You turn off lights, autopilot, DME. Anything else? You have an iPad, which runs on its own battery, which give you another source of situational awareness. This allows you to turn off the 2nd GPS & radio.

Do you declare an "Emergency"? If things are in doubt, definitely. On the other hand, declaring so unleashes a protocol of things by ATC, the last of which is a bunch of paperwork to be filled out by you and possibly some increased scrutiny by you insurer. As an alternative you can request "priority" handling, which allows ATC to slot you in ahead of regular traffic without the hassle of an FAA investigation. Also, I would, if seeing myself vectored on an extended downwind, request a shortcut nearer the final approach fix. Remember: ATC wants you on the ground as quickly as you do--safe and sound.

You're in a position to ask, so you shall receive.
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Re: Alternator failure: Get Down Now!

Postby TEWART » Wed Jul 17, 2019 8:57 am

This really happened to me when I was in a nighttime IFR training flight. We took off from Pontiac MI (class D) and flew north. Within about 5 minutes, we lost the alternator. It seized and broke the belt. Not having any radios that worked on the plane, my flight instructor and I explored our options. I had a military green night light attached to my headset which came in very handy. We shut down the master switch and ran off all the steam gauges. It was clear out so we had a horizon to work from. Then I remembered I had a cell phone in my flight bag. I called information to get the tower number. I called it, it was busy. We just laughed about that. Apparently this was the line they used to call other airports and Detroit ATC for hand offs. After a couple of tries, we were able to establish communications with the tower. We were 1000 feet above traffic pattern altitude. Pontiac had parallel runways and they cleared us to land. The tower stated they could see us every once in a while on radar but we continued to disappear. I stayed on the phone until we landed (being put on hold numerous times LOL). The tower stated stated they never saw us until we crossed the numbers. Lessons learned - buy a good headset light and a hand held radio. Always keep a charged cell phone just in case and list of potential phone numbers you may need to call if all else fails. Find an airport with more than one runway and like us, we did not have to file an incident.

Keep you wings level and no unusual attitudes :)
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Re: Alternator failure: Get Down Now!

Postby Keith Smith » Thu Jul 18, 2019 7:21 am

To the original poster, I somehow missed this originally. Two things spring to mind:
1) you generally do know how long you have by using a voltmeter. You can track the decline in voltage as time goes on. I used this technique when the alternator mounting bracket in the airplane broke in midflight and the alternator was just bouncing around inside the cowl. In my case, based on the slow decline in voltage, I opted to continue to the destination which was ~10-15 minutes away rather than landing immediately at an airport below me. I did this because I knew there was a maintenance shop at the destination airport that I'd used before. It was also VMC and if there was total electrical failure, it wouldn't have been catastrophic. All of this was coordinated with ATC.

2) declaring an emergency absolutely does not mean that you are committed to a process involving lots of paperwork or scrutiny by the insurance company. I'm not sure where you got that information.
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Re: Alternator failure: Get Down Now!

Postby Les Parson » Thu Jul 18, 2019 9:55 am

"Do you declare an "Emergency"? If things are in doubt, definitely. On the other hand, declaring so unleashes a protocol of things by ATC, the last of which is a bunch of paperwork to be filled out by you and possibly some increased scrutiny by you insurer. As an alternative you can request "priority" handling, which allows ATC to slot you in ahead of regular traffic without the hassle of an FAA investigation. Also, I would, if seeing myself vectored on an extended downwind, request a shortcut nearer the final approach fix. Remember: ATC wants you on the ground as quickly as you do--safe and sound."

As a former controller (USAF/FAA), declaring an emergency is the prerogative of the PIC (pilot-in-command) and does not automatically expose the pilot to a "bunch of paperwork", at least from the air traffic side. FAA FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) may have questions but that would depend on circumstances.

Requesting priority is no guarantee it will or can be granted. What is not widely known is ATC has the authority to also declare an emergency. As one might imagine, this has caused confusion and disagreement. For example, I recall one LAX incident when a AAL B747 reported an inop APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) intended for routine relay to company. The controller declared an emergency and rolled the fire equipment resulting in an unhappy flight crew when they unexpectedly saw an army of emergency vehicles alongside Rwy 25L.
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Re: Alternator failure: Get Down Now!

Postby Keith Smith » Thu Jul 18, 2019 11:08 am

Les, good point. In fact, on a recent flight on the network, ATC declared an emergency on behalf of a pilot flying into VNY who had a stuck elevator. The pilot was tied up and didn't formally declare, but ATC handled it as an emergency, including a request for fuel and souls.
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