Low amps... no amps

Pilot - - CONTENTS - By Ray­mond Emms

We had just lifted off from An­nemasse in the Alps, en­joy­ing our new Bose head­sets and their strange sound-dead­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence (which does takes a lit­tle get­ting used to) when there was a roar of noise and I found I couldn’t hear prop­erly. It took a sec­ond or two for my brain to process what had hap­pened. The bat­ter­ies sup­plied with one of the new head­sets had died pre­ma­turely and we had no spares. We took one bat­tery out of my wife’s head­set, trans­ferred it to mine and hoped we would sur­vive as far as the North of England be­fore they both packed up.

The moun­tains slipped by serenely, we changed fre­quency and said good­bye to Geneva then went on to Bâle (Basle) In­for­ma­tion. We were just be­gin­ning to re­lax af­ter the mini head­set cri­sis when I no­ticed the am­me­ter be­gin to do things it had never done be­fore. It’s sur­pris­ing how you just know where all the nee­dles should sit af­ter years and years of fly­ing, and how a sim­ple nee­dle gets your full at­ten­tion when it doesn’t sit where it’s sup­posed to.

Sure enough, the low volt­age light be­gan to flash as the am­me­ter nee­dle sulked off to zero, fi­nally shin­ing steady and bright. Mmm — now what…? We are miles from home and, Hous­ton; we have a prob­lem.

We landed as planned at Troyes for fuel, which proved fine — but the am­me­ter still re­fused to budge. My son had re­cently bought me a Garmin Glo de­vice which I had never used, but for some rea­son we had brought it along this time, as well as an ipad with Sky­de­mon — and both de­vices were fully charged. We had a hand­held ra­dio so if, and when the 430s went off and the ra­dios packed up we should be fine.

We con­sid­ered the op­tions with French en­gi­neers and — due to wrong, or out-of­s­tock parts and other prob­lems — de­cided the best op­tion was to fill up and de­part for Blighty, but with that feel­ing of fore­bod­ing: all was not per­fect as it should be. Also the TAFS north of 50N looked grim, with cloud and rain. Ah bliss; the joys of avi­a­tion.

Would it start? Yes; we just man­aged to catch the Ly­coming and we were off. In the climb we switched off the DME, strobes, ADF and box two — the lot — and cruised along with one nav box and one ra­dio. Look­ing great, I thought. I won­der how long the bat­tery will hold out? I didn’t have to won­der much longer. Just as we called Lon­don, the last re­main­ing ra­dio and nav box went black. Aha; squawk 7600, I thought. How­ever, I quickly re­alised that, with no bat­tery power, this would be a waste of time — but I did it any­way.

We en­tered the weather just south of Southend at the point we needed clear­ance to cross their D airspace, and had no means of know­ing our pre­cise po­si­tion rel­a­tive to it. At this point my wife switched on the ipad/sky­de­mon, and the Garmin Glo. Wow! I couldn’t be­lieve it: we had the lot — full, mov­ing chart ground speed — the works in full colour, so at least we knew pre­cisely where we were. We changed tanks af­ter du­ti­fully switch­ing on the elec­tri­cal fuel boost pump, al­though I knew in my heart it prob­a­bly wasn’t work­ing. For­tu­nately there was no is­sue with the tank change.

We tried and tried with the hand­held but re­alised to our hor­ror it had a trans­mis­sion range of about five feet. Some­how, us­ing the speech­less code, we were given clear­ance through, and were able to an­swer ‘no’ to “Do you want to de­clare an emer­gency?” I knew the air­craft would per­form nor­mally and I knew to dis­re­gard the turn co-or­di­na­tor, as that in­stru­ment is elec­tri­cally driven.

We had good nav­i­ga­tion in­for­ma­tion for now, with about ninety min­utes fly­ing time to go and plenty of fuel. At this point in the rain and murk I saw both fuel gauges sink to empty. I knew they were elec­tri­cally pow­ered but it re­ally is quite dis­turb­ing when both gauges are show­ing empty in IMC. Elapsed time, though, told us we had plenty of fuel. It was strange, as both ANR head­sets were work­ing and my wife and I could still talk to each other — so swap­ping over that bat­tery above Geneva seemed to have worked a treat… Then the in­ter­com packed up and we were re­duced to hand sig­nals. I kept think­ing we have more than suf­fi­cient fuel, a good en­gine and a pair of wings and, for­tu­nately, a calm wife!

My next con­cern was talk­ing to my home air­port to ob­tain land­ing in­for­ma­tion. I tried us­ing the hand­held for var­i­ous ATIS trans­mis­sions from air­ports close by, but no use. We were still in IMC and I dug out my mobile phone and tried de­scend­ing to our pre-cal­cu­lated MDA to see if I could get a sig­nal and call the air­port, but af­ter three at­tempts binned that idea as a no-go.

Even­tu­ally, as we were al­most on top of our air­port, the hand­held crack­led out the run­way in use and I thought I heard a call for all air­craft to re­main on the ground and no cir­cuit traf­fic. Crikey, I thought, is that for us? They must know that we are here and have a to­tal elec­tri­cal fail­ure.

I was con­cerned we couldn’t use the elec­tri­cal fuel boost pump on land­ing but that quickly evap­o­rated when the tyres kissed the wet tar­mac. We tax­ied in and climbed out stiff and tired. Our home Tower said D& D were fol­low­ing us all the way and had been keep­ing them up­dated. Southend were su­perb and had called to in­form of our sit­u­a­tion. We never de­vi­ated from our track and the suc­tion pow­ered in­stru­ments worked per­fectly.

What did I learn from that? Plan the flight metic­u­lously and back-up your backup be­cause you never know what might hap­pen. Good, sound and clear knowl­edge is calm­ing and a life saver, and you have never fin­ished learn­ing with avi­a­tion. Oh; and a solid IMC rat­ing is worth its weight in gold.

Just as we called Lon­don, the last re­main­ing ra­dio and nav box went black

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