What am I missing? This has started to worry me flying in IMC.

Acadia

Well-Known Member
So engine failures are pretty rare. Vacuum pump or gyro failures happen from time to time, but most aircraft that I fly IFR have both a secondary vacuum pump and attitude indicator (and you can always go partial panel in a worst case situation). Random in flight fires are a possibility, but also seem pretty rare for well-maintained aircraft. All in all these risks don’t worry me all that much before each flight provided the aircraft is in acceptable condition.

Now here is the thing. I have had two complete electrical failures in near new aircraft. I have had a few other dead alternator problems in flight with older aircraft that required me to land ASAP to avoid total power failure. A number of pilots I know have had total electrical failures as well. As I understand it is one of the more common system failures in GA aircraft. No big deal in VFR conditions, but in low IMC conditions you might as well break out the coffin and climb in. Total loss of all navigation equipment (aside from the compass) with low ceilings = SOL. I suppose that the alternator and battery create some kind of redundancy, but an alternator failure could easily leave you with no choice but to descend through the IMC and hope you pop out before you hit something.

I actually know two pilots (flying together) who had this exact thing happen to them shortly after departure in low IFR conditions. After breaking out on top and troubleshooting they took the only option they had which was to turn towards the ocean and let down once they were confident they were off shore. They found water less that 500' agl and skimmed the bay back to the airport.

Two realistic backups come to mind flying a GA aircraft in low IFR conditions.
A: A handheld radio with plenty of batteries and hopes for a radar approach or at least vectors to a runway.
B: A good handheld GPS that would allow you to descend down to a known clear area (ocean, lake, river, etc) if ATC could not be reached via a handheld.

Any other options I am missing.
 

pscraig

Well-Known Member
I use option A, a portable nav/com that can at least get me a cross-radial fix (I hope) and be able to call ATC. I also have a habit of monitoring the AWOS/ATIS of airports as I travel on XCs in IMC, just to get an idea of what it's like down there.
 

RiddlePilot

New Member
Another good idea is to have a look at the Weather Depiction chart. If you have a real honest-to-god electrical failure in IMC, you can have an idea of where you need to point the nose to get into something that looks like VMC.
 

Eagle

New Member
this is why I never fly IFR in a single engine acft unless there is a 700-1000 ft ceiling. I want an *out* when it goes bad I have lost the electrics in both the cherokee and M20 more times than I care to remember.
 

hammer

New Member
I have the same fear ... I had both alternator lights come on right after I had taken off into IMC last year and I was back on the ground faster than you would believe!

I gave the scenario some thought after that and decided option B was the way I would go if it happened for real. At least in Florida, you can get out over the ocean within an hour and descend down below the clouds (assuming ceilings are at least a couple of hundred feet). There are enough airports along the coast ... some real quiet ... with runways right up to the edge of the water that you could find them with the GPS and land. Not necessarily the safest thing to do but the chances that another plane is taking off/landing at a small non-towered airport that has less than 100 operations a day in weather like that is slim. The odds you will hit that airplane is virtually none. Handhelds are great but I'm not sure I'd want to cut right into an ILS path when I won't be showing up on radar. You'd be much more likely to have an accident by cutting into a known flight path.
 

pscraig

Well-Known Member
I agree, but the idea is that I can talk to them on the CTAF or approach frequency or whatever and avoid traffic conflicts. ATC may not hear me due to the low output power, but the aircraft nearby would and I could coordinate with them.
 
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