2020 To Date:
As you know, our safety record for 2019 was the lowest it has been in the 10 years I have been tracking it. It is ironic that 2020 started off almost exactly like 2019, with a fatal crash in January in which a passenger was fatality injured, but the pilot survived.
Kudos Section –
Well, in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic, not much activity is ongoing, and the little that is, is going on at, hopefully, 6 feet of separation, UNLESS, of course, you are in the cockpit flying; then that 6 feet of separation is a little hard to do! Yes, I am still doing flight instruction, but armed with a spray bottle of Clorox and a roll of paper towels. All students were informed, and stern warnings were issued to the select group of students I will fly with about self quarantining. If any signs of possible flu-like symptoms start to appear, they are banned from the Flight School and the airport overall! The FBO, Wiseman Aviation, has instituted tight access control to our facilities, including closing from 9:00PM until 7:00AM instead of being open 24/7, and all of our folks continuously walk around cleaning all possible sources of contamination. These are strange and dangerous times, and the Coronavirus seems to be most dangerous to older folks (unflatteringly referred to as the elderly, like me and most of the pilot population), so we must be especially vigilant. Life does not have to stop, but we must adapt and remain cautious. This crisis will come to pass in its own time, and each of us must respect and help others bear the hardships to get through this.
Going flying, escaping into the wild blue wonder, is a great way to enjoy quarantine. But don’t forget to clean your headset Mic…
Oh crap, how much is this gonna cost??
So there we were, Kelly and I, cruising along at 11,500 feet in the Super Viking, good ol’ 541, heading back east on one of our annual trips to see the kids. (PS – that is NOT Kelly in the picture.) Weather was perfect, smooth as glass, the autopilot was doing its thing, and the views were spectacular. Well, if you can call miles and miles of flat farmland spectacular, then it was: beautiful fields of lush green, some fields of straw-colored wheat, and others fallow, awaiting next spring’s planting. We were up there where the eagles fly, enjoying every minute of it, with the silence occasionally punctured with some chatter on the radio as we followed the conversations while receiving Flight Following. FYI, noise cancelling headsets are terrific. Anyway, there we were, cruising along, and I noticed the radio seemed awfully quiet. I glanced at the screen on the GPS, and as I did, it went blank. Then the number 2 radio went blank, as did the transponder, and then the autopilot dis-connected!
Good Grief (with apologies to Charlie Brown), just what we did not need at this time, a total electrical failure! I hit the master switch to try recycling the alternator. That did not work. I turned off the master switch then turned everything electrical off one by one, i.e., GPS, radios, transponder, lights, etc. Kelly casually turned to me and said, “Now what?” Well, at 11,500 feet over the Kansas-Missouri area you have a lot of time to ponder the problem. And remember, just because you have an electrical failure, it does not affect the engine, and you just keep motoring along, albeit incommunicado.
So in response to Kelly’s “Now what?” question, I looked at my iPad – loaded up with WingXpro, now on battery power, and determined the nearest airport was – WOW – Vichy/Rolla International Airport, only about 15 or so miles away. Well great, I thought, they most certainly would have maintenance on the field; maybe not open today, since it was Sunday, but certainly open tomorrow. And luck be with me, it was a non-towered airport, so radio communication was not required, but being very vigilant inbound was required since I was NORDO!
Now, an interesting fact about the Bellanca Super Viking landing gear system…
It is powered by an electrically-driven hydraulic pump, and it incorporates an automatic gear extension capability to lower the landing gear should a hydraulic or electrical failure occur. It actually works very well, except when practicing stalls, during which you have to turn off the master switch or make sure the throttle is NOT full in. It can be a little exciting if you forget that feature as you do a power-on stall, because as you approach the stall (speed), the gear will suddenly lower itself, and cause extreme drag just prior to the stall, and the down pitching moment can become, umm, interesting. Then as you pitch over and start down, your speed increases, the gear automatically retracts, and your speed really increases, and the view downhill can become, umm, even more exciting!! Anyway, to extend the gear with no electrical power, you put the gear lever in the down position, and simply push down the emergency gear extension lever. The hydraulic pressure is released and the gear falls into place. The nose gear, the last gear to lock into place, does so with a solid “thump” telling you the gear is down and locked. NO PUMPING REQUIRED!!
Ok, so during the descent into Rolla International Airport on the 45 entry to a left downwind for the runway I tell Kelly I am going to turn on the master switch and try putting down the gear normally. Just maybe there is still some residual juice build-up left in the battery. “What the heck, go for it,” she says, totally confident that I know what I am doing. I love her positive confidence in me, so I hit the master switch, put the gear lever into the down position, and Lo and behold, the gear goes down and I get three in the green. We are in like Flynn, so I say to myself, “Hmmm, wonder if I have enough to put down the flaps?” So I give that a shot, and ZAP, everything electrical goes out, including my gear down indicator lights. Oh well, it was worth a shot, and a no-flap landing is certainly easy to do in the Viking!!
(Just a note here from Flight Instructor Fred – perhaps you should practice this type of landing in your airplane should you ever have a total electrical failure. Remember, without flaps your approach speed could be significantly faster than normal UNLESS you adjust the power and USE TRIM to control your airspeed to the approximate same speed you use for normal landings. Your approach may be a little flatter than normal, but not excessively flat. And you will use a lot more runway…)
Circumstances notwithstanding, we landed, we taxied in, we parked right outside the big hangar and we shut down – which proved to be a BIG mistake! We climbed out of the airplane, walked into the “FBO”, and inquired about maintenance, only to find out there is NO maintenance available on the field, not even an A&P on the field!
Oh NO, are we destined to live out our life in Vichy, Missouri, with a dead battery and/or a major electrical issue?? Are we in the middle of nowhere, or close to it?? So Kelly turns to me and says, “Oh Captain, my Captain, What are we gonna do?”
Are we still in Vichy, Missouri? In a time warp? Tune in next month to find out…