My first in flight “emergency”

I had my second checkout flight in the club’s Lance. We did the usual sorts of stuff – I experimented with the autopilot, tried a coupled approach. Did a few maneuvers while dodging low ceilings and snow squalls.

One manuever we’d tried was an emergency gear extension with the alternator and electric master switch off. With the master off, you don’t see the green lights to indicate the gear is down, and you couldn’t really hear or feel the gear go down. You got a bit of a pitch burble and a thump through the rudder peddles when the nose gear went down. We turned on the master again and saw three greens.

Went to Batavia and did some touch and goes. While in the pattern my CFI, Lenny, pulled the power a couple of times to make me do a simulated emergency. The first one wasn’t great – I would have made the field, but not the actual runway, and I would have landed gear up. The second one was better, although he thought I left it too long to put the gear down.

One time in the pattern, I didn’t see the three green lights indicating the gear was down. I immediately turned off the radio lights and there they were – the gear lights are designed to go much dimmer when the radio lights are on to preserve your night vision. So I aced that little test – Lenny had turned on the radio lights to see if I was paying attention to the gear lights.

Things were going pretty good when Lenny pointed out that the multi-function display near his knee was saying that I was on battery power. The alternator warning light came on soon afterwards. At first I thought he was trying another trick, so I looked for a pulled circuit breaker, didn’t find one. I tried cycling the alternator switch. No joy. Since we were in the pattern at Batavia, I said “I guess we should land and check it out”. Lenny said no, if we land here we’ll never get home. So we turned off one of the radios, the DME, ADF, the landing light, wing strobes, pitot heat, fuel pump, basically everything electrical we could think of except one comm radio, one nav radio, and the transponder. We both had handheld comm radios so it wouldn’t have been a disaster to lose the radio. The only thing Lenny was concerned about was if the electricals went we wouldn’t have had any indication if the gear was safely down.

We kept our speed up getting to Rochester, and if we’d been thinking a little clearer we probably should have asked if we could turn off our transponder when we got closer. In the pattern, I put down the gear and saw those three little lights. After that, it was like any other landing at Rochester. No crash trucks, foamed runways or anything fun.

What amazed me the most through this whole thing is that this was a minor emergency, not even really an emergency but more of a major inconvenience (we’d planned to shoot some approaches but couldn’t), but I found it hugely distracting. I sort of stuttered and stumbled over my first radio call to Rochester, and felt like I should be thinking of new ways to debug the problem the whole way down, and continually looking at the alternator gauge. Far more intense than a simulated emergency. Now I have a bit more sympathy for people who’ve gotten distracted by a non-event like a door open in flight and crashed the plane. I don’t think I was ever *that* distracted, but I could see it happening to somebody who is 10 years past their last new rating and hasn’t really thought about emergencies since then.