Electrical Failures Put Everyone At Risk

Dale Nielsen


There have been a recent rash of electrical failures that resulted in NORDO approaches which may have not been necessary.

A Piper Cherokee returned from the training area with an electrical failure. It was reported that the alternator failed and then the battery died.

A C-152 squawking 7600 entered the control zone and was given light signals for landing. A broken wire took the alternator off line and the battery discharged until there was no longer enough power to operate the radio.

A Cessna 172RG was observed flying overhead the tower NORDO and no transponder. The pilot overflew the field and then joined right downwind for Runway 26. Tower provided the pilot with a light signal when on final and the aircraft landed.

The pilot phoned ATC after deplaning and advised that the aircraft had experienced an alternator failure.

The C206 called FSS via cell phone to report an alternator failure and would have to proceed inbound NORDO. The pilot was given landing clearance via his cell phone.

A Cessna 172 was 15 NM west of the airport when the pilot squawked 7600.

Moments later the aircraft experienced a complete electric failure. The pilot headed for a direct approach to Runway

06. The tower controller directed the other traffic in order to give the aircraft priority for landing.

An Interstate Cadet SA 1encountered a complete electrical failure. The pilot joined the circuit at 3 miles on final approach for landing.

These NORDO approaches may not have been necessary if the pilots had noticed their alternators had failed.

We tend to get complacent and not monitor our instruments. Some aircraft have a low voltage light that will illuminate if the alternator is not producing enough power. If we are not paying attention we may not see it, particularly if the sun is shining on it.

Unless the aircraft battery is brand new, it may not last very long after an alternator or generator fails. As soon as we see that the alternator or generator has failed, we should try one re-selection to see if it will come back on line. If this fails, we should turn off the battery.

In VFR flight, we do not need any electrics until we are about to enter a control zone. We should turn on the battery to make a call giving our position and our intentions just prior to entering the control zone. We should also let the controller or other traffic know what our situation is and that we may become NORDO shortly.

We should then fly the NORDO arrival procedures. If possible, approach the airport from the upwind side of the runway and cross the runway at midfield at circuit height to determine which runway is in use. Join the circuit in the appropriate direction and maintain separation from other aircraft.

Watch for other traffic joining the circuit of the base or final legs.

Watch the tower, if one is in operation, for a light signal on final approach.

If a tower controller’s light signal is not seen, do not land. Overshoot and fly past the tower and rejoin the circuit and look for a light on the next approach.

When a green light is seen, rock your wings or flash your landing light to acknowledge having seen the light.

At an uncontrolled airport you may land at your discretion when the runway is clear.

If it is not possible to approach the airport on the upwind, or dead side, fly over the airport at 500 feet above circuit height to the upwind side and then join the appropriate circuit as published.

NORDO landings, if possible, should be made at an uncontrolled airport. If the only feasible landing site is a controlled airport, 7600 should be selected on the transponder and correct NORDO procedures must be followed.

A cellular phone may be used to obtain a clearance into a control zone, and to obtain a landing clearance. A call from a cell phone to an FSS specialist at an uncontrolled airport is also a good idea so that you may get an airport advisory for other traffic and the active runway.

The FSS specialist can also warn other traffic of your intentions.

A light is not required for clearance to taxi to parking unless you must cross another runway on the way to parking, or unless you must backtrack on the runway to a taxiway. If you have passed the only taxiway on landing, proceed to the end of the runway, taxi to one side and wait there until a green light is given to taxi back to the taxiway.

An unnecessary emergency puts us, our passengers and others at risk. Not following the NORDO procedures if we are NORDO also puts us at risk.

We must check our instruments and gauges regularly, other things can also fail and the sooner we know the better we are able to cope with it.

Pay attention and fly safely.

Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies medevacs from Victoria in a Lear 25. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.