Its Not A River In Egypt
Having completed an IFR ground school and earning a multi-engine rating a few months before, I was preparing for a career change to professional pilot. A classmate had asked me to fly his wife from Lees Summit, Mo., to Norman, Okla., to pick up their two children, a 12-hour round-trip drive. I chose the aircraft I obtained my multi-engine rating in, a Model 55 Baron/Colemill Conversion, and asked a close friend/instructor to accompany us. My now ex-girlfriend came along.
The first indicator of a problem was when we had to use a ground cart to get the engines started. In the run-up, every system behaved as it should. After an uneventful flight and about an hour on the ground, we re-boarded for the flight home. Both engines started easily, and everything appeared normal.
While still in the climb, the CFI in the right seat remarked, Well, that doesnt look right. She was pointing to the voltage meters: Theyre flat! Scanning the panel, everything else still worked. After checking, we couldnt figure out any reason for the indications. So, I went back to the POH and ran through the checklists again. Nothing.
We canceled IFR, descended and obtained VFR flight following for the rest of the trip. Thats when things began to fail; headset first, followed by the Garmin and the rest of the avionics. When the intercom went, my now ex-girlfriend became alarmed, eventually sitting calmly, but with arms crossed, looking left and right, and exhibiting an attitude that screamed, I know somethings wrong here, and theyre not telling us about it!
Soon, we were 15 miles from home, and began the manual gear extension procedure. In the Baron, this means reaching behind the front seats and turning a crank, activities sure to generate passenger interest. At this point, their facial expressions turned to genuine fear, the exact emotion I had hoped to spare them. Now, everyone was alerted to the problem. Yet, we landed safely.
It was later determined that faulty voltage regulators resulted in the complete loss of electrical power. This issue was fixed and the aircraft was flying again in short order. The debate of how to have addressed the issues of whether or not an immediate landing was necessary, and when to let passengers in on an emergency raged on for months. In my own mind, the issue of whether the CFI and I were in denial still rages.
I would have done the following things differently: One, a precautionary landing was in order. Two, had a precautionary landing been made, the passengers would have been made aware of the situation much sooner. Their opportunity for panic would have been short-lived, sparing them prolonged anxiety. But, I dont regret not making them aware of our circumstances until it was absolutely necessary. Flying the aircraft is the first priority.
Did I mention that the girlfriend is now an ex-girlfriend?