Silent Intruder

All I could do was point out my window, which was full of the belly of another aircraft


While waiting at the hold short line for runway 25 in the clubs Cessna 172, my instructor mentioned that there was a government King Air rolling up behind us from taxiway Alpha.

I was cleared for takeoff from our 3,947-foot msl airport to the practice area. This meant a right turn at 500 feet agl then staying below 5,500 feet until cleared higher. At 300 feet agl the tower asked me to start the right turn toward the practice area and to stay below 6,500. I presumed this was to clear the way for the King Air traffic and get our high-priced helped back to the legislature. Shortly after my turn, the King Air was cleared to take off. While climbing through 5,000 I made a quick instrument scan and then got my eyes back outside again. With a shot of adrenaline I pushed the control column forward and banked to the right.

My instructor looked over at me with that look and all I could do was point out my side window, which was now full of the wheels and belly of another aircraft. Inbound to the airport was a Cessna 150 at 5,500 opposite our heading.

My instructor called the tower, reported the near mid-air collision and informed them that this aircraft was inbound to them. The tower said they were not in radio contact with it and advised the King Air to watch out for this traffic. The now nervous sounding pilot of the King Air was frantically asking where his traffic was. After a brief silence the tower reported the traffic was well clear of all traffic in the area.

With the excitement well behind us, and not knowing any better, I continued with my training at the practice area.

Later we pieced together the chain of events that allowed this to happen.

1. The inbound aircraft had lost its electrical shortly after taking off from a small strip to the north of us, so it had no radio or transponder.

2. The pilot decided to continue NORDO for the short trip to an airport where he could get things checked out.

3. His flyover was at the recommended 1,500 feet agl, or 5,500 feet msl.

4. The tower had more than 40 radar hits of migratory birds that day and to them this was just another one.

5. We were asked to turn out early to accommodate the faster aircraft behind us.

On our return trip to the airport, the tower had the other pilot with them and asked if we wished to file a near mid-air report. My instructor and I both declined the offer, but in retrospect I wish I had done it. That is why Im writing this.

I dont want to miss the opportunity to share with other pilots and ATCs how quickly it can happen even with low power aircraft in good weather. I have learned so much from this publication that this 150-hour pilot thanks you for his wealth of experience that could not have been gained otherwise.


Mag Failure Creates a Convert
Who says that because we have two mags we will not experience a total ignition failure?

Dont believe it.

Most people will do a mag check at the beginning of flight. A lot of people dont bother after a short pause during the flight for gas, a Coke or a pitstop. The theory is that the mags were fine when I checked them when I started out, and the airplane has been flying just fine since then, so they must be OK now.

A few years ago I was flying my Baby Ace over my R/C model clubs field to take some pictures. The engine began to get rough, and then quit.

All efforts at switching mags, carb heat, wiggling the fuel valve, etc. were futile. My attention was uniquely concentrated, and I made an uneventful landing at a nearby private airstrip. The guy who owned the airstrip noted my silent approach and came to help out.

We shortly determined that there was no spark from either magneto. Later I returned and removed the mags. In the shop both mags generated fine, fat sparks. When I put them in my wifes oven at 180 degrees for half an hour both were dead. Bad coils, which failed only when hot.

Had I ever tried a run up with a hot engine Im sure that I would have detected a weak or bad mag before both of them packed in.

The Ace now has two brand new mags. The price tag gave me sticker shock, but believe me, when that engine quit I would have paid anything to have them at that moment!

Moral of the story; always do a thorough preflight before launching, even if you have only been on the ground a few minutes. When something fails, it was usually OK just before it failed.


Electrical Failure Leaves Malibu Blind
I am a relatively low time (430 hours TT) pilot very fortunate to be flying a Piper Malibu. I recently learned very well that flying a plane is not like simply driving a car. After a long weekend in Southern California, I returned to the plane for the 2.5 hour flight home. One glitch – the battery was dead. I quickly realized that I had left the ground clearance switch on, and that the battery had simply been drained by the radio.

No problem. Get an APU, start it up, let it run for about 10 minutes, and, if everything looked good, go!

Well, I did just that. The Malibu climbed well into the clear skies, taking us on the most direct route home. Twenty-five minutes later, we were at 15,500 and I was about to file instruments, when every electrical instrument and system went dead.

No radio, no transponder, no engine gauges, no GPS. We were in very clear skies over the nondescript desert, with which I was only marginally acquainted, and I only had about 90 minutes to sundown.

Without even thinking, I just kept flying. I noted my time, best recollection of fuel in each tank, throttled back to help stave off any engine difficulties (since I had no gauges), reset my vacuum-driven systems, and began thinking – what do I do now. With a little help from my passengers, we located my sectional maps. I gave assignments to keep all eyes outside looking for traffic in the busy SoCal airspace while I kept trying to reestablish electrical power.

About 10 minutes later we had selected the best nearby airport that we would likely be able to locate. While the airport we had departed was relatively close behind us, it was under Class B and it had MOAs and restricted space for neighbors. And if I missed it, we could shortly find ourselves in Mexico. So we stayed north. The airport would be about 40 minutes away, assuming I didnt miss the biggest desert landmark wed see, Las Vegas. Fifteen minutes into the ordeal, Vegas was unmistakable. It became VFR flying at its best.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were circling above the field 4,000 feet above the traffic pattern altitude, with only one plane running up on the field and no one observed in the sky.

I planned to circle down for a manual gear extension and no-flap landing. Ten minutes later, we were on the ground with only a severely damaged ego.

Lesson relayed to me by my ATP father-in-law: Know your systems, and if you dont know, dont guess. I guessed the plane battery would charge just like a car battery. I was told later I should have charged the battery for at least 1 hour.

I also learned:

1. Fly the plane.

2. Stay calm.

3. Think, think, think, then act.

4. Have backups. A handheld nav/comm could have made this almost a non-event. A cell phone could have also helped.

5. Turn off all electrical systems before leaving the plane. (Malibu owners, that means a quick check and recheck of that pesky ground clearance switch.)

6. Communicate with your passengers. Direct them to help you out. They want to help, and they can take some of the workload for you.


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