Snap, Crackle, Pop


The air was cool and the skies clear as my wife and I flew the return trip from Albuquerque to our home in California at 10,500 feet. Approaching Flagstaff, I noticed a cracking and popping sound coming through my primary radio. It was a new GPS/Comm unit and I wondered what could be interfering. It was annoying, but wasn’t really a big deal—or so I thought.


Soon, I called Albuquerque Center but received no reply. I tried several times but was unable to establish contact. My only explanation was the mountainous terrain. Within a minute or two, I received another indication something was amiss: The standby electric attitude indicator’s off flag came into view. The cracking and popping sound continued and I still could not raise Center.

I started giving each instrument a very close look for any signs of problems. Suddenly, I saw it! The ammeter indicated a constant discharge. I began turning off all non-essential electrical items including the primary GPS/Comm. I switched to the older radio, tuned to Center’s frequency and gave them a call. Center answered back immediately and was glad to hear from us.

I turned back east toward the Pulliam Airport and informed Center I was experiencing an electrical problem with a possible future loss of communication. Center asked if I wanted to declare an emergency and I told them “no.” However, I did request they inform the Pulliam ATCT I was on my way there. Center responded quickly and within minutes reported informing the tower of our situation. We were cleared to land upon arrival. We landed at Pulliam without incident. Fire trucks did meet us after landing and followed us to the FBO.

Inspection revealed a power lead had broken on the alternator and all power coming from the alternator was lost. We were operating on battery power only.

I learned several things on this flight. Probably the most important was to pay better attention when something is not normal. Also, don’t just accept the first explanation that comes to mind. Keep looking and keep troubleshooting. I gained some new respect for old things. When my new high-tech GPS/Comm wouldn’t work, the 25-year-old standby did. I also learned ATC could be a real help when things begin to go wrong.

— Robert Kirk

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