This Is Not A Drill


It was a lousy day to begin with: Gusty winds, steady rain and low ceilings covered the entire area. I departed home plate at 0700 in our Navajo Chieftain for Louisville-Bowman Field. After flying the GPS WAAS Runway 24 approach down to minimums, I taxied to the ramp where my four passengers were waiting. The mission was carrying the governors economic development group to different potential sites across the state.

Within minutes, we were off again, headed to our first destination, Hopkinsville, Ky. After another approach to near-minimums and taxiing to the ramp, I was thinking

Flight Instrument Failure


this was going to be a long day, given the amount of airports on their agenda and the weather.

An hour later, we were off again to Paducah, where weather and events were the same. After a two-hour wait, we were airborne again, heading to Madisonville for the VOR/GPS Runway 23. After two missed approaches, now in the holding pattern and watching my passengers look at their options, I noticed the left pneumatic inop light was illuminated. We had lost the left vacuum pump and it was time to make a decision.

I informed my passengers we had an instrument failure, a safety-of-flight issue, and needed an airport with good approaches and decent weather. The closest one was Evansville, Ind. Fortunately, I was already talking with the Tracon handling Evansville. After informing them of my instrument loss, they vectored me for the ILS and gave me a gentle turn to final, as I requested.

Since I had another vacuum system and it was operating correctly (at least at that point), the only thing I could think about at that point was the recurrent training I had received the previous week in a Beech 58P Baron simulator. I remember a little voice saying, “If you lose a vacuum pump and you still have another, the chances of losing the other increases exponentially!” After an uneventful ILS to, again, near minimums, we landed at Evansville and taxied to the ramp, thankful for recurrent training!

Now, I write this because not only of this experience, but also because of experiences I had this past week in the Navajo simulator-yes, more recurrent training. When the partial-panel training began, I thought nothing of it. I figured I had spent a lot of time in simulators and that this would be no different. I was wrong.

The instructor failed the attitude indicator. Harmless, right? Well, after quickly losing coordinated flight and about 5000 feet, I realized losing a gyro or a vacuum system could be a life-ender! It was unbelievable how fast things became unraveled. I might fly for a living, but this showed me that I have to continuously train, especially for the rarely-seen situations.

Bottom line: Please take things like this seriously. Get and stay sharp on the techniques required to best handle these sorts of failures. Im just glad I was able to learn this valuable lesson in a simulator.


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