Did I make a bad decision?

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niss
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Did I make a bad decision?

Post by niss »

So today I was down at Buttonville to pick up UBC and fly to Brantford than back to Barrie.

On start I noticed that the ammeter was pegged at 0. Ever since I bought the plane it always bounced off the stop, and this annual I pulled the alternator to get tested and it was fine.

I figured that it might be the instrument itself and and everything electrical was working fine I continued with the flight.

YKZ - YFD was uneventful, but YFD - CNA3 around Guelph I dropped off Radar. Centre asked me to cycle it, which I did and it didnt come back. I terminated flight following and stayed clear of Class C. A short while later I lost Xmit, Then my fuel gauges read 0 (I knew I had plenty of fuel) then my Oil Temp went dead. I texted my AME, and on his advice shut everything off to conserve battery so I could run my aux pump for landing, and continued the flight 30 more min to my destination.

I then landed with no issue.


My question is this: Should I have never taken off? At the time my electrical system was working fine (obv. off battery) and as the voltage dropped so did the equipment.

I wrongfully assumed it was just the instrument and rationalized that the worse that could happen is exactly what did.

Should I have stayed on the ground or did I take an acceptable risk?

That in mind, I did learn a valuable lesson. I was exposed to an unusual and undesirable situation that thankfully was not a dangerous one. I now know to be more diligent when it comes to electrical systems, and have some exposure to being outside of my comfort zone and trouble shooting mid air.

Not happy it happened, but thankful that I had the opportunity to learn a strong pointed lesson safely.
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azimuthaviation
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by azimuthaviation »

Second attempt...

No you made a good call taking off dontcha think ;) ?

But seriously, a lot of older guages cannot be trusted and if you were to rely on them completely a lot more take offs would be rejected.

Does your ammeter have a white dot in the corner? If not get one that does. As well there is an SB or AD that calls for installing an ammeter with an external shunt. These will give you a more reliable and safe ammeter (the old ones had a tendency to on occasion catch fire). I think the first AD came out about the external shunt, fololwed by an SB about the dot.

Doesnt your aircraft have a voltmeter as well ? If not install a digital one as that can be a clue to your charging system, if the needle slowly drops, theres a problem. Another test is turn on some interior lights and bring up the RPM. If the alternator is functionif correct the lights will brighten, in your car or plane. If your alternator is faulty in your car the lights will dim, in your plane they wont brighten or dim. Check your voltemeter for a change after doing this.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by SuperchargedRS »

Text book, you made the right choice

However if you know a plane REALLY well and something is off (still in the green, but not where is normally is) I like to get it checked out.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by moocow »

OK, I'll probably get flamed for this but I'll voice my opinion on this topic.

No. I don't think you should of taken off with the amp meter pegged at zero. From a risk analysis approach, staying on the ground to figure out what's wrong is better than taking chances in the air. You have no way to know for sure (even if you owned the aircraft for a long time) what's the problem is. Is it an electrical bus issue? Is it an alternator issue? Or is it an instrumentation issue? I'm glad you made it down safe and sound tho.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by HuD 91gt »

Should you have taken off?

Did you think of the consequences of what could happen if it indeed was not charging? If you did I say fine, aviation is all a calculated risk. Just make sure you know all the information. If you were planned through class A airspace with minimal out's i'd say it's a different story.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Sulako »

moocow wrote:No. I don't think you should of taken off with the amp meter pegged at zero. From a risk analysis approach, staying on the ground to figure out what's wrong is better than taking chances in the air. You have no way to know for sure (even if you owned the aircraft for a long time) what's the problem is. Is it an electrical bus issue? Is it an alternator issue? Or is it an instrumentation issue? I'm glad you made it down safe and sound tho.
+1. Taking off with a known electrical issue gives me the heebie-jeebies. Sick electrical components have been known to catch fire, and an in-flight fire is about the worst thing you can face in aviation, short of a wing departing the aircraft.
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azimuthaviation
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by azimuthaviation »

Sulako wrote: Sick electrical components have been known to catch fire.
Oh and look at this hypothetical situation. One of the two leads coming off of the alternator wire has come off the ammeter, maybe the nut spun loose, maybe it was taken off during maintenance and the ring terminal took until now to vibrate off. now you have this wire loose behind your cockpit, if it makes ground on anything metalic it shorts, catches something on fire, its not protected by the breaker so it keeps getting current until the wire is completely burned through, by which time who knows what is on fire tucked away behind your instrument panel.

And what does that look like from the pilot point of view doing his runup? Alternator works normally, current is flowing, voltage reacts as would be expected. The only clue you would have is one: the ammeter is dead.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by just curious »

It is 30 years past my Cherokee days, so my recall of the electrical system is low. I lost electrics once returning from a flight, but the failure was in-flight not prior to takeoff.

In terms of good or bad, the answer like most things is: Depends.
Did you die?
Did the plane die?
Could A or B have occured?
Was it a conscious decision or simply saying hey, it's already running, so...
Was the weather good, or bad, morning or evening?

Once you have all the answers to the above the big determinant as to whether it was good or bad comes down to: What did you learn from this whole deal? If it is a lesson learned and you have a new experience to draw on, good.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Hawkerflyer »

I woud have shut'er down for the day. When things don't look right, why take the risk?
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by trey kule »

Here is what I have learned over the decades.

The people that design and build airplanes put guages in them for a reason.. That seems to excape some pilots and operators who are willing to accept U/S guages.
Unless you are a psychic, an am guage that reads zero tells you something is amiss. The gen/alt, the guage itself, or the wiring. All are potential problems that should be addressed before your next flight.

You stated there was a problem with the guage in the past , and that you had the charging system checked, and it was OK.. so that means the guage or the wiring....should have gone to the next step and have the guage and wiring checked.

You got a lucky lesson. You made a wrong diagnosis based on no real information, or worse, you chose to ignore an abnormal indication. Nothing bad happened, so it it time, in my opinion for you to have a little talk with yourself, and recognize you are neither psychic or invulnerable, and in the future respect an abnormal reading for what it is telling you...something is amiss.
Most of us, during our career (me included) were not originally smart enough to learn this except the same way you did...by an incorrect diagnosis of what was happening.
It worked out well for you, but I dont this is something you want to continue trying..
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Nark »

Niss,

I'd be happy to get into an airplane with you; (despite your hippy-ways :mrgreen: ) you are willing to ask for help, or get a second opinion.

Many pilots are ego driven and would have just shrugged the situation away, and not be willing to learn from it.

Fly safe.

Cheers.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Bushav8er »

The only gauge you can't trust is the fuel gauge, which is why you dip the tanks. All the others...because us pilots 'just don't know for sure' most be read as serviceable.

The CARs tell you what you need to have serviceable but as an example: ammeter doesn't seem right - Are you to be day VFR, out of controlled and MF areas? Go and then get it fixed. You have to (first check the CARs) weight the mission with the failure you see then decide, which is why knowing systems is important.

To your original question: "Should I have stayed on the ground or did I take an acceptable risk?" Yes and no. You were to fly in controlled space and in MF areas so you should have had it looked at first. To be fair, the 'risk' you took wasn't a major one, under the conditions you described.

There are more components in the electrical system than the battery. ammeter and alternator. Good call having the alternator checked but the more correct call would have been 'check the system please'. I'll bet you find a faulty voltage regulator.

Glad it worked out and glad, as Nark said, you took the event as a lesson.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by niss »

Thanks for the feedback guys!

The plane was in buttonville since saturday and I got nailed with $60 in ramp fees, and we were supposed to have about a week of shit weather.

Hindsight being 20/20 obviously I made the wrong decision but I am trying to evaluate on whether at the time given the pressures I had should I have made that decision and would I have made the same one?

Looking forward this is what I figure:

- Had I been at any other airport without such ramp fees I would have just left it.
- If I was in YKZ again and was faced with another week of ramp fees I would have called my engineer and discussed it with him.
- If we come to the consensus that worst case I lose power again then I would fly direct home or to another user fee friendly airport with a fire extinguisher beside me.
- I would not willingly extend a trip like I did to Brantford, I would go direct home.

Of course I didn't and would never do this with pax.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by RudderWhat »

Bad decision.

We've all made bad decisions though, just learn from it and move on.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Heliian »

You made a decision hastily without thinking about the ramifications, it's called a fatal trap. Since you are the PIC flying privately and solo it's your decision to make and you have to live with the consequences. Had you paused long enough to think about the issue, you would not have taken off. Who knows, maybe it was just a circuit breaker or an indication problem that could be easily diagnosed and repaired. But from the sounds of it, your charging system malfunctioned and your battery was used until it couldn't sustain enough voltage to run the equipment, luckily you have magneto's to keep the engine running. You sound like you've learnt from this experience and maybe others will too.

Safe skies

I
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Post by Beefitarian »

Yup. It's good though, you wouldn't get to learn anything by shutting it down and getting it fixed right away.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Sulako »

Top 3 considerations while doing a trip:

1. Safety
2. Safety
3. Covering your hind end in the event that something unsafe happens.

I don't see any of those influencing your decision, I see financial pressure and a false sense of invulnerability. That can/will bite you, hard.

niss wrote:Thanks for the feedback guys!

The plane was in buttonville since saturday and I got nailed with $60 in ramp fees, and we were supposed to have about a week of shit weather.

Hindsight being 20/20 obviously I made the wrong decision but I am trying to evaluate on whether at the time given the pressures I had should I have made that decision and would I have made the same one?

Safety is the number one consideration. A professional pilot always keeps that in mind, despite all sorts of pressures, including the threat of termination, which you as a private pilot did not face.

Looking forward this is what I figure:

- Had I been at any other airport without such ramp fees I would have just left it.

Planes frequently break down during inconvenient and costly circumstances. Airplane ownership is not for the faint of heart.

- If I was in YKZ again and was faced with another week of ramp fees I would have called my engineer and discussed it with him.

Any reasonable engineer is going to tell you to ground the airplane to fix it before flying it, ESPECIALLY on a plane with a single means of generating electrons. If you hear otherwise, get a new engineer.

- If we come to the consensus that worst case I lose power again then I would fly direct home or to another user fee friendly airport with a fire extinguisher beside me.

Worst case isn't losing power, the worst case is that you die and/or possibly kill / injure people on the ground. Read previous posts regarding what can happen when you operate with a bad electrical system.

- I would not willingly extend a trip like I did to Brantford, I would go direct home.

With a sick airplane you shouldn't be flying at all - adding another leg to the trip increases your chance of misery, and it speaks to your current attitude regarding safety.


Of course I didn't and would never do this with pax.

What about the people on the ground you put at risk? Do they not count?

Another consideration: Insurance. You took off with a plane that was indicating that it was broken. What do you suppose your insurance company would say if you had an electrical fire and put it down in a field? Do you suppose they would offer to play for a replacement?

I might sound harsh, in fact I probably do, but I want you to die in your sleep at the age of 110, not from blunt force trauma followed by a fire. Aviation is fun, but it's not a game.

I'd be interested to hear Cat Driver's perspective on this, and/or perhaps the venerable Mr. Sanders.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by photofly »

An operating charging system is a go/no-go item. The ammeter is your indication that the charging system is working. I'd consider flying without a working ammeter (on the way to getting it fixed) only if I had positive indication that it was instrumentation failure and that the charging system was indeed working. (Electrical system voltage etc.)
Of course I didn't and would never do this with pax.
I'm trying to decide if that's a reasonable distinction to make. Sounds like the pax/no-pax distinction is reasonable for questions of pilot skill (would I fly in this cross-wind? yes - would I take passengers? no - that kind of thing) but in terms of a pilot deciding if an aircraft is airworthy, is the carriage of passengers something that should reasonably affect the decision?
I texted my AME, and on his advice shut everything off to conserve battery...
Incidentally, did anyone else take a second to appreciate the low-tech in-flight aircraft condition data-link? I don't think Mr. Piper had that sort of capability in mind when he designed the cherokee.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Cat Driver »

I will be more than pleased to give my advice especially when someone asks me to.

Unfortunately I have to catch an early morning ferry to Vancouver, but I will respond tonight when I get time.

Niss has balls coming on here admitting to being unsure of a decision he made......so I am going to help him out so he has a better understanding of when to say no the next time.

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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by wirez »

niss wrote: The plane was in buttonville since saturday and I got nailed with $60 in ramp fees, and we were supposed to have about a week of shit weather.
Slightly off topic, but I had a similar situation earlier this year. Was night VFR when the weather suddenly went south fast, long story short I decided to divert to CYYZ in a light aircraft. Imagine my shock when the ramp fees were $200, and the weather forecast was showing a week of bad weather! I updated the weather every two hours to try to find a window and get it out of there, luckily I did manage to catch a break.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by B_Boomer_54 »

In a nutshell, no , you did not make the right decision. Taking off knowing there is an issue is not very intelligent.

Glad to see that people are treating it with remote respect instead of hammering you with inexperience talk!
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Post by Beefitarian »

I'm trying to figure out the math. $60 x 7, more or less expensive than replacing the cooked stuff and recharging a fire extinguisher?
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by fleet16b »

Niss
I'll ask the most obvious question that nobody has asked

What does it say in the Ops manual under pre flight check ?

I think thats where you will find the answer you need.
Myself, I would not have taken off.
Your gut instinct was that something was wrong and you would be taking off in an unsure , risk situation.
Trust your gut instinct, treat that instinct like an advanced warning system
A calculated risk to be sure but hey a risk is a risk. Nobody can predict where the situation may have gone.
I don't think any flight is important enough that one needs "to risk it"
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by 5x5 »

Two things, Niss. First, having the battery go dead in and of itself isn't a huge issue, many aircraft have been and are being flown without electrical power at all. However, they don't have a system that generates electrical current and the possibility of starting a fire. And as mentioned earlier, the possibility of a fire has to be a major concern to a prudent pilot. With an indication your system wasn't working correctly, you shouldn't have gone.

More importantly though is the distinction you make about making a more safe decision if you'd had passengers. Be very careful about making that kind of statement as in many cases, the exact opposite is true. You were already concerned about the money, now add the fact that you have passengers (friends or family) that see you as a special person who went and got a pilot's licence and bought a plane. You're viewed as capable and in your own mind you feel really good about this unique position you hold. They've gone out of their way and arranged their time to go with you on this fun and exciting experience, you have the aircraft started, and now you have to tell them "Sorry, we can't go, I might have a problem." It can really feel like you're letting them down and admitting you're not this skilled, competent pilot they think you are.

I'm not saying that is how you would react, but just cautioning you so you will be aware when the time comes. It's very, very easy to say all the right things sitting in front of your computer or over a coffee, just make sure you do the right things in the heat of the moment.
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Re: Did I make a bad decision?

Post by Big Pistons Forever »

With perfect 20 /20 hindsight it is obvious you should not have taken off. However Shyte happens and you dealt with it so no harm no foul. Maybe a couple of things to thing about though

niss wrote:

On start I noticed that the ammeter was pegged at 0. Ever since I bought the plane it always bounced off the stop, and this annual I pulled the alternator to get tested and it was fine.

I figured that it might be the instrument itself and and everything electrical was working fine I continued with the flight.
.
I read this as an indication that the ammeter has never worked in your airplane. I would suggest this is not an especially good state of affairs. The ammeter in your average bug smasher is the only direct indication of electrical health and therefore IMO should be functional.

First though you did not say what type of ammeter you had. There are 2 types

1) Typically found on Cessna's the ammeter has a needle with a zero in the middle and a plus sign of 60 amps on the far right side of the gauge and a minus 60 of the far left. A normal indication on this type of gauge is the needle will be slightly in the positive side of the scale indicating that a small charge is being applied to the battery. If a large load is applied to the electrical system the positive charge will increase indicating that the battery is being replenished as it supplies the high load and if the needle is ever in the negative side it indicates that more power is going out of the battery then is being replaced. A prolonged indication of negative usually means the charging system has failed and all power is now being supplied by the battery

2) Typical on Pipers and higher performance Cessna's is a ammeter which has a zero to 60 scale with the zero being on the far left. This gauge indicates alternator output. A zero indication indicates that the alternator is not producing any power so the ammeter indication should be proportional to load. There will always be a couple of amp load to keep the battery charged and when higher load items are turned on the ammeter will rise to indicate the extra demand.


With either type watching what the ammeter is doing, will give you quite a bit of information about the aircraft electrical services including:

1) You should look at the ammeter as soon as the engine starts. A hung starter (ie a starter that did not disengage when the engine started and so the starter motor is trying to turn an already running engine) is a very bad thing. Expensive damage will quickly ensue unless the engine is immediately shut down. If you get a hung starter the ammeter will be pegged at max load due to the massive draw from the starter so the problem will be obvious.

2) The ammeter will give you a good indication of battery health. Right after start there will be a brief high charging rate as the juice you used for the start is replenished but it should quickly diminish. A continued high rate of charging should be investigated. Either the battery is not accepting the charge or the charging system is not set up correctly and the battery is being overcharged which will cause premature battery failure.

3) The ammeter indication should be proportional to load. So as you turn on high draw items like landing lights and pitot heat the ammeter amps should go up. If it does not then it means the battery is taking the load. which will mean the battery will eventually be exhausted. Note in this case the charging system is still working it just can't keep up.

4) Like the case in point one, a sudden very high in flight charging indication is in the Uh OH category of things you do not want to see. Something is very wrong and figuring out what system is causing the draw and turning it off is very important, and if in doubt turning off the master should be considered. The worse case scenario is the situation progresses to an in flight electrical fire.

I would also suggest you might have been a bit slow dealing with your loss of power. In the event of a loss of charging and a situation where the battery is supplying all the power, as the battery supply is depleted its voltage will drop. Transponders are quite sensitive to voltage so they are usually the first thing to drop off line. Since you all ready suspected a charging problem I would suggest you should have taken action at this time. In particular you should have turned off everything electrical including pulling the turn coordinator fuse/CB if able. If you are only running one Comm radio the battery will keep going for quite a long time, certainly over an hour, so in this case you could have had plenty of battery power to run your comm and aux fuel pump when you arrived at your destination.

Finally I want to emphasize that at the end of the day you managed your problem and I hope you do not take anything I said as personal criticism, it is only meant as another point of view to give you a few things to think about and I commend you in sharing your situation so that others might learn.
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