So there I was, fresh comm cert in hand and a wind screen full of clouds.. and snow virga? (record scratch noise and rewind two weeks, I mean 23 years)
Just kidding, we’re not really going back to 2000 and the weather wasn’t that bleak, but what started out as an efficient way to spend $200 worth of summer lawn mowing money when I was 14 hit another milestone last Tuesday Feb 28 with the passage of the commercial checkride. Psychologically speaking this ride, and future ones, seem far more daunting than prior rides (ppl, multi, IR), hence the intro quote. The prospect of taking this passion from a hobby to a potential source of income is that pressure point. A failure is no longer a learning opportunity only, it becomes a hard, legal, and indelible financial obstruction.
The ride took place in IFP, what was initially supposed to be a CFI ride was downgraded to a commercial event after a series of weather related, mechanical, and scheduling obstacles. I made the trek out with another club member the day before and shacked up on the AZ side of the river. Sleep was minimal, early start and a perpetual fear of the phone falling to the wrong time zone and a tardy alarm kept me less sleeping and more waiting. (No, timezones aren’t one of my irrational phobias, IFP straddles the MST / PST line). The exam otherwise went well, and while it wasn’t the CFI ride I was hoping for it is still a great feeling to move another step up on the flying resume!
My trip companion passed his CFI ride and we started our route back to MYF mid afternoon. As with pretty much all flying this winter we had some weather concerns. An airmet for ice kept us out of the clouds and we elected to fly underneath the SCT and BKN layer. Borrego was already elected as our potential bail out spot.. and up until Chiriaco wx was great and we were optimistic on making it home. There was a hope (and chance) of making it past the JLI VOR and getting down under a SCT layer by SEE, however approaching L08 that vision began to evaporate. Over the Salton Sea we picked a modified route and found a go/no-go point to make a visual assessment before either bailing out or continuing on.
No sooner did we decide to bail out that the plane also made an election to end the flight prematurely. “We’re not picking up a MODE C” part way through our turn back from SOCAL got both of our eyes to the transponder only to be met with a vacant screen. No popped CBs and no other anomalous indications. Told ATC what was happening and our intentions and received a moot “squawk VFR” .. okay!
During the affair the Garmin also went dead, the G5s threw annunciations at us regarding data and power faults, and after some dubious ammeter readings we ultimately landed no flaps and no electrical with the master off after doing some troubleshooting and consulting our lists.
Makes you think, there was no intention of flying IMC with the ice airmets.. but what if there was no ice airmet and temps were well above freezing? What if it had been severe clear?
Experiencing a full electrical loss, especially IMC and in a busy Bravo environment, most likely on the RNAV 28R at MYF, would be an interesting experience to say the least. There are procedures for this, one of the great things about aviation is almost everything has been thought of (91.185 in this case), but it’s different when the theoretical becomes reality. What if we’d lost electrical power on the approach, what about while getting vectors to it.. what about after breaking out..? What if you don’t break out and go missed? It does make you think and it’s a worthwhile thought exercise to go play it out in your head.
Ending up in Borrego we put the plane away, filled out the book, and set in for a few hours wait for our ride home when out of the windswept winter desert landscape a topless white Jeep rolls in. A man steps out enters a vacant restaurant building, and on flickers the “open” sign at The Propeller, Borrego’s on airport restaurant.
The bartender, having seen us walk from the now secured plane, struck up conversation with us. Within 5 minutes he was scrawling P-factor diagrams on the back of a menu describing spin entry and recovery techniques. Gray, a member of the IAC, regaled us with aviation content for the next two hours. I feel like that’s worth a few Wings credits!
Later in the car ride home it was clear those mountains were not passable, at least not in a 172. With some ADM and a little bit of luck we made it home safely, fresh certs in hand, with the luck bucket that much more empty and the experience bucket that much more full.
Flying is awesome, and continues to reward
PS – good on you if you picked the lead in quote, Fate is the Hunter