COMANCHE IDEA FACTORY
AvTek to the Rescue
by George R. Jones
The story of how AvTek came to have a place in my airplane actually had its beginning several months ago. It was a dark night around 10pm and I was enroute from Anniston, AL (ANB) to Alexander City, AL (ALX), returning from a dinner with friends, flying my 1969 twin Comanche PA-30C, N8692Y. I had two passengers, one a friend who flies frequently with me, and the other, a first-time flyer. The trip is normally a quick flight, maybe 15 to18 minutes enroute, but I had gone up to 6,000 feet to clear some mountains and was enjoying a nice tailwind, and a beautiful, clear flight. My first-timer even commented on how nice and calm it was.
Nearing home, after reporting the field in sight and canceling IFR, I went to put my gear down and everything went black. Interestingly enough, I usually don't put my gear down until I'm downwind, but I had been experimenting with different "shock-cooling" solutions so I decided to pull the manifold back to about 18 inches, raise the nose until under 150 mph, then lower the gear. Consequently, I was about five miles out when everything went black. Bad as it was, this gave me more time to troubleshoot. After attempting to reset the alternators and voltage regulators, I told my passengers that we had a problem and that I'd have to lower my landing gear manually. Of course, I had left my Yaesu handheld radio at home on the charger so I had no aircraft lights, or radios. Fortunately, I had the airport in sight and had plenty of flashlights on board. People who fly with me know how anal I am about flashlights … probably have a choice of 10 different ones.
Emergency gear extension
Anyway, I decided to stay above pattern altitude and circle the field until I could get the landing gear down, which I did for the first time. And yes, we were all glad to get on the ground safely, with no damage to passengers or the plane.
As far as the emergency gear extension, here is how I was prepared: During my initial multi-engine training a year and a half earlier, my instructor had warned me that the examiner would first ask two questions, and would fail me if I couldn't answer correctly. The first was how to extend the gear manually, so I had studied the instructions vigorously and had asked another Twin Comanche flyer about the procedure and how to handle it.
One thing that did "concern" me was the fact that when the gear extended I didn't get a green light, because I had no electrical power. I had heard the gear doors open so I knew they were down, but wasn't sure about them being locked. I pushed forward on the emergency gear handle as far as possible but still no green. When I turned final, I figured that down or not, I was landing. Another scary moment was when I thought I was close to the runway; I flared, but at the time I figured I should be touching, I still wasn't. With no landing lights, it's hard to see. Here, I thought I might be seeing sparks any second. Turns out the wheels were down and locked.
By the way, the second question the examiner asked was how to crossfeed fuel.
Back in the air
The next morning, it was quickly determined that my aircraft battery was dead, and shortly thereafter that both alternators were dead as well. Apparently, I had not been checking them individually, so one might have been dead sometime before, and maybe one died in flight … not sure. Anyway, I ordered two rebuilt alternators and, within a few days, was back in the air.
AvTek enters the picture
Now, about the same time, Mike, from Avtek, posted a message on the Comanche Forum about giving away two 1st Alert battery warning systems, one for a single-engine Comanche and one for a twin. After he heard my story, I was awarded the twin model, and promptly had it installed by an avionics shop. Turns out, it was probably the best install I've ever had. This system will display a red light when the voltage drops below 14 volts, and the light is mounted where it can't be missed.
1st Alert scores a save
A few weeks later, I was prepared to depart Johnston County, NC (JNX) early in the morning, when the red light came on. Sure enough, checking the individual alternators confirmed a problem, so I left my plane with one of the A&Ps on the field to check it out. Before I had the results from the A&P, I phoned Mike at Avtek to ask if it could have been installed incorrectly or maybe it was putting a load on my alternator. Mike said, "No way!" Later that day, the A&P called and said the left alternator was dead. Avtek's 1st Alert system had worked perfectly!
Remember, this was a rebuilt alternator and hadn't been on the plane for more than two or three weeks. I then borrowed another alternator and went about my business.
A few days later, I sent the dead alternator back to the place I bought it. In my accompanying letter, I expressed dissatisfaction, urged them to replace the alternator, and suggested they "help me out" with the labor costs. I know this sounds like a far-fetched request, but after all … I had paid to have the two original ones removed, and two new ones installed. Then, I paid again to have the new, dead one removed and a loaner installed. Next, I'll have to have the loaner removed, and the replacement installed. About now, I'm thinking that money doesn't grow on trees and I'm running out of things to sell. I guess there's always community college for my kids …..
To date, there's been no resolution with the alternator question and I've yet to get a replacement back, so I'm still using the loaner.
On the plus side
This experience has taught me that I need to know the systems on my airplane, always carry a handheld radio and flashlights, and practice, or at least read about extending the gear manually…. you'll never know when you need to actually do it.
Also, it brought me together with AvTek and 1st Alert so there'll be no more surprise blackouts. Check out www.avtek2.com for more information.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have… I'd be happy to discuss further. George.email@example.com 256-212-4250
Take care and be safe!
Born in 1966, George Jones lives in Clayton, NC. He is president and owner of Phoenix 2000 Incorporated, a computer consulting and placement company, and holds a private pilot certificate with ASMEL and instrument ratings. George flies a 1969 turbo twin Comanche, N8692Y, for both business and pleasure