Aviation In Canada

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Navajo Electrical Failure

While working in Halifax International Airport's control tower years ago, I remember seeing a number of incidents involving Piper PA-31 Navajos. Before it seems like I'm trying to scare people out of Navajos, please let me relay that I have seen a large number of flights in these workhorses so the law of averages dictates that the number of incidents overall will be higher.

One in particular was kind of interesting. We had four PA-31s depart one morning, as every weekday morning, on their regional milkruns. The last one to depart didn't seem to be going where he said he was going. He took off Runway 06, and should have taken a heading of about 320° to get on course. There is a large lake northwest of the airport, and there was a localizer fog bank over the lake due to the cold air that morning, and the aircraft disappeared behind this fog bank. The radar track seemed to come further around to the left than he should have. I watched this, unable to observe the aircraft directly, only on radar, contemplating what was happening. As the wide-sweeping turn continued, I guessed that he was returning to the airport, so I punched up the runway and approach lights for him and tried a couple of blind calls. With no responses, I eventually saw the aircraft again and got out the binoculars. In the dim, pre-dawn light, I was able to see that he had no nav lights on. Electrical failure or fire, probably. I figured he'd land anyway if things were that bad, but I got down the trusty light gun and gave him a green light. He landed and taxied in uneventfully from my perspective. The pilot called the tower later and informed me that it was an electrical fire and it took out all his electrics. He limped back around the fog bank and was happy to see the runway lights on for him.

One more reason I was glad my instructor in the tower always pushed me saying, "Always watch your airplanes."