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From the Safety Office


Michael May, Standards Officer WVFC

Handling Equipment Malfunctions

Pop Quiz!

What is the first action you should take in the event of a low voltage condition (after maintaining aircraft control)? Hint: The correct answer is the same for virtually every type of aircraft that WVFC operates, and for all flight conditions (day/night, IFR/VFR). Take a minute to think of what your first response to this would be, then continue reading.

Have your answer? Good. Next question: What is the first action you should take in the event of having to land with a flat main tire? Hint #2: The correct answer to this question is the same as the correct answer to the previous question.

The correct answer to both of these scenarios is to reach your right arm into the seat back pocket and pull out the Aircraft Flight Manual, open it to the Emergency Procedures section, and find the appropriate checklist. The common thread to both of these scenarios is that they don’t constitute a time-critical emergency that must be responded to from memory. The airplane will fly along just fine while you take the 30 seconds required to get out a printed checklist.

Why am I bringing this up? During your training, you practiced engine failures, fires, and emergency landings. All of these require that you respond immediately and from memory, and rightfully so. Your CFI probably spent far less time reviewing and practicing other types of malfunctions, even though they may be far more likely to actually occur. The reason for this is because you have help for these types of situations riding in that seat back pocket! Your CFI is making sure that you know what to do when there’s no time to look up the answer. For everything else, it’s an open book test. When the low volts annunciator illuminates, you shouldn’t touch a single switch or circuit breaker until you’ve gotten out the appropriate checklist.

How do you know if a checklist exists for the specific issue you have? Just look at the Emergency Procedures section (usually section 3) table of contents. The types of emergencies covered in this section vary significantly depending on the manufacturer and the age of the aircraft. Aircraft built in the 1980’s or later usually have checklists for most situations, so there’s a good chance that there will be some kind of checklist for most malfunctions. And if it isn’t there, at least you checked. You’re no worse off than you were a minute ago when you were going to wing it.

As I’m writing this, it’s 97 degrees outside at PAO. Which brings me to question #3: You just landed at LVK today to grab a quick lunch, and when you try to start the engine to return to PAO you can’t get it to start. What is the first action you should take?

While this may seem off-topic, the point is that the AFM is required to be onboard the aircraft for a reason, and it’s a valuable resource at your disposal. When time permits, use it!  It just might help you get your alternator to reset, or help you plan a landing with a flat tire. And if your flight is uneventful as the vast majority are, it can help you remember how to get a hot or flooded engine started this summer after that $100 burger.