Vacuum vs. Electrical Failure

During our training, especially we older pilots, you probably remember the emphasis placed on vacuum failure and partial panel skills especially during your instrument training. Call me lucky, as I have had only 1 vacuum failure in 40+ years and that was VFR.

However, I HAVE had five (5) electrical failures! The last one really got my attention; total electrical failure in the middle of an IFR approach. I don't recall that scenario EVER being discussed in any of the training I received.

Think about it. No navigational guidance, no radio communications, no visibility, in the middle of being vectored around for an approach in widespread low IFR. Oh, and this was before the iPad.

My training point: The only thing that kept me from having a really bad day was my handheld radio, charged and within reach. Of course if I had an iPad that would also have helped. I needed some form of electrically independent communications and guidance to complete the approach. After landing, you could not pry that radio from my grip.

If you do not own a hand held radio with a quick connection to an outside antenna, you may wish to consider this inexpensive safety factor.

Your thoughts?




  • Mike,

    You are right on. I had my avionics shop "intercept" the com antenna cable for #2 radio and mount two BNC jacks on the panel which are normally jumpered as you can see in the photo. My hand-held (Sporty's SP-400) has a long BNC cable ready to connect to the external antenna via this panel configuration. A spare headset with a radio adapter is also ready to plug into the SP-400. Spare batteries are in the bag with the radio. The Garmin 396 has its own GPS antenna and new battery so if a total electrical failure occurs my dual G-5s provide attitude info and the SP-400 can quickly provide communications and nav plus the GPS is there for situational awareness.

    Jim Torley
    1969 Arrow 200
    Based at KFLY (Colorado Springs, CO)

  • I've had one vacuum failure, IFR in icing with family on board. Everything turned out okay. Stay cool, make good decisions.

    Scott Sherer
    Wright Brothers Master Pilot, FAA Commercial Pilot
    Aviation Director, Piper Owner Society Forum Moderator and Pipers Author.

    Need help? Let me know!

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