It was just a matter of days before I would take my instrument flight test. Liz and I planned a trip to Asheville, North Carolina to retrieve her sister, Beverly. It was a foggy, hazy morning. As we approached the airport, we kept encouraging each other by saying, "I can see three miles." (Three miles is the legal limit for visual flight rules.)
We took off with maybe three miles of visibility. Thirty minutes into the flight the autopilot failed. I turned off the autopilot, then about five minutes later all the radios went dead. Finally I noticed the alternator amps gauge was all the way to the discharge side. The alternator was dead. By this time I had also killed the battery.
We were over Paris, Kentucky, fifteen miles northeast of Lexington. I turned in the general direction of Lexington and started descending. Luckily the visibility was now about seven miles. When I arrived high over the Lexington airport, I observed the traffic pattern. I had no way to talk to the tower. I saw no light signals.
My next problem was to get the landing gear down. This was a Cessna 172 with retractable gear. It normally required an intact electrical system to bring the gear down. Learning the emergency procedure for bringing down the landing gear was required for the check out. I pulled out the manual hydraulic pump handle and began pumping furiously to bring down the landing gear, but nothing was happening. I then broke down and looked at the emergency checklist. The first line said, ?Gear lever: position down.? I put the gear lever in the 'down' position, pumped the handle again, and the gear came down.
We started to enter the traffic pattern at Lexington, and mysteriously the alternator started to work again. All the radios lit up, and I called the tower and told them of our situation. They did not seem to think anything of it, and cleared me to land.
The alternator was checked in Lexington. We were there for at least four or five hours. They found nothing wrong with it. Time to spare, go by air!
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