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Cirrus Alternator Failure

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A Cirrus is an electric airplane.  There are no vacuum pumps and therefore no vacuum driven instruments. The Klapmeier brothers did this on purpose, trying to make it a modern airplane.  No vacuum systems means no vacuum pump failures, hence there is a lower likelihood of instrument failures in IMC.

What Cirrus did instead was put a lot of electricity producing and storing devices in the airplane.  All SR20 and SR22s are equipped with 2 engine driven alternators and 2 backup batteries.  Alternator 1 is a 28 volt alternator (the amperage varies based on whether or not you have an air conditioner) while Alternator 2 is a 28.5 volt alternator.  There are 2 24 volt backup batteries, as well.  Battery 1 is also used for starting.

In traditional airplanes that have 1 alternator, an alternator failure can affect a lot of things.  Depending on how many electronics are in the airplane, the battery can get depleted quite quickly.

The Cirrus electrical system is quite ingenious.  It’s a little bit different based on whether you have an Avidyne Cirrus or a Garmin Perspective Cirrus.  I will discuss that further below.

The main goal of this article is to talk through what happens in the event of a #1 Cirrus Alternator Failure (an Alternator 2 failure actually isn’t a big deal at all, though Alt 2 is required for IFR flight), the procedure for trying to fix it, and a technique I have developed that makes the pilot’s job easier.  First, let’s go through the #1 Cirrus Alternator Failure procedure.

Alternator 1 Failure

In either avionics configuration, the Cirrus Alternator Failure procedure is the same.

  • Check and reset the circuit breaker for Alternator 1 (Reset only once)
  • Cycle the Alternator 1 master switch
  • If Alternator 1 doesn’t come back online, leave the Alternator 1 master switch off and shed load on the battery

Avidyne Entegra

The Avidyne Entegra has 2 busses, the Main Bus and the Essential Bus.  Alternator 2 isn’t set to come on until the engine RPM reaches 1700.  While on the ground, Alternator 1 runs both the Main and Essential Buses.  In the air, Alternator 1 runs the Main Bus and Alternator 2 runs the Essential Bus.  Since Alt 2 is 28.5 volts, the higher voltage won’t allow the power from Alt 1 to cross over and run the Essential Bus.  There are also 2 one-way directional diodes that prevent the voltage from Alt 2 to cross over and run the Main Bus.

Having said all that, when Alternator 1 fails, Battery 1 is now running the items on the Main Bus.  There are a significant number of items on the Main Bus which causes the 24 volt battery to quickly lose it’s charge. This precipitates the need for shedding load.  Items like GPS 2, the air conditioner and aircraft lights can all be turned off.

In the above scenario, Alternator 2 is running the Essential Bus still that has all the Essential items on it.  Those include:

  • The PFD
  • Flight Instruments and associated Avidyne computers
  • Engine Instruments and associated Avidyne computers
  • GPS 1
  • Com 1
  • Nav 1
  • Autopilot
  • Stall Warning
  • Charging Battery 2

Note 2 important items that are not on the Essential Bus:  the flaps and the landing light (which is very handy at night).  Those two are only on the Main Bus, which Battery 1 is now powering.

Let’s further enhance our scenario.  You are flying over Nevada (quite remote and not a lot of airports) at night, 30 minutes from the nearest airport when your Alt 1 fails.  When you get to the airport you are planning on landing at, you want to have your flaps and your landing light, but we don’t know how long Battery 1 will last.

The solution (this is where my technique comes in):  Turn off the Battery 1 master switch.  This is an easy solution to ensuring you have battery power to use your flaps and landing light.  Instead of going through and shedding load, simply turn off the source.  You’ll still have all the above items on the Essential Bus, which is all you need to keep safely flying.  Then, when you get to your landing airport, turn Battery 1 back on to utilize your flaps and landing light.

Garmin Perspective

Cirrus wired the Garmin Perspective plane a little bit differently.  There are now 2 Main Buses along with the Essential Bus.  Alternator 1 runs Main Bus 1, while Alternator 2 runs Main Bus 2 and the Essential Bus. Both Alternators are running all the time.  The Alternator 1 Failure procedure remains the same.

The cool thing that comes along with the second Main Bus in the Perspective is the amount of items you still have available to you in the event of an Alternator 1 failure.  The only items you lose will be:

  • Yaw Damper
  • Landing Light
  • Air Conditioner and associated components
  • EVS Camera
  • 12 Volt power supply in armrest

Everything else is powered off of Alternator 2.  That’s not much.  The only item you really want on the above list is the landing light if you are going to be landing at night.

Follow the Alternator 1 Failure procedure, then do my technique again.  Turn off Battery 1 to save the battery power in order to use the landing light when needed.

Cirrus did a great job creating an all electric airplane with plenty of backups in case something fails.  I focused mainly on the Alternator 1 failure here.  If Alternator 2 fails, the system is wired for Alternator 1 to run everything while still charging Battery 1 and 2.  No big deal.

In my experience, turning off Battery 1 to conserve battery power is just a simpler solution when shedding load in the event of a Cirrus Alternator Failure.

Cirrus Embark

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Free training?

Yes, you heard correctly.  Last fall, Cirrus released a program called Cirrus Embark.  The Cirrus Embark program offers 3 Free Days of Training to new purchasers of used Cirrus aircraft.  The 3 Days is equivalent to the Cirrus VFR Transition Training Course.

Previously, Cirrus offered free factory training to anyone who purchased a new Cirrus from the Cirrus factory. Now, anyone buying a used Cirrus gets the same offer through Cirrus Embark at their home airport with a local CSIP training provider.

IFR pilot?  No problem.  The Cirrus IFR Advanced Transition Training Course is 5 days in length, but the Cirrus Embark program covers the first 3, reducing the out of pocket pay to only 2 days.

Want more information?  Check out the Cirrus Embark website.

To get more information on both the VFR and IFR Cirrus Transition Training Courses, visit the Texas Top Aviation Cirrus Training Page.

Unusual Attitude Recoveries

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For a VFR or an IFR pilot, an unusual attitude can be one of the most dangerous situations to get into.  That is one reason so many new autopilots are being developed with a level button.  The concept behind the level button is if the pilot gets into a disorienting situation, press the level button and the autopilot comes on, holding the airplane in a straight and level pitch attitude.

What about all those planes without autopilots that have a level button?  That’s who this article is for.

First off, what is an unusual attitude?  The Airplane Flying Handbook on page 4-17 gives the following definition:  “An unusual attitude is commonly referenced as an unintended or unexpected attitude in instrument flight.”  The AFH also goes on to say that an unusual attitude in training has no defined bank and pitch parameters, but “for training purposes an instructor could place the airplane in a 30 degree bank with a nose up pitch attitude of 15 degrees and ask the student to recover and that would be considered an unusual attitude….”

We now have a basis from the FAA.  VFR Pilots are now saying, “Oh, instrument flight, that doesn’t apply to us.”  Not so fast.  The Private Pilot ACS (and before it, the PTS) has a requirement for Basic Attitude Instrument Flying, including unusual attitude recoveries.  Why?  Because VFR pilots still inadvertently fly into IMC conditions and can get into an unusual attitude.  Plus, a private, non-instrument rated pilot has a higher chance of not recovering from an unusual attitude since he isn’t used to relying on his instruments.

At each training event I do, whether it be private pilot training, a flight review, IFR training, transition training, or pretty much any kind of recurrent training, I like to do unusual attitude recoveries with my customers.  It’s one of those things that the recovery procedure wanes over time since it isn’t routinely practiced solo (for good reason!).

I see people have the most trouble with the nose high unusual attitude recoveries.  Let’s start with the recovery procedure, then I’ll discuss the common errors (notice that the nose high unusual attitude recovery procedure mirrors a stall recovery).  Remember, this is in IFR conditions:

  • Breathe
  • Pitch Down to a level pitch attitude on the Attitude Indicator (or lower if the stall warning horn continues to go off)
  • Simultaneously add full power
  • Roll wings level
  • Flaps up and recover to a level pitch attitude if not there already

The order is important, especially the breathing part.  What happens if a pilot goes straight into a recovery and doesn’t pause for a second or two to absorb what’s going on is the recovery isn’t executed properly.

Our brains see the wings banked and set off all kinds of alarms to roll the wings level first before doing anything else.  Adding any kind of aileron input with the nose close to the critical angle of attack is a bad idea.  You are adding adverse yaw (since you probably won’t be coordinated) and load factor which increases the stall speed.  Then we all know that Stall + Yaw = Spin.  That’s something that is best avoided in IMC.

We have to teach our brains to ignore the bank angle until the pitch and power come in.  Once the airplane is far away from the critical angle of attack, then the bank can be rolled to neutral.

Let’s look at the nose low unusual attitude recovery.  The order is still important on this one too:

  • Breathe
  • Power Reduce (to idle if necessary)
  • Roll Wings Level
  • Pitch up to a level pitch attitude
  • Add Power back to cruise

The theory with the nose low unusual attitude is your speed is accelerating.  By reducing the power first, that helps reduce the load factor experienced when the pitch is increased.  Same with rolling the wings level.  Neutral bank is a lower load factor than some kind of a bank angle.  We are trying to prevent overspeeding the airplane.  The lower the load factor, the less of a chance we have to rip the wings off.

The most important step in either recovery procedure is to breathe first, allowing the brain to process exactly what is happening.  That way, the proper recovery can be executed.

Flying Eyes Sunglasses

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I am on a mission in flying for my head to be as comfortable as possible.  I’m currently going through the process of experimenting with different ANR headsets to see which ones squeeze my head the least (which I’ll be writing a future article about).  In the meantime, I decided to focus on sunglasses.

I wear glasses (can’t do contacts anymore since they irritate my eyes), so anytime I have a headset on, I have frames running underneath my ear cups.  I had a pair of prescription sunglasses for years that were okay, but still caused soreness above my ears after more than 3 hours of flying.  I routinely fly 4-5 hours a day in training folks, so I had to find a better solution.

I saw an ad in Flying Magazine one month for Flying Eyes sunglasses.  It was a relatively new company with a cool concept.  A pilot started the company with the goal to create as thin a pair of sunglasses frames as possible to increase the comfort and decrease the ANR loss when wearing sunglasses.  What the company came up with is pretty cool.

The ultra-thin frames on the all the different Flying Eyes models are made out of Resilamide.  The material is so strong that the frames can be bent back and forth while not breaking.  The company even brags that the frames are virtually unbreakable.  I had to try these out.

I ordered a pair of the Golden Eagle Sport sunglasses.  The process of getting prescription lenses in them was no big deal and took about a week.  The eyeglasses shop initially thought the shape of the lens could be an issue, but it proved no problem at all.  The lens manufacturer even managed to chip the frames, but Flying Eyes sent a new set of frames for free, even though it was not at all their fault.

In about a month and a half of flying with them, they are very comfortable.  Some squeeze on the side of my head after extended periods of wear underneath a headset, but I’m exploring headset options currently (see above).  Much improved over my last set of sunglasses.

Flying Eyes offers several different frame models, some of which are prescription compatible and some which aren’t.  The Golden Eagle Sport frames run about $180.  Orders can be placed on the Flying Eyes website.

Cessna TTx Production Ceases

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Sadly, in January, a pretty great airplane was put out to pasture.  Textron (the conglomerate that now owns Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, and Lycoming) announced it was ceasing production of the Cessna TTx.  With the end of the Cessna TTx production, an airplane that was the main “competitor” to Cirrus (if you can call it competition; Cirrus consistently outsold the Cessna TTx by a wide margin each year), it leaves the SR series to stand alone atop the High Performance piston single market.

I got to go through Cessna’s FITS Accepted Instructor (CFAI) course back in 2012 and have flown in the Cessna 350 and 400 (which is what they were known as at the time; the Cessna TTx name came around in 2011) for about 120 hours.  I really like the airplanes.  I’m partial to the Cirrus, but the Cessna 350 & 400 are fast airplanes and great for 1-2 people.  I flew a 350 (the non-turbo charged version) from New York to San Antonio last fall and routinely saw 170 knots at 12 GPH.

Columbia started out making the 350 & 400 (the turbo-charged version) in the early 2000s, but went bankrupt in 2007.  Lancair started Columbia to make a certified version of their popular kit planes.  If you see a Lancair ES floating around, you would swear it’s a Columbia with only 1 door.  Cessna bought the design from Columbia in 2007 to begin manufacturing the airplanes themselves.

Cessna then made a huge mistake as they moved the production facility from Bend, Oregon to Mexico. Production completely halted in 2009 as the planes coming out of Mexico were found to have defective composite work.  The sales never really recovered, even though Cessna put the Garmin G2000 panel in the Cessna TTx, complete with a touchscreen key pad.  A FIKI system was added as an option in 2012.

A prospective buyer can still get a great value on a used 350, 400, or TTx, as they are valued a little lower than a Cirrus.  The 350, 400 or TTx all make excellent single pilot or two person speedsters with very comfortable amenities.

Information for this article was taken from Flying Magazine’s website.