So a partial comms failure occurred while I was doing circuits and landings at Lanseria on Saturday night. Nothing serious, mind you, but it could have been worse. There are two radios built into a Cirrus SR20 and I never fly without my trusty handheld VHF radio – just in case. I was originally planning a night cross country but there were storm cells dotted around Gauteng and further afield so I decided to do a few touch-n-go’s instead. There was a towering CumuloNimbus around 12 nautical miles North west of the aerodrome just to help apply the mind. There was also a 12 knot wind from 05, not too bad as runway 07 was active meaning the wind was an almost perfect headwind on landing.
Take off was uneventful and courtesy of the wind, Zulu India Papa galloped into the air. The first landing was slightly high but speeds and flare good, then my radio conked out. What increased the stress was I was not alone in the circuit.
There was a Diamond twin ahead and a Cessna 210 behind. I was the jam in the donut, but as fortune would have it, the radio cut while I was on right downwind 07 literally mid-runway. If it had happened a little later there would have been a lot more stress. Yet the solitary suddenness when something goes wrong in aviation can catch you. One minute I was listening to my fellow pilots reporting – then suddenly the world went eerily quiet. I had kept a wary eye on the Diamond ahead of me, he seemed to climb fast then take his time on base. So I understood how he was flying. His navigation lights were in sight around a nautical mile ahead, and the Cessna I knew was still climbing away from the runway so was no threat from behind. Yet.
After fiddling with the squelch setting and checking the radio had power and frequencies were correct, I was beginning to drift downwind and away from the base turn. The years of training kicked in once more.
Quickly I selected 124.0 Lanseria tower on Comm2 – still nothing and I checked the fuses. All in and locked. I was growing a little nervous, even though I had already pulled the Vertex Standard Pilot III from my bag. I cranked up the volume on the second radio and breathed a sigh of relief as I heard the calming voice of the ATC speaking to the Diamond pilot. Once they’d finished I said:
“ZIP – I have comms problems – how do you read me?”
“Comms 1 failed Zulu India Papa”
“Are you declaring an emergency?”
“Negative, have a handheld as backup, ready to turn late base Zulu India Papa”
“Turn base, with the traffic in sight report final number two” said ATC as quick as a flash.
And with that I continued my hour long stint in the circuit. No flutter, no panic. Had the comms failed entirely it would have been a few seconds to plug in my handheld, not easy even when its calm. But I would have landed immediately rather than continue in the circuit.
Once again our hours of training kicked in. I was feverishly running through what I would do next to indicate that my radio comms failure.
- Set transponder to Mode A 7600
- Flash lights off and on
- Continue in the circuit with traffic in sight, land and vacate runway asap
- Contact tower and inform them of the problem
- Let the CFI know
Had I been on my cross-country and one radio failed, I would have cut the flight short and returned to base immediately. So as moments go, this was a tiny little one compared to some horror stories I have read. But it was the pleasing reaction to years of training that kept my heart rate steady, my eyes beady, and panic at bay. Apart from respecting the towering CB’s, I’d made the right call on the cross country as well. Imagine negotiating a night surrounded by storm cells and twiddling with a dysfunctional radio. Better safe than sorry. Did I mention I’m old, but not bold?