|On a routine flight from Cookeville to Murfreesboro, one Murfreesboro pilot had to make an emergency landing at the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport after his plane experienced electrical failure late June.
Brian Gourley, a second lieutenant with the Murfreesboro Composite Squadron of Civil Air Patrol, was flying an orientation flight for two CAP cadets when the Cessna 172 he was piloting when all the lights in the cockpit started going out.
"This was a serious situation," explained Gourley. " Pilots have to make some big decisions when experiencing an electrical failure and are critical to the safe conclusion of the flight."
In flight complications occur infrequently, but when they do, it is the pilot’s duty to revert to previous training in how to handle the situation at hand. Gourley reverted back to his training, knowing he had to remain calm and think quickly. Since the engine-driven alternator failed, their plane was operating solely on battery power, which serves as an emergency source of power.
"I immediately tried to reset the alternator by turning it off, then on again. In order to conserve battery power, I shut off one of the radios and other non-essential equipment in the plane."
The Murfreesboro airport does not have a control tower, so nearby pilots need to make position reports and state their intentions via radio to avoid collisions. Their plane did not have enough battery power to maintain use of the remaining radio and transponder, so they were now completely without electrical power. However, the engine will continue to function normally because it runs on an independent electrical system.
"I knew I had to land as soon as practical since the plane was still flying, but I was preparing for an emergency landing, just in case his engine failed," Gourley said.
This was the first orientation flight for each of the two cadets who were flying with Gourley that day. They were scheduled as the first of six groups.
"I was worried and nervous for them," said Gourley. "They were unable to talk on their headsets, and were able to see 'failure' on the transponder. I knew they had to be scared." He looked at them and gave them the “OK” hand gesture and put them at ease.
This was Gourley's first in flight emergency while giving CAP cadets orientation flights. Due to his proficiency flying in the surrounding area, Gourley was able to navigate back to Murfreesboro using landmarks along the way.
“After I gestured that everything was OK, they looked out the window, excited that they were high in the air, not knowing that I was looking out the window for a different reason.” Gourley was trying to find a place to make an emergency landing, just in case.
Once the Murfreesboro airport was in sight, he knew that if the engine failed, he would be able to glide safely down to the runway. Without the ability to hear or be heard, Gourley flew at a higher altitude to determine if it was safe to land, then they began their descent.
"I was able to get the main wheels on the runway and kept the plane in a nose-up attitude, in order to bleed off the extra airspeed," explained Gourley. "All student pilots are required to know how to perform forward slips before conducting their first solo flight. Pilots are taught this in the event of an engine failure and have to land on the first attempt and don’t have the chance to go around if the aircraft is too high or too fast."
The two cadets flying with Lt. Gourley were unaware of the potential severity and still have aspirations to become pilots.
"We knew something was wrong, but we didn't really know how bad until our next Civil Air Patrol meeting," said Cadet Senior Airman Calvin Travis.
Outside of his volunteering with Civil Air Patrol, Gourley is a commercial pilot for Nashville based, Dialysis Clinics Inc., transporting blood and organs throughout the Eastern United States. He has logged over 600 hours and 380 multi-engine hours.
The Murfreesboro Composite Squadron meets every Tuesday at the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport from 6:30-8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com.