Perhaps you heard a few weeks ago that a couple in a Piper Comanche suffered a total electrical system failure. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does all of an aircraft’s installed certificated radios and electrical components become inoperative, including the landing gear. Unless, of course, there’s a backup supply—which many of us do not have.
This happened at night, which compounds things significantly, but a trusty iPad got them to an airport. The mostly happy ending was that they landed safely. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the pilot was unable to extend the landing gear manually but no injury resulted. Good!
The relatively inexpensive (as much as anything Apple is inexpensive) uncertified technology really helped. Anyone who has flown with an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) app (which I believe are mostly “uncertified”) will have a hard time going back to paper. They have become so good that the FAA has approved EFB-use in airline operations (as long as there is more than one unit). Maybe that should help guide the FAR Part 23 rewrite where we look for lower cost alternatives to the low volume, high price certificated items. With internal or supplemental GPS, the EFB’s ability to navigate is more accurate and far more versatile than VORs—but it’s not perfect.
I had an earlier model iPad where the system locked up several times and refused to do anything until going through the dreaded iTunes reboot. This takes an internet connection, the patience of a saint, and about 20 minutes to accomplish—not so good for cockpit apps. Replaced the unit six months ago and so far, so good—but I still carry paper charts. So, as in all things in life, there is a balance point.
There was an ATC save last year involving an EFB pilot who ran out of juice on his pad and thus was chartless in IMC. ATC gave him progressive instructions to get to a runway. That’s putting too much blind faith in batteries—especially when the length of flight exceeds the available power.
Having redundancy in uncertified units might be better than putting all the eggs into just one super electronic basket—no matter how good. There have been some well-publicized meltdowns with ultra-sophisticated airline equipment proving that the disastrously infallible HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey was eerily prescient.
Back to reality: After the above iPad rescue story was published, one of the CNET pundits—who has likely never been in a light aircraft—made some ignorant and disparaging remarks. Some of our pilot audience chimed in to attempt some education. Two of them proceeded to get into a public squabble about what happened and which of them was better qualified to hold forth on the topic!
Reminds me of the guidance never to get into an argument with a skunk as it’s hard to tell who smells worse after the fight. Without discussing any of the merits—far better to be respectful to each other and not give the media anything more to shoot at. As Mark Twain eloquently said, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”