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A Question For Pilots

Sunday, on a United flight from Washington's Dulles Airport to San Diego, somewhere over southern Colorado or northern New Mexico we had some sort of bizarre electrical system malfunction in the passenger cabin. A circuit breaker was very obviously tripped as all the cabin lights went our, a loud beep started in the rear of the cabin and the lights, video and audio system all went, for lack of a better term, haywire.

Later I learned that the pilots could not communicate with the cabin while they were fixing the problem. After about 20 minutes things stopped beeping and everything returned to normal At no time was the actual flying of the plane impacted, nor was the flight diverted.

My thought at the time was that if it really was an electrical system problem that could not be fixed we might well have been diverted back to Denver. I put that down as my worst case scenario; hoping that was it. I didn't feel like we were in any danger (the flight attendants merely ask people to go back to their seats), but then again maybe things were worse than was let on.

My question to pilots is: How common is something like this, and what (if any) issues might have cascaded out of such a problem.

I probably wouldn't have bothered asking, but I was a few miles away from today's F-18 crash (which the pilot reported was due to mechanical problems) when it occured. One needs to know where one stands with the Fates...


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Comments (10)

Hey Kevin,You live... (Below threshold)

Hey Kevin,

You live in SD? Or are you just visiting?? I was heading home from school on the 805 when I saw the smoke from the crash to the west--not far from the freeway. That was just after hearing about it on the radio. It's really tragic what happened.

Sounds like just a subcircu... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Sounds like just a subcircuit fault, a short. Avionics and cockpit electrical systems are on other circuits, and they have aux buses. Probably took them that much time to find the fault, and reroute the circuit to an auxiliary bus. Probably not a common occurance, but, not a life-threatening one. Probably scared the crap out of a few people though.

My thought at the time w... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

My thought at the time was that if it really was an electrical system problem that could not be fixed we might well have been diverted back to Denver.

Depends on what circuits were affected. If it had been, say, the a/c fans or something like that, probably might have made a landing at the nearest hub and you would have gotten a replacement plane.

Just visiting.... (Below threshold)
Kevin Author Profile Page:

Just visiting.

Thanks James. It's good to... (Below threshold)
Kevin Author Profile Page:

Thanks James. It's good to know the cockpit and cabin are on different circuits. That would explain why they couldn't do a PA announcement. As you guessed it did take them a while to fix the problem, and (given the ammount of things that went on and off) you could tell they had to work on it for a while.

Ohhh, I'm glad I wasn't on ... (Below threshold)

Ohhh, I'm glad I wasn't on that flight. I've been watching 2 or 3 episodes a week of Air Crash Investigations for over a month. I would have been destroyed by my own imagination...

Area 51 ??? lol ...fate my ... (Below threshold)

Area 51 ??? lol ...fate my arse, yours is in stone---you have a BLOG to run.

JC has as good an analysis ... (Below threshold)

JC has as good an analysis as any.

Electronics being what flies most new aircraft rather than hydraulics, everything critical is super redundant. That which DOESN't fly the aircraft may not be. One good EM pulse, however, and you're toast.

'One good EM pulse, however... (Below threshold)

'One good EM pulse, however, and you're toast.'

Yeah, considering that most planes today have the flight characteristics of a brick. Plane doesn't know it's pointy end from it's tail without a computer to tell it.

A couple of years ago, I wa... (Below threshold)

A couple of years ago, I was flying out of O'Hare. We took off and just got into the air when the cabin p.a. system chimed in (I'm sure it was in preparation for the "in case of emergency" speech). It did the first beep, but the second follow-up beep kinda drug out and died... It did this a couple of times, and then the captain came over the intercom to tell us there was an issue with the electrical system. After a couple of minutes, the captain came back on and told us that we were turning around and going back to O'Hare to land.. I don't remember finding out any details about what went wrong, but I figure it was at least moderately important since we turned around and landed right away.

Then there was this time I was in a plane in Nashville, sitting at the terminal waiting to taxi out & take off. We sat there for what seemed like a really long time before the captain came over the intercom & told us that they'd had a problem, but they did the airplane equivalent of Ctl-Alt-Del, and restarted everything, and now it's working fine...






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