Second Lt. Brian Gourley, an orientation pilot for the Murfreesboro Composite Squadron, stands next to a CAP Cessna.
Photo by Capt. Robin Olsen, Tennessee Wing
Capt. Robin Olsen
Public Affairs Officer
Murfreesboro Composite Squadron
TENNESSEE – A 55-mile orientation flight from Cookeville to Murfreesboro proved even more memorable than usual for a pair of Murfreesboro Composite Squadron cadets when 2nd Lt. Brian Gourley had to take quick action after all the cockpit lights started going out.
“This was a serious situation," said Gourley, the Murfreesboro squadron’s assistant officer for operations and for cadet activities. "Pilots have to make some big decisions when experiencing an electrical failure, and they’re critical to the safe conclusion of the flight."
The Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172’s electrical failure required Gourley to make an emergency landing at Murfreesboro Municipal Airport with Cadet Tech. Sgt. Jonah Torp-Pedersen and Cadet Senior Airman Calvin Travis aboard. The orientation flight was the first for both cadets.
When the lights went dark, Gourley called on his training, knowing he had to remain calm and think quickly. Since the engine-driven alternator failed, the Cessna 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,” Gourley said. “In order to conserve battery power, I shut off one of the radios and other nonessential equipment in the plane."
The Murfreesboro airport has no control tower, so pilots in the area make position reports and state their intentions via radio to avoid collisions. The Cessna lacked sufficient battery power for the remaining radio and transponder, so Gourley was now flying completely without electrical power, though the engine continued 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 the engine failed," he said.
As for his cadet passengers, "I was worried and nervous for them," Gourley said. "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 the pair and gave the “OK” hand gesture, putting them at ease.
This was Gourley's first in-flight emergency while giving cadet orientation flights. Because of his experience flying in the surrounding area, he 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,” he said.
He was trying to find a place for an emergency landing, just in case.
Once the Murfreesboro Municipal was in sight, Gourley knew that even if the engine failed, he would be able to glide safely down to the runway.
Without the ability to hear or be heard, he flew at a higher altitude to determine if it was safe to land, then began 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," Gourley said.
"All student pilots are required to know how to perform forward slips before conducting their first solo flight,” he said. “Pilots are taught this in the event of an engine failure and they 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."
Torp-Pederson and Travis, the cadets riding with Gourley, were unaware of the potential seriousness of the situation.
"We knew something was wrong, but we didn't really know how badly until our next squadron meeting," Travis said.
He and Torp-Pederson still have aspirations of becoming pilots.
Gourley is a commercial pilot for Nashville-based Dialysis Clinic Inc., transporting blood and organs throughout the eastern U.S. He has logged more than 600 hours and 380 multi-engine hours.