The 2004 fourth of July fell on a Sunday, so I had the added benefit of a Monday off from work. My wife and I had planned our trip to Toledo, Ohio, a couple of weeks earlier to catch up with some old friends. This was a perfect-length trip for a single-engine airplane and one of the reasons we had purchased our Piper Arrow. Driving wasn’t an option, and in only 2½ hours we’d be landing 72T at a small, single-runway airport perfectly situated three miles from our friends’ house. We had recharged the battery in the Arrow overnight and our plan was simple: reinstall the battery and test to see if the engine would crank before we loaded the bags. Smart, I thought. The airplane did start, so I shut the engine down, called for a top-off and began loading the bags. It’s surprising how many bags you bring on a two-day trip.
I finished loading the bags and, while waiting for my wife to return from parking the car, I called clearance delivery on my handheld. Efficient, right? I copied our route and told them we’d be ready to taxi in 10 minutes.
The fact that 72T didn’t start a second time was a small wrinkle in the plan. I must have used up the “recharge effect” on the first startup. I called the FBO, which quickly brought out the power cart. After waiting a few minutes to let the battery charge, we cranked up the airplane and were ready to go. A quick check of the oil pressure and ammeter showed all the engine gauges lying down. I verified the master switch was on and then did the next logical thing: I tapped the gauges with my finger. It worked! All the gauges simultaneously sprang to life. Perfect! I turned the avionics master on and brought the comms and navs to life.
The battery, obviously, wasn’t holding a proper charge, but I was rushed. We were 30 minutes behind schedule. (Note to self: Order a new battery upon returning home.)
As we taxied out, I saw the gear lights flickering slightly. Huh, never seen them do that before. I added a little power and they started to glow steadily.
My wife and I ran the preflight checklist, which I had customized to include a takeoff briefing and an engine failure briefing, and I spent a little extra time checking the electrical system. I turned the landing light on and verified a spike in the charge rate. I then turned the pitot heat on and saw an even bigger rise of the needle. I turned everything else I could on and saw the needle jump to almost the halfway mark on the Piper’s gauge. Good!
I was satisfied that the charging system was working properly and felt comfortable thinking it would recharge the drained battery in flight and that I had performed the extra precautionary checks necessary to ascertain that everything was working as it should. I activated the flight plan feature on my new GPS as we lined up into “position and hold.” I held the brakes and watched everything come up in the green. Here we go. Airspeed alive. 70 mph, rotate! Positive rate, gear up!