It was a beautiful flying day. Temperatures were cool giving the plane good performance. The skies were CAVU, winds were calm, and there were very few planes vying for the controller's attention on this Thanksgiving holiday morning. I had just been given a shortcut routing direct to my planned re-fueling stop in Greensboro, NC (KGSO) some 200nm away.
Then a flashing alarm indicator on the engine monitor caught my attention: "BAT". I confirmed with the analog ammeter below it. Yep. Discharging. (Meaning "all electrical power will be lost in about an hour when the battery dies.")
I turned off all unnecessary electrical components, but it barely helped. I weighed my options:
1) I could cancel IFR and continue the flight NORDO VFR. While my final destination for the flight was to a non-towered field (meaning no radio required), I was planning to refuel at a Class C airport and I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of a no-transponder, primary only radar target approaching for a light gun signal.
2) I could divert to another airport. It was a major holiday and my chances of finding a general aviation mechanic on the field were somwhere between "extremely unlikely" and "you've got to be kidding."
3) I could return to KJYO. It was still close (I had departed barely 10 minutes earlier and was due west of KIAD) and, if it came to having to abandon the airplane, my car was there.
This video picks up just as I was cleared to KGSO. You'll hear some chatter with my passengers, recognition that the alternator failed, and interaction with Potomac Consolidate TRACON (PCT) as I return to Leesburg. Conserving as much battery as possible, I elected a no-flaps landing so the landing approach is lower and faster than normal.
The issue turned out to be a broken lug for the field wire connected to the alternator. I was able to effect a temporary repair, file a new flight plan, and depart ~2 hours behind original schedule (blissfully event free).