My father and I were returning from an interesting day of flying. We flew into small grass strips with mountainous obstacle approaches. We had a lot of fun until, on downwind to our homebase, my father asked: “What’s that burning smell? Is it from the outside or inside?”
In this instant I realized there was smoke coming out of the air-vent on top of the panel. The radio displayed alternating “SLF TST – 120.10 – SLF TST” and it smelled of burning plastic. I turned towards the runway and advised the tower by saying: “H-MC, we have smoke in the cabin, will land immediately.” The tower responded: “Roger, make a short approach runway 07.” Followed by my call: “I turn off electricity now, H-MC” I switched off the master switch, opened the window and turned final. I was glad to see the smoke disappear. Since I didn’t declare an emergency I switched on the radio for a few seconds to receive the landing clearance. The landing felt relieving – and as we turned off the runway we saw sirens and fire firefighters starting to move in a fire truck. The smell in the cockpit was gone and I advised tower that everything seemed being okay and we would taxi to the hangar.
The tower and the firefighters reacted impressively. It was a textbook performance. After cleaning the airplane the airport manager came towards us. He asked a few questions about the incident and the aeroplane’s condition. No further action would be required so we went up to the tower to thank the controller. He, a pilot himself, had an electrical fire in the past. When he heard me transmitting I had smoke in the cockpit he reacted as if I had declared a mayday. I am always impressed by the calm and efficient work during emergencies by controllers and crews. Now I am happy to know that I can handle a situation like this and it was nothing to be afraid of. I remained focused on flying the airplane and solving the problem. This flight also taught me not to be complacent – it can happen to me and I should be prepared. But let’s get over with this incident.
The rest of the day was just as interesting! The weather was foggy in the morning. In the early afternoon the fog disappeared. The visibility was about 5km (3 miles) and the airport switched from special VFR to normal operations. I navigated per pilotage and followed highways and valleys. Coming closer to Gruyère, our destination, the weather improved. A blue-yellow Stearman biplane crossed our way before we approached the circuit, it looked fabulous! We entered downwind and flew around a hill for the landing on the grass runway. After a coke we proceeded eastbound to Buttwil, a 1800ft grass strip with tall trees at the threshold. It was big fun to fly so close over the forest and getting the airplane on the ground as early as possible. We met very friendly people there and after a short chat we took off again heading homewards.