Smoke in the Cockpit

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Photo taken minutes before the smoke event

Smoke in the Cockpit

If there is one thing that strikes fear in the hearts of any pilot, it’s an inflight fire. Talk to pilots and ask what risk do they worry about the most and they will almost universally tell you, fire and structural failure (some say mid-air, but that is the cause of a structural failure).

So it was that I was cruising along at 10,500’ in my trusty C-172N in completely smooth, day, VFR conditions, that smoke started billowing from below the instrument panel.


Instinct takes over almost immediately. I chopped the power and started what was a classic emergency decent maneuver. I was over the desert border between New Mexico and Arizona and there is not much out there. This predates the days of GPS so there was no ‘nearest’ button I could push. Regrettably I wasn’t on flight following so I had no one to ask (in hind sight I could have broadcast on 121.5, but I had already turned off the battery hoping to isolate the source of the fire).

I circled as I made my rapid decent and saw a road that looked like a suitable airport. As I got closer, I saw a windsock and indeed it was a dirt strip used by crop dusters. By this time the smoke was subsiding so having the master switch off had eliminated the short.

I even tempted fate by turning on the master switch long enough to put out the flaps since the runway was not very long.

A successful landing ensued and I considered myself glad to be on the ground.

The airplane belonged to the flight school I was attending so they dispatched  to the scene with maintenance. In the end the problem was traced to an internal short in the #1 Com radio.

This is all that remains of the C-172RG

We never know when something is going to disrupt an otherwise mundane flight, and although this issue ended up being pretty minor, it could have been much worse.  There is a recent story of an instructor and student making an off airport landing in a burning 172RG down near Tulsa and their quick response saved their lives. We don’t want to panic, but certainly there are emergencies that require a sense of urgency.


We’d love to here about your experiences or thoughts below. 



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