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Fri, Oct 20, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (10.20.06): Fuel Mismanagement

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 10.20.06

We've been reviewing the FAA's Top 10 list of pilot-error accident causes. Today's item is also the cause of the majority of all aircraft engine failures-fuel mismanagement.

Fuel management mishaps come in two varieties:

  1. Fuel starvation: fuel is available somewhere on the airplane, but the flow is interrupted and the engine quits from lack of fuel.
  2. Fuel exhaustion: the engine simply runs until there is no fuel left on board.

Auxiliaries on landing (From the NTSB):

The airplane [was] on a downwind leg to land…. When it was abeam the north end of the runway, it began to descend below 500 feet agl…then made a descending right turn…. Subsequently…the right wing impact[ed] the ground…. The fuel selector was found in the "auxiliary" fuel tanks position…. No defects or anomalies were found with the engine that could have precluded normal engine operation. The fuel pump was removed and did not contain any fuel. The fuel screen was free of debris. A review of the before landing checklist in the airplane flight manual revealed that prior to landing, the fuel selector must be positioned to the "MAIN TANK MORE NEARLY FULL."

She "hoped she'd make it" (From the NTSB)

The pilot and passenger flew…to the destination airport approximately one hour away. Prior to departing from the destination airport, the pilot performed several touch-and-go landings at night for currency…and then the pilot and passenger departed for the return flight. After flying for about an hour, the pilot declared an emergency, and was radar vectored to the closest airport. She advised air traffic control that the airplane was "out of fuel," and that she "hope[d] to make it to the runway." The airplane impacted a utility pole and a building approximately 1/4 mile from the end of the runway. Examination of the airplane and engine revealed no mechanical anomalies. Four gallons of fuel were drained from the right fuel tank, and the left tank was empty. The pilot refueled the airplane on the day prior to the accident, at an airport 50 miles from her home airport. According to the…Owner's Manual, the average fuel burn rate was between 8 gallons per hour (gph) and 10 gph. Probable cause: The pilot's inadequate preflight planning, which resulted in fuel exhaustion and subsequent loss of engine power.

Fuel management is a four-step process:
  1. Preflight planning to assure you have adequate fuel plus a comfortable (not just legal) reserve.
  2. Preflight verification that you actually have the fuel load you think you have.
  3. In-flight monitoring to ensure you're getting the fuel flow you expect, and that your ground speed matches or exceeds your expectations-in other words, repeatedly confirming what you planned for will actually come true.
  4. Fuel tank selection, as appropriate to the aircraft, to get maximum fuel out of each tank without causing a power interruption, and leaving yourself plenty of fuel in a tank approved for use (and selected) during approach and landing.

Deviate as soon as you detect you will not arrive at destination without a comfortable fuel reserve.

Aero-tip of the day: Don't skimp on fuel planning and in-flight management, and avoid this very common cause of lightplane mishaps.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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