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
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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:
- Fuel starvation: fuel is available somewhere on the airplane,
but the flow is interrupted and the engine quits from lack of
- 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
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:
Preflight planning to
assure you have adequate fuel plus a comfortable (not just legal)
- Preflight verification that you actually have the fuel load you
think you have.
- 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.
- 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.