Fuel – a necessary commodity – Really!

June 19, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

Tired of hearing about fuel mismanagement accidents? So am I. We’re losing, on average, several aircraft every week as pilots rediscover that adequate fuel and/or proper configuration of the fuel system is not optional.

I won’t bore you with the usual rants about stupidity, forgetfulness, or wishful thinking. So what’s left to discuss? First, BRIEFLY describe a bout you had with the fuel mismanagement virus and how close to the edge you got.

My story: Years ago, returning from the upper peninsula of Michigan to Wichita Kansas in a Cessna Turbo 210, as front seat passenger, I was party to some bad decision making. My PIC boss, flight planned a non stop IFR trip with the required 45 minute reserve – barely. The weather was good VFR but the prevailing southwesterly breeze took its toll on ground speed. The DME told the tale for over an hour as we fell below the minimum required speed to make the reserve numbers work. Several stops were passed up on the way into Cessna Field in Wichita and we landed with an estimated 20 minutes of fuel remaining. The fuel gauges were abundantly clear that this was dumb. Neither one of us hung around for the fuel truck driver to tell us how close we’d come to explaining to Cessna’s chief pilot why we’d forced landed a brand new Centurion next to the little house on the prairie.

Secondly, how should Air Safety Foundation raise the awareness for all pilots on this most basic and yet one of the most prevalent accident or incident causes? The folks who are running out of gas don’t come to ASF seminars or visit our website so to make a dent, we need to go well beyond the “choir.”

Here are some resources that might be helpful but we need distribution beyond the routine channels.

Two fuel Pilot Safety Announcements were developed last fall and we’ve been showing them at seminars – click on the links to see and to forward.

Click here to view our Fuel Awareness safety advisor.

ASF is promoting the “Golden Hour” of reserve. Had that advice been followed in 2006, we’d have 86 more aircraft that would have arrived uneventfully with no injuries or fatalities to pilots and passengers.

Fuel may be expensive but it’s dirt cheap compared to wrecking airplanes. Your thoughts are welcomed.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • John F. Durbin, Esq

    In 17 years of fying my Bonanza I have never had a fuel mismanagement incident.

    I have a stop watch attached to the panel and start it on engine start. I change tanks manually left and right every half hour and I am on the ground when the stop watch shows three hours after engine start. At 75 my bladder will not go any further.

    I then top the tanks for the next flight. It works evry time.

  • Anonomus

    I’ve been flying for 12 years, 9 of them in my own experimental , that I built. After assembling the wing tanks and fiilling them up I discovered the floats were bad. Since the tanks don’t leak and a reliable fuel level sender for this application had yet to be discovered; I decided to leave the tanks alone, wire the gauge to read full at all times… And rely on the brain God gave me to determine fuel burn rates. To comply with the spirit of the FAA Reg. a fuel pressure warning light tells me when a tank is empty. That gives me about 5 seconds to switch tanks and turn on the boost pump. Does it work, yep I tested it once on purpose. I have never ran a tank dry because I don’t rely on a gauge or wishful thinking. I rely on a known fuel burn rate then deliberately add a minimum of 10% to it for a safety. Passengers think I get great mileage since the gauge always reads full.
    If this is printed please leave any indications of my name out for obvious reasons.

  • Marty Sacks

    I fly Civil Air Patrol’s airplanes. We have to abide by the rule that you must land with 60 minutes of fuel in the tanks. We also live with prospect of losing our privilege to fly CAP aircraft if we have afuel exhaustion accident. It’s a sobering reminder about fuel management everytime I fly.

    BTW – Bruce, I enjoyed your Top 5 presentation at the fly in. Thanks!

  • Al Heard

    While approaching Knoxville, Tn with a friend on board, I was running on aux tanks in my bonanza. Having an IO520 conversion, it pumps around 12 gallons an hour back to the left main. I told my passenger to watch my timer and not let me go over 40 minutes. We were being vectored for approaching aircraft and my friend and myself got distracted. We approached the numbers on the runway and I was sinking a little faster than I wanted to. I started to add a little power, nothing happened, I added a little more throttle with no results. At this time I realized the engine had quit. I then consentrated on landing the plane since it was too late to change tanks. I then changed tanks at the end of my roll out and re-started the engine. My comment to my passenger was, I sure gets quite doesn’t it. This shows how easily it is to get distracted and miss manage fuel.

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Good early responses to the “almost did it” but I’d like everyone to think about the outreach to those who might be about to. Standing by for your thoughts.

  • http://www.samdodge.com Sam Dodge

    I was flying a 1931 Bird biplane coast to coast and was weathered out of the sky for about three weeks and now I had my first break. I was having a great run for the day and was anxious to get another long flight in. I stopped for fuel and a took the courtesy car to town for a burger. When I got back they handed me my bill for fuel and I paid it. During preflight I thought I could skip the ‘dip the tank’ part of the preflight as I had just paid for a full tank. I shook my head “no” and said to myself, “Just stick to the same routine every time. OK, get out the stick and dip the tank”. I had less than a quarter tank. They had fueled another plane and inadvertently gave me the bill. I never got off the ground but often think of where I might have made my off airport landing had I flown.

  • Larry Oshins

    As you said, those who have this kind of accident are the ones you won’t find coming to the seminars, reading these websites, &c. You have to start there anyways simply because you’re already there, and we in The Choir can start changing this aspect of our Pilot Culture. Meanwhile, if the Non-Choir won’t come to the mountain then you’ve got to bring the mountain to them. Find where pilots naturally congregate and go there. The place to start is the fuel pump or truck – it’s the one place every pilot has to go at some point. That strategy equates to using the FBO’s as a contact point, since they tend to manage the fuel delivery. Work with the FBO’s to post signs on – or paint signs on – fuel pumps and trucks, and send those great videos to them to distribute and/or play on their in-house video loop if they have one. FBO’s can also be used as a resource to gather addresses of flying clubs and airport restaurants. A presence (standee? Flyer on table or in menu?) at the ‘$100-burger’ destinations could be very effective. In that regard, you already have a resource: the people sending in their info for the ‘ePilot Calendar – upcoming flying destinations’ are telling you where pilots will be gathering. They’ve already contacted you; use their information to contact them back and have them become a distribution point.

  • Harry Goodyear

    Sorry folks, I’m in the choir and it happened to me. On a flight from Little Rock, AR, to Benton, KS, on a News Year’s Eve I decided to make a stop in Independence, KS, to visit the bathroom and top off my tanks. All of my preflight preparation said the fuel stop wasn’t necessary and as I checked our progress enroute we were hitting all of our time check points exactly. By the way, I’m the pilot that checks everything, rechecks it again and then usually isn’t satisfied until I’ve had at least a third look at things. Anyway, we landed in Independence and found things shut down for the evening. I made my way to the FBO and used “the code” to enter and use the restroom. With my mind and bladder clear, I then went about the search for fuel. At that time there was no self-service pump and only a number to call “for after hours fuel service”. I called the number, got the automated response to enter my phone number and someone would call me back. After 3 attempts over about an hour period – no response. As another plane taxied for takeoff at the field I radioed him and asked about fuel availability. He suggested I fly to Bartlesville, OK – just a short hop away. We take off and I try to raise someone on the unicom in Bartlesville. Several repeated calls were never answered so I decided that the facility was probably shut down for the holiday. In the distance I could see the Tulsa International beacon and decided there would surely be service available there so I wasn’t going to waste time with a stop in Bartlesville and turned to the South. As we flew toward the airport I noticed we weren’t making much headway so I started calculating fuel consumption in my mind. All the numbers checked out and we flew on – by the way the fuel indicators agreed with me, but we all know not to trust the guages! As we were on short final the engine stopped. I quickly executed every procedure I had been taught, read about or made up. The engine started again for a few seconds and then died. My perfect approach, with “two whites and two reds” started to deteriorate. “One white, three reds” – “Four reds” – then nothing. The landing light then illuminated the tops of the trees that would eventually grab us from the sky and send us to the ground. My wife and I were bruised but nothing broken – can’t say the same for the plane. The Cessna was the one I had done my private training in 11 years earlier – it gave me my first ride and I gave it it’s last. During my visit with the FAA after the incident the comment was made “according to my calculations you should have made it”, according to mine too. But the plane in the tree tells a different tale. I can only assume fuel consumption was higher on this trip than on my way to Little Rock (which I had calculated prior to the trip and confirmed after fueling) – and the increased headwind on the Bartlesville-Tulsa leg was more than I allowed for. The irony of it all – if I had taken off from Independence and flown to Benton we would have had plenty of fuel. But once I decided to top off the tanks – that became a singular goal before continuing. I always held the opinion that only unprepared, unsafe pilots could ever run out of fuel!! Now I know that I can quickly become that person and work hard on every flight to make sure I’m not!

  • Walt Roberts

    Years ago in a rental Cessna C172 with extended range tanks, I planned a trip from Michigan to Massachusetts. A second pilot was along for the ride. In doing the preflight planning, I had assured myself that the aircraft would make the trip non-stop with at least an hour and a half worth of fuel on board when we touched down. This particular FBO’s habit was to not top aircraft with extended range tanks unless the flight required it. I asked my highly experienced copilot to top off and preflight the airplane while I updated weather and filed a flight plan. We departed for the east and had a comfortable, routine flight. Over eastern NY, I noticed that the fuel guages were indicating lower than I had expected at that point en route. I asked my copilot if he had, indeed, topped the tanks before departure. His answer: They were down ‘just a leetle beet.” Just how much was a leetle beet?? About an inch below the tabs. Ahh, I said as I radioed center for diversion to a nearby alternate. We did have sufficient fuel to make our originally planned destination with about 45 minutes reserve, but I was not reassured. Now, no matter how experienced my copilot is doing a preflight, I personally verify fluids (gas, oil, adequate soft drinks and empty used soft drink collection devices) for the flight.

  • George Wilhelmsen

    Fuel management events are unacceptable – period. It comes down to personal accountability and responsibilty.

    I once read a newspaper article about a pilot who landed on a highway, 10 miles short of his destination. The quote that floored me was this: “I credit my skills as a pilot for allowing me to make a safe landing.” If the pilot had any skills, he wouldn’t have had to land on a highway!

    People need to understand that the only time you have too much fuel on board is when you are on fire. The Golden Hour is a good start, but I’m concerned it won’t change anything as long as people keep trying to stretch to the end, for fear of losing a few minutes on the ground.

    Bruce – it comes down to us, the people who fly the airplanes. If the plane had a brain, it would put itself down on the ground and get fuel. Unfortunately, the plane doesn’t have a brain. The pilot does. As pilots, we could choose today to not have any more fuel mismanagement events, and if we all decided to stick to a minimum of 1 hour reserves, and monitor our fuel status, travel times, and deviations from expected times, as well as performing good self-checks of all fuel system configuration changes, we could fix this RIGHT NOW.

    So, to those who are reading: take this challenge. Stop fuel mismanagement events. Stop them TODAY. Change your habits. Develop proper procedures. Self Check – Use the STAR principle: STOP – what are you going to do – THINK – What is the action you are going to take (e.g, what switch are you going to turn?) – ACT – Take the action – REVIEW – Is what you stopped, thought about and acted on done properly?

    We can do this. We can do this TODAY. We’re smart enough. We’re good enough. Too many planes have been lost, and pilot’s lives along with them. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! FIX THIS NOW!

  • Tom Straughan

    For many years, I have owned Piper airplanes with multiple tanks including my current aircraft, a PA-39 with 6 tanks and 6 fuel switch positions. The only near fuel mismanagement problem that I experienced was in 1965. One week after I received my private pilot certificate in Piper Cherokee 140’s and 180’s, I departed Clinton, Iowa for Shreveport, Louisiana with my wife and three chidren in a rented Piper cherokee 235. I had been instructed in the operation of the fuel tank switching lever and in the importance of keeping the aircraft laterally balanced by alternating the drawdown of tanks on each side. During the flight, I had switched tanks numerous times without incident, however, when we were only 45 miles from our destination at 8,500 MSL, the engine quit shortly after I switched tanks. I knew that we had plenty of fuel on board, so I switched back to the previous tank and got the engine running again. Next, I carefully moved the lever back to a position near to where I placed it just before engine stoppage. This allowed me to feel the detent which I must have missed by a fraction of an inch the first time and the engine continued to run using fuel from the new tank. The problem was that the exact position of the correct lever position was not identified; instead, you had to guess its position by centering the lever under the words “LEFT TIP”, “LEFT MAIN”, RIGHT MAIN”, “RIGHT TIP”.

    I never reported this incident to the FAA, but someone must have had a similar problem, because in a few months, an AD was issued that required the making of the exact position of the fuel tank switching lever detent position on all Piper Cherokee 235 and Piper Cherokee Six aircraft.

    I submit this not only for its general interest, but to suggest that some fuel mismanagement accidents may not be due to pilot error. The important thing is to remember to fly the airplane and not panic! It gets scary when there is no engine sound and I had to remain outwardly calm because this was my first flight with my wife and children and I looked forward to a future full of aviation adventures with my family. This incident must not have frightened them too much because I have been blessed with over 40 years of flying with my wife and children until they left the nest.

  • Jerry Kaidor

    My fuel management is very simple. I have an account with the fuel guy on the field. Whenever I come back from flying, he fills the tanks. With two destinations to which I occasionally aerocommute – one 2 hours round trip, the other 3 – I am never without at least 2 hours of reserve.

    I consider that the money is spent when I do the flying, NOT when the FBO fills the tanks.
    Want to spend less money? Fly less.

    I *have* started making more judicious use of the “money lever” aka throttle. Found that it actually _is_ cheaper to fly slower, up to a point.

    – Jerry Kaidor

  • Art Robb

    “Fuel management events are unacceptable” – yes, I can’t disagree with that.
    “Fuel management is very simple” – yes, everyone knows that.

    But the question is, “How do we (the pilot community) make sure we do it all the time?” In reading Mr. Landsberg’s, and others, stories it seems to me that most “fuel events” come from us just not thinking our situation out, both before and during a flight. So, it might be worthwhile to help make us pilots always THINK about it.

    Consider promoting, “call in and fly, don’t avoid it and die,” or some such dire catch phrase. It means always get a Wx briefing and file a flight plan. There are so many good reasons to do that for EVERY flight, yes, even in the pattern. One, appropriate to this issue, is that every flight plan requires us to state length of flight and amount of fuel (in time), which should make us THINK before blasting off.

    Another might be to include those numbers (updated estimates), in initial call-ups to ATC, FSS or Flight Watch while in flight. I know… more ‘needless’ stuff to do, and these centers don’t need the info anyway. But again, if it became common practice, it would make us all check on, and THINK about, our current fuel & flight status, and it would also offer a certain embarrassment factor when we realize our flight/fuel plan isn’t going as we thought.

  • Willard R. (Russ) Walker

    I had a couple of thousand hours in 235 Pawnees. They burned just a little under 16 gal/hr when working. With a 36 gallon tank this gives a comfortable hour and a half or 2 hours if you push it a little.
    I had gone to work for this new outfit and the Pawnee that I was flying was noticably a better performer than normal. On the morning in question my loader had not topped off the Avgas tank on the truck that we were loading from. On my first refuel there was 7 gallon and that was it. I needed to go to Home Base to refuel. However the airplane was already loaded and a fully loaded landing did not appeal to me. So I calculated tachtime times 16 subtracted from 36 plus 7 divided by 16 and … oh yeah, I can put this load out and then go for fuel.
    Well the load went on all right but while ferrying to the base I saw that the sorry excuse for a fuel gage on a Pawnee was not bobbing around like it normally did.
    I rocked the airplane from side to side to get a little slosh going, no movement. I pitched up and down, no movement. DANG! I’ve never seen one that low before.
    OK if it quits here I can land in that Wheat Field (harvested) under my left wing and … as I am looking ahead for the next possible landing site the engine popped a couple of times and quit. A right 270 and I am down in the stubble.
    The Boss (unhappy) brings out 5 gallon of gas, I ferry on to the Base, top off and go back to work .
    It appears that this airplane had a “closet” 260 under the cowl and for a fact it was burning about 18 gallons per hour.
    If you are getting more performance than you would expect, you are burning more fuel than you would expect. Bet on it!
    Determine the fuel burn per hour for the airplane that your flying. Do not use the number from another airplane because it is the same type.
    Don’t put a name on this.

  • Chris Rimer

    Couple of thoughts for outreach, but first a concern I’m not sure has been sufficiently addressed.

    Bruce’s link to the Fuel Awareness safety advisor was a good read. It spends a good deal of time focused on proper leaning technique & its importance. And describes the student pilot who landed short because she didn’t remember to switch tanks even with her hand going past the fuel selector twice, without moving it.

    I personally see the issues taking form around a few simple ideas, and of course there are more: 1) “you can’t trust a fuel gauge”; 2) leaning procedures are crucial and yet probably not well-understood by most low-time pilots and 3) total fuel on board requires that a pilot have observered the actual amount put onboard, and ALSO have a working knowledge of fuel burn rate. I will argue anecdotally that most low-time pilots do not have this sense well-coordinated.

    This all speaks to the complexity of the fuel problem. And while I’m not an expert, I would observe that it doesn’t seem to have “one solution”. We could go after manufacturers & the FAA to revisean outdated rule that allows fuel gauges to be remain inaccruate, so we ignore what should be a good source of secondary/affirming information. But that’s not the problem. We could blame instructors for not focusing enough attention on fuel management in primary training. But that’s not the problem. We could blame high-time pilots for failing to adequately plan their reserves, or for being distracted by other aspects of complex flight, or for having too much confidence to press on beyond the “golden hour” because their experience exempts them. This also is not the problem.

    The problem seems to be a combination of these & other factors that conspire to get a pilot, and I would argue that this is going to be hard to address because ALL of us, when looking at this issue, will probably feel on some internal level “I may fall victim to one of these issues, but not all, and not all on the same flight”.

    Perhaps the outreach is as one of the other posters pointed out — go to the various fly-in events this year/next,with something like the airport awareness campaign AOPA launched post-9/11. That was quickly effective at reaching pilots nationally, and quickly. Who hasn’t seen the yellow triangle for airport safety/security awareness? What about something like “think about fuel” — the logo a simple barrell of oil or something catchy, that pilots will see & immediately recognize the campaign & safety literature that goes with it. For high-time folks this could be enough of a mental reminder before flight that could make the difference. For low-time pilots, it’s could be the basis of a real program that would help give them fuel management insight they may have missed during primary training.

    And just a final comment — why can’t we get industry & the FAA to update the regs about fuel gauges? Seems to me all my cars since the 80s have 100% accurate fuel level indication at ALL phases of operation. Why shouldn’t a $500K Cirrus? Seems as though some AOPA investigation here is warranted, because an accurate fuel indication would provide exceptional SECONDARY validation of the primary fuel calculation effort that all us pilots should be going through. Always nice to have a 2nd source validate our computation. Thanks!

  • Carl LaVon

    This past Saturday, June 14th, I took delivery of a 2003 Sky Ranger S-ELSA. On the checkout with the delivery pilot who is also a CFI, we ran through most of what one would expect to. After returning from the practice area we decided to do some touch and go landings to get me acclimated to the aircraft. On the first landing everything went fairly well, the plane landed more or less like a C150, but as we took back off I noticed that we weren’t getting the airspeed or the altitude that we should have. The speed kept decaying and the CFI, acting as PIC and who had “demonstrated” the first landing and take off for me, kept pitching the nose up further but the plane just wasn’t climbing and the speed dropoff was rapidly approaching stall in that nose-high configuration. I became increasingly alarmed and kept commenting that if the plane didn’t start climbing soon, we’d have to look for a place to land or some other corrective measure (the plane also has a BRS Recovery System). Finally, the instructor said, “Try turning on the electric fuel pump.” I flipped the switch and within ten seconds or so the engine picked right up and away we went. Why was the pump off to begin with you might ask? Because during level flight, this plane gravity feeds fuel to the engine and once we reached the altitude we used for manuvering the instructor pilot had instructed me to turn the pump off. But the electric fuel pump must always be engaged during takeoff and landing portions of any flight. I only discovered this last bit of information from the aircraft’s owner after telling him my concern over the plane’s near failure during climb out. The CFI that was checking me out allegedly held 30 hours of flight time in this aircraft. I say ‘allegedly’ because it seemed that he was guessing at the corrective measures to get the plane to perform as it should and the fact that he continued to pull more and more nose up attitude trying to gain altitude while the airspeed continued to bleed off toward what could have been a stall or flat spin episode. For my part I should have read the manuals that accompanied the plane more thoroughly before we departed and not allowed myself to be rushed. But I have to say that even after reading all the material and manuals provided, there was no section that addressed the electric fuel pump’s usage or the need for it to be on during all takeoff and landing situations. Perhaps that was something I should have intuitively known, but didn’t.

  • Ben Coombs

    Maybe it should be part of the BFR…

  • http://blog.aopa.org Peter Bierle

    My wife and I have owned a 1979 Cessna 180 since 1996. We’ve never had a fuel emergency but always worry about it. I don’t understand why we pilots can’t install a idiot low fuel light in the cockpit. My Toyota Tundra has one that comes on with about 80 miles left in the tank. Or better better yet good fuel gages, I would spend several thousands on working fuel gages but don’t have that option that I know of. I spent close to $1000 on new senders and overhauled gages with nothing better than they sometimes work. We now spent even more on the EFI fuel flow and engine analyzer. This is the best solution so far but still requires pilot input and is hard to keep track of when never topping off the tanks, like when you need to increase useful load with reduced fuel.
    The working fuel gages or idiot light wouldn’t change anything for fuel planning but a safety net of a accurate cross check for fuel reserves.
    What would a light that came on for 1 hours fuel left be worth?
    I blame this on the FAA. How can anybody get an approval (STC) with the cost of getting the approval so high.
    Also AOPA was instrumental in having a back up electric artificial horizon built which I would buy if I flew IFR, is there a way to get a simple idiot light built with an STC to custom install inside wing tanks or quality fuel gages?

  • Josh Johnson

    I think the real issue with fuel exhaustion is the “MACHO” attitude. The FAA-approved antidote is “wait a minute, it could happen to me.” We all think that it couldn’t happen to us, and the guys that run out of fuel are just stupid (rest assured they felt that way before the accident too!) I am not trying to make excuses for them, but we really need to think about how they arrived in the situation of running out of fuel. I’m sure it didn’t go “I am going to run out of fuel and land in a field today” I’ve never had a fuel exhaustion incident, but I came real close once (put 22 gallons in a C150 w/22.5 usable – ATC was pushing me to reroute around a MOA when I finally declared minimum fuel and landed) – it scared me to death and I make it a point to land with at least an hour reserve. I’ve since flown many airplanes all around the country from light singles to medium twins, and it has served me well. I learned not to let ATC push me around, and to not cut fuel loads so close.

  • Michael Harrison

    I unfortunately get to tell you about two scares in my own aircraft of 28 years, a Piper Cherokee.

    As a newbie pilot and newbie proud owner of this slightly used airplane, I couldn’t wait to use it and show my friends. A gorgeous set of days and a reason to fly to Atlanta from the mid-Atlantic area, I loaded friends aboard and went to Charlie Brown Airport. Due to weight, I only filled to the “tabs”. On the way home, I got very engrossed in conversation and my flight plan route was a simple duplicate of my trip down. As I pulled up to the FBO at my halfway fuel stop, my airplane shut itself down as I hit the brakes a little too hard following the lineman’s command. It was then and only then that I realized that I had flown 2.5 hours on what was supposed to be 17 gallons in a plane burning 7 gph. Yeah, the math doesn’t work for me either! The other tank had 17 gallons waiting to go to work.

    I was young, dumb and new to the airplane and that kind of error never happened again.

    But, a modern problem DID occur and it was all pilot and pride. The modern problem was gasoline prices and I was flying southbound on the west side of NY City airspace. I had an airport in mind where the computer had told me of wonderful avgas prices and getting there meant $1.50/gal savings over the next closest airport. Needing almost 40 gallons, that was going to be a great dinner I could taste on my fuel savings. Getting near the bottoms of both gauges the winds aloft had to be just a tad stronger than I had planned for. My destination suddenly seemed very far away as I pushed harder and harder to get there. My story ends in that I did get there – but not before a heart pounding episode of running one tank completely dry (my gas gauges are not as perfect as I thought they were). To the FAA, the resulting fuel bill told me that I put 45.5 gallons of fuel in my 50 gallon tanks. At 7 gph, I just had a 30 minute reserve but I was pretty angry about my 5 gallon error. Obviously, my tanks weren’t as full as I thought they were and the winds weren’t as kind as I hoped they would be. My dinner did not taste that good and although the doc says I have a strong ticker, I really don’t need to ever do that again! The moral of the story in this day and age is this: Yes, that $7.50/gal price tag looks outrageous but sooner or later, you need fuel. I got caught trying to be too cute with a plane I thought I knew like the back of my hand. Yet at my age, I know that we can “preach” to the choir all day long. Still, many folks will have to learn the hard way.

    PS, I am sorry but I have used my pen name. My current students and clients never need to know that I was that stupid in airplanes.

  • Jim McSherry

    Ben Coombs’ suggestion to make fuel calculations a required part of the Flight Review is a good idea; I have recently begun to include in the ground portion a form on which the pilot will writes down his own personal minimums (whether VFR or IFR); the form goes home with the pilot – it is not fr my use. But the act of writing it down and seeing it in writing makes an impression. We might do as well to have a fuel load calculation and “time in tanks” scenarios within the Flight Review.
    This still misses a whole bunch of pilots who don’t keep p with recurrent training and don’t go to seminars – – they just fly into the DC ADIZ from time to time, or run the tanks dry. But Bruce is absolutely right: some form of outreach will be needed to stop us from making so many off-field landings (or close calls).
    It will take forever to get the notion into FAR’s. But perhaps AOPA could get Jeppesen to include a suggestion in the on-line FIRC course? That would reach a lot of CFIs rather quickly. Naturally it can’t be a _requirement_; but such a good suggestion wold be well received by responsible instructors.

  • Heinz Spielvogel

    “how can this happen” I hear from non-flying people about fuel mis management. It is the hardest thing to explain. Why do perfectly good pilots run out of fuel.
    In my flying job we have standards and FARs and company policies that cannot/willnot get us into a position where we become fuel critical, on my own flying, there is more lattitude.
    I fly a ’48 Stinson that holds 50 gals. On the advice of an old gent I met many years ago I will fly on one tank to near empty, note the time then fly half that time on the other tank, “fly the clock not the distance”. That has been my personal limit for many years and don’t plan to change it.
    Heinz Spielvogel ATP

  • Doug Milam

    Human factors specialists look at both the human performance and the design of the machine. The human performance and training has been thoroughly discussed. I submit that at this point we are limited by system design. Many of our aircraft were built in an era when it was not understood that failure modes such as this could be minimized by system design. For instance, the fuel capacity. I formerly flew an aircraft with 4 hours of fuel. Proper leaning and judgement to stay within the typical 3 hour legs was critical. I now fly an aircraft that burns 11 gal/hr and has 64 gallon tanks. I never seem to land with less than 25 gallons in the tank. Much safer.
    It is difficult to comprehend that in 2008 we often don’t know how much fuel is on board. Accurate guages and fuel flow/totalizers should be standard equipment on new aircraft and cost effective upgrades to the existing fleet.
    Training and increased awareness can possibly decrease fuel exhaustion accidents somewhat, however, really big gains await improved design and equipment across the existing fleet.

  • http://rancornwildman.com Alan Jenner

    The closest I ever came to fuel exhaustion was on the top of the Interstate 10 Bridge crossing the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, LA. I coasted into a service station at the bottom of the bridge in Port Allen, LA and the looks that I got from the people around the pumps were an embarrassment…. But not as embarassing if I were in a rental from Louisiana Aircraft over at BTR.

  • http://www.newconthenet.com Dave N.

    Most very careful pilots have higher fuel minimums than the FAA advises….like 1 hr reserve for VFR and 1.5 hr IFR. They know they’ll never come up short if they adhere to these. Same thing applies to landing minimums….mine own are much more conservative then the FAA allows.

  • joebagodoughnutz

    I’ve been flying for almost 22 years. I’m a former Regional Airline Pilot and a current CFII and pilot for the US Government. I’ve never had a serious incident with fuel mismanagement, however, I did have an incident when I was a newly minted private pilot flying a Cherokee 140.

    On the 140 you’re instructed to switch tanks when you’ve flown on one for an hour. I decided to be a test pilot and not do as the manufacturer instructs. When I pulled the power back for landing, there was an uncommanded roll due to the fuel imbalance in the wings. I added power to get more authority and made and uneventful power on landing.

    I believe that incident made me smart about managing fuel. As the saying goes, good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement.

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  • Alan Malone


  • http://None. Robert J. “Bob” McCormick.

    Bruce, I have not (yet) read all these comments; but, I read your brochure regarding fuel. One comment stood out about the Cessna 150 (also applies to many other similar aircraft) and about it’s fuel system being “easy”. I demonstrate to my students how easy it is to get tripped up by reliance on the 30 minute reserve. “ONE HOUR absolute minimum fuel” is my philosophy. The demonstration I perform is fueling the aircraft with the fuel valve in the on position. We have often shown that after fueling one tank, then moving the ladder, hose etc. to the other tank, sufficient time has elapsed to lose some fuel from the first tank, to the second tank. This amount of fuel transfer is often on the order of 3 gallons. 3 gallons is very close to the total reserve fuel. When departing on a cross country flight in these aircraft, always have the fuel valve in the off position when fueling AND check both tanks again after fueling. Of course, remember to place the fuel valve back in the on position. I have lost fuel from a 152 when parking it on an incline with the left wing low. Fuel will transfer and be lost from the overflow. The clock is king, most of the time; but, knowledge of the fuel system is essential as well as being timewise. Keep up the good work.

  • Ron Thompson

    One hour feels fine in a Mooney M-20c. Maybe 1+15 in smoke, dirt, or weather. Thanks, Guys.

  • Nick Miller

    Years ago when I was a somewhat new AH-iS Cobra pilot-in-command (PIC), flying on a Saturday moring for our local guard unit, we started out on a decent single aircraft three leg cross country training flight. My front seater co-pilot, also a newly minted PIC (both old timer Vietnam veteran Huey pilots) and I settled in for a nice X-C looking forward to a senic lunch, then return fuel stop and then back home. Weather reports indicated southerly winds aiding our Northerly progress (names & places left out to protect the guilty), however my E-6B calculations seemed to indicate lower than anticipated ground speed. At 120 kts indicated, we had perhaps 85-95 kts ground speed. I called my frount seater’s attention to the situation, transfered controls and he got the same results. We recomputed fuel burn called FS for updated WX, reported the winds (they were surprised, but agreed the Northerly winds should help with our Southerly return flight for fuel, so we pushed on (first mistake as we seriously discussed turning toward from our no-fuel available first destination for the second fuel available destination at that point, but lunch was on our minds so we pushed on). Arrived at our destination, flew standard pattern etc., and had an enjoyable lunch. Flew standard departure (By the way my front seater and I had individually checked WX by land line with the same results…)

    Then life got interesting. On the second Southerly return for fuel leg, the winds were now from the South (as originally forcast)!. Seems the occluded frontal passage was making mush of forcast winds, but we were now committed and pressed on, E-6Bs indicating the same dismal ground speeds along the way. It began to look grim as soon the dreaded 20 minute fuel warning light blinked than settled down into a steady bright amber glow (last time was ’69 in a hot LZ picking up a shot down Loach crew-had five minutes indicated at the nearest LZ refueling blivet!). Finally at 12 minutes into the 20 minute light-who knows how accurate that might be), I asked my also sweating front seater, to find us a airfield, now! We landed at a local airstrip, checked the fuel pump area, no way we could risk hovering into that congested pump without blowing over several C-150s and fuell shack & flight ops building, so we called ahead to our destination (only 50 miles away!), confessed and called for help. About an hour later we got a 50 gallon drum of Jet-A delevered, made a quick departure, hit the fuel stop destination, topped off, and headed back to the ranch to our waiting and irrate flight operations guys that I also had confessed to earlier. Lesson: it can happen to you! Always, always make the coservative decision and stick to it. Don’t let circumstances lead you into the corner. It can hurt! By the way, I avoided hearing my master aviator wings being wripped from my flight suit – barely! More importantly, we avoided wrecking a beautiful machine-barely!

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