Aviation Safety Corner

GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I would like to conclude my discussion on "Gasping For Gas." Many fuel exhaustion accidents share three common mistakes. This is Part IV of IV.

Now, Let's Discuss, "EVERYBODY HAS ONE." Virtually every pilot who runs out of fuel understands the lunacy of doing so and offers an excuse. The excuses offer testimony to the fact that the problem wasn't really un-expected. The narratives of the accident and incident reports are littered with comments like, "I noticed the gauges were showing more fuel burn than was normal." "I over flew two airports in an attempt to make it to my destination." "I knew the gauge wasn't working." "Fuel stains indicated that leaking had been occurring for some time." The list goes on and on.

Without trying to delve into the specific reasons pilots allow such situations to develop, there is a solution that would have helped in most cases. Robert Mudge, a retired Delta Captain and founder of Cockpit Management Resources, a company that has done much to bring cock-pit resource management to General Aviation, has developed a concept called the Challenge and Response Operational Environment (CROE).

The most basic tenet of CROE is a two-step process: 1) React conservatively and 2) Validate. In its simplest form, CROE means that anytime a pilot suspects a problem is developing that may threaten the SAFETY OF A FLIGHT, he must take the most conservative action avail-able until the situation is resolved. If the fuel gauges seem to be indicating greater usage than was anticipated, the conservative response is to land at the first practical opportunity and examine the situation.

If there is water in the fuel strainer, for example, don't just drain what seems to be "ENOUGH" out of the tanks. Drain the tanks until there is no water left, even if it means draining all the fuel out of the tanks. Fuel is cheaper compared with an off-airport landing.

In one instance, investigators on the scene of a fuel starvation accident determined there were six gallons of water in the plane's fuel tanks. In another, a pilot took off with known water in the tanks. The subsequent accident investigation revealed the liquid in the engine fuel system was 100 percent water.

If there is a known mechanical problem, don't assume the manufacturer has built in tolerances that allow the engine to continue operating. Get it fixed. Reports of known problems with fuel caps, tank vents, fuel gauges, and leaking drains repeatedly appear in fuel starvation accidents. The expense may seem great, but the ultimate cost of doing nothing could be unimaginable.

As is often the case, the pilot of the Cessna 150 who survived his fuel starvation ordeal had more than just a meeting affecting his judgment. The purchase of his air-plane was not without compromise. It was a major expense, and the C-150 was certified to use auto fuel to offset some of that expense. The pilot knew that if he stopped for fuel instead of making it to his home airport, the cost of refueling would be significantly more than if could get to his cans of auto gas back home. If he had made it he would have been right, but of course he didn't.

In what was one of the most tragic accidents involving running out of fuel, a pilot took his wife, son and two friends out for a sightseeing ride in his Cessna Cardinal. Despite known inaccurate fuel gauges, they took off with the aircraft log indicating it had flown 3.4 hours since the last refueling. After 1.2 hours of enjoying the mountainous scenery, the engine quit. The two friends were seriously injured. The husband, wife and son died.

While running out of fuel was no doubt an unexpected event, it shouldn't have been. With the proper emphasis on learning as much as possible about fuel systems and fuel usage, there should be few surprises. In a very real sense, misinformation, mismanagement, and mechanical failure are often not separate categories of fuel starvation accidents, but rather a continuum in which one often leads to the other, which ultimately leads to a premature end to an otherwise well thought-out flight.

The only effective defense is to rethink how much we know about the system that fuels our plane, how accurately we can predict fuel consumption in a host of different situations, and quickly we can become alerted to unusual or unfamiliar indications that warn of impending trouble. The methods and information to eliminate almost all of the fuel starvation accidents are available. It starts at the beginning of a pilot's training, but the learning process should go on indefinitely.

Running out of fuel may be the cause listed on the accident report, but lack of adequate knowledge is the real reason behind the problem.


Don't miss next month's issue when I'll discuss a new topic about proficiency, "FIRST THINGS FIRST; How To Make Your Flying Safer by Applying A Few Simple Rules." If execution doesn't seem like the simplest part of flying to you, then you're doing something wrong. This will be a Four Part Series.

See you at this month's chapter meeting! Bring a friend along! SAFE FLYING!

Larry G. Harmon


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