Aviation Safety Corner

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

Now, let's discuss, Learning the Lessons. The good news is that, regardless of which of the Three M's of Fuel Starvation is being addressed, many of the solutions to the problems are relatively simple to understand, but not necessarily easy to overcome. Each involves a certain amount of learning, experimentation and diligence. But the resulting rewards are simple.

For starters, look to the Airline and Professional pilots who seldom, if ever, RUN OUT OF FUEL. There are, after all, many similarities in that they fly planes, just like us as General Aviation Pilots. Their planes use fuel and quit flying when the fuel ceases to be available.

But the similarities are overshadowed by the questions General Aviation Pilots generally don't ask, but that are routine for the pros.

For instance, how often do General Aviation Pilots fly to the legal limit of fuel consumption? How often is a flight made beyond the area wherein weather may have a real impact on the completion of that flight? Or how often do they fly IFR in the system and how often are they confronted with ATC altering the flight plan to the degree that fuel consumption is significantly affected? How accurately do they know the consumption figures for their planes in a variety of different conditions? Maybe most importantly, to how many of the above-noted questions do they know the exact answers, not just approximations?

How many of you, ever driven your new car, run the gas gauge empty, and then fill the tank to see how much fuel was really left? Hopefully you don't do this same thing in an Airplane. I don't do that with a new airplane I fly, so usually I don't know how accurate the gauges are. I can accurately calculate the fuel consumption, but I am among the many whom have to rent airplanes and get a different one almost every time we fly.

If the truth were known, the FBO or other owner probably has a more accurate and complete record of fueling and time flown for those rentals than many owner/pilot operators have. We have only to ask to see the records and then calculate the per hour fuel consumption for that plane, based upon a history that probably includes at least the last 100 or 200 hours of operation. It likely runs the gamut of weather conditions and pilots who lean aggressively or not at all. But it's a reasonable place to start.

Airline and charter operators are required to keep routine records of engine operations throughout the course of each flight. Where General Aviation Pilots to do the same, most would not only notice irregularities in fuel consumption and engine performance at the earliest possible stages, but each would also probably have a significantly accurate indication of their airplane's performance in each phase of flight for a wide variety of conditions.

How does spark plug wear impact fuel consumption? How much fuel should the plane burn on a flight at 6,000 feet with an outside temperature of 5 degrees Celsius and a climb at 25 inches of manifold pressure and 2500 RPM to that altitude and a cruise descent at 160 knots? Most pilots don't know the answers, but they should. Taking a few minutes to record engine indications periodically and accurately record fuel used at the end of the flight is time well spent.

Now, let's discuss, Knowing When to Quit. Understanding the system also impacts how well pilots manage fuel. Particularly for IFR pilots, the system will undoubtedly have major impacts. Steve Berardo, a Gold Seal Flight Instructor with more hours instructing than many pilots have flying, looks at the whole issue of fuel management in a special way.

"If you really think about it, General Aviation Pilots flying IFR, on average, have about a 50 percent chance of completing a flight as planned." Berardo says, "Either because of weather, traffic or ATC procedures, actual fuel consumption can often vary greatly from planned consumption. I don't think that typical General Aviation Pilots are always prepared for the consequences."

For that reason, Berardo teaches a procedure that, though simple in concept, begins to address the problem of running out of fuel. He calls it using WOG, which means (Wheels on Ground) time. Before each flight, Berardo has his students calculate an accurate estimate of fuel burn and determine how long they can fly and still have a legal reserve. At engine start he then has them calculate and record their WOG Time--or Wheels on Ground Time--with that time written down and in plain sight in the cockpit.

Berardo's students know that when WOG time draws near it is time to be looking for a place to land, regardless of whether it is the intended destination. If, from the beginning of a flight we accept that there is about half a chance we will arrive at our original destination on time and in the manner planned, it becomes much easier to use a WOG time to go somewhere else.

For you instructors, teaching instrument students, I could advise calculating the distance to the destination airport as planned and then add 30 miles for vectoring from ATC. Seldom, if ever, does a pilot on an instrument flight get to fly a straight line from one airport to the next. Carrying enough fuel to handle the typical diversion isn't a luxury, it is a necessity.

In conclusion, remember, 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, "GASPING FOR GAS." Many Fuel Exhaustion Accidents Share Three Common Mistakes. I'll finish up with, "Everybody Has One." In Part IV of IV. See you at this Month's Chapter Meeting! Bring A Friend Along!

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

Larry G. Harmon


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