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Pilot Decision Making


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making – Fuel Challenges and Best Practices

Fuel management is important and lack of attention to details can lead to bad results. Let’s look at a couple of fuel related accidents at PAO.

6/23/2011 – A Cessna 172SP entered the traffic pattern at PAO. While turning base leg to final in the pattern, the pilot noticed the aircraft was slightly low and the pilot advanced the throttle forward but the engine did not respond. The NTSB accident report discusses the pilot’s attempt to troubleshoot the problem and unsuccessful attempts to restart the engine. The pilot landed short of the runway in the marsh area to the south of the PAO airport. There was the smell of fuel at the accident site. During the accident investigation, the engine was started and appeared to run normally. The NTSB reason for the loss of engine power was not determined.

What could have gone wrong? Several possibilities are:

1)  Fuel selector not in the Both position resulting in temporary fuel starvation during the turn to final

2)  Fuel selector turned to an empty tank.

3)  Fuel selector in the off or in-between position

4)  Vapor lock in the fuel lines (less likely).

Possibilities 1, 2, and 3 would have been observed, (position of fuel selector) during the investigation and would be pilot attention-to-details related. What is your guess?

8/23/2011 – A Beech 24 had completed about an hour of touch-and-go landings at PAO when the student pilot (instructor in right seat) switched the fuel selector from the right to left fuel tank. Ten minutes later on takeoff and 300 feet above the ground, the engine quit and they landed on a dirt road just north of the PAO airport.  During the aircraft salvage operation, 12 gallons of fuel was removed from the right tank, and 2 “cups” from the left tank. Hmmm…

Below are some Fuel Best Practices - Fuel Awareness

1)     Know how much fuel you have.

a.     Think of fuel not in gallons or pounds, but in hours and minutes.

b.     Add one or two gallons per hour to your computed fuel consumption estimate.

c.     Know for certain how much usable fuel is on board.

2)     Know your aircraft’s fuel system.

3)     Know what’s in your fuel tanks (i.e. grade, contamination free)

4)     Update your fuel status regularly (account for winds and possible weather deviations).

5)     Always land with adequate reserve fuel (1 hour minimum).