TWinter

GA Accidents-Fuel

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As I watch the news lately I'm seeing increased coverage of GA accidents. The majority seem to have a common problem..RUNNING OUT OF GAS.. This morning we were watching morning news and drinking coffee. TWO stories they covered within an hour were about two small planes that went down. One crashes on a roof-top and another that made a emergency landing on a highway, both the result of running out of gas. What is the problem? No common sense. Are we getting that lazy that we need to try to stretch our limits. Some of these guys are just foolish and making us, the GA look like idiots that can't calculate fuel. We are supposed to be able to do all kinds of calculations to become a PP, but we can't manage our fuel?

 

-Tom

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Very well put.  I don't get it either.  I'm one of the guys that has never ever run a tank dry (not trying to start an argument here, just saying I don't push limits in the Mooney or my previous AA1B)

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What's the trend?

Inaccurate gauges?               Pushing the limits or personal fuel minimums?               Forgetting / spacing out / workload on other items other than fuel?

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14 minutes ago, Bob said:

What's the trend?

Inaccurate gauges?               Pushing the limits or personal fuel minimums?               Forgetting / spacing out / workload on other items other than fuel?

I would bet the second..Often people will ask me about a upcoming or past trip tip. Always a standard question, "How many fuel stops will you have to make?, probably just one right?, you've got a Mooney". I always try to plan to stop well in advance..If I think it will be close and that one tank should make it, I know with two stops I will make it.

I not trying to come off sounding like these accidents were from bad pilots, I'm just saying that I'm really frustrated and hate to see people's lives turned upside down just because they think they should be able to make it.

It's difficult to convince people how safe GA is when it seems like every other GA accident is fuel starvation.

 

-Tom

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In my Mooney, it is real simple.  64 gallons of gas.   5 to 5 1/2 hrs. at 10 gallons or less of gas.  period.  If I have a tail wind of a 100 mph I went a long ways, If I have a head wind of a 100 mph I did not go very far.     The clock and fuel flow determine when to land, not the fuel gauges.

Ron

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My personal belief is it is a combination of arrogance and laziness. Some pilots push the envelope and others are too lazy to check. We have a glider operation on my home field and I heard over the weekend that a tow pilot for the club ran the Pawnee out of fuel while towing a student on his second solo. Fortunately they we high enough to release cleanly and the tow pilot dead stick the Pawnee back to the field.

I know that there are at least 5 different pilots who do the towing for the club. When I guessed who I thought it was, I had it right. Why is that?

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When I was on my long cross country working on my PPL, the school policy was to fuel at each stop. At the pump upon completion of the first leg I told the attendant; I have plenty of fuel but they want us to fuel anyway. His response; "The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire"

On the final leg I became a bit disoriented after getting a bit too happy and playing around. I can remember being glad I had plenty of fuel as I was trying to get my bearings. 

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I consider my stock fuel gauges to be INOP.  But I know over the last 200 hours that the fuel flow on my GEM is pretty accurate. It's actually a little off on the conservative side.  If the GEM says I burned 20 gal, I actually burned about 18.5.  On longer trips I make note of (write down) fuel totals in each tank as I change tanks. My longest flight to date was 5.0 hours. The GEM and my calculations were showing 45 gal out of 52 used and from which tanks. I pulled up to the pump and was able to take on 40.1 gal.  So as long as I keep good track of where the fuel is, I'm pretty confident in how far I can go.  But it takes good record keeping.

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For any flight requiring >10 gallons, I make a table on my knee board that allows me to log starting fuel quantity in each tank, which tank I am running presently, the elapsed flight time when tank gets switched, and new remaining fuel in each tank when switching.   I hope this habit has made my fuel planning idiot proof when used with accurate fuel flow / totalizer data, thus freeing me up to reign in other dimensions of my stupidity.  It was much less idiot proof before I had fuel flow, and installing it was worth every penny.  

I have done some planned 3.5 hr legs on my 54.8 gallon capacity, but hopefully will never try anything getting close to 4 hrs, which equates to approx. 40 gallons.  I'm fried after 3.5 hrs anyway, so need need to go further without clearing the mind and stretching the legs.  

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The one time I was very low on fuel, my dummy light did not come on at 3 gal, as it always does, and the left tank ran dry.  I was in Northern Michigan with solid trees as the only emergency landing spot.  Stresses were above average and at 300 agl a cayote was on the runway, had to climb a couple hundred and grab the intersecting runway.  It felt very wrong climbing out at 25gph, even for only 30 seconds.  I filled up and confirmed that I had 5 gallons left.   I'll pass on pushing past 1/2 hr of fuel ever again!

I currently flight plan at 12gph and burn 11gph with climb and descend.  My minimum is 10 gal plus one bonus per hour from difference between 12 planned and 11 actual.  I also have my JPI calibrated down to 1/2gal error every 200 gallons, so I have an accurate figure of fuel in the tanks.

My other standard practice is, always leave with full fuel, unless weight is an issue.  If something causes high stresses during the flight, just remind yourself "fuel buys time" and gives you the time needed to find a safe solution to the problem.

 

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1 hour ago, TWinter said:

As I watch the news lately I'm seeing increased coverage of GA accidents. The majority seem to have a common problem..RUNNING OUT OF GAS.. This morning we were watching morning news and drinking coffee. TWO stories they covered within an hour were about two small planes that went down. One crashes on a roof-top and another that made a emergency landing on a highway, both the result of running out of gas. What is the problem? No common sense. Are we getting that lazy that we need to try to stretch our limits. Some of these guys are just foolish and making us, the GA like idiots. We are supposed to be able to do all kinds of calculations to become a PP, but we can't manage our fuel?

 

-Tom

AOPA's flight planner has some really great new tools that should help prevent this.  

Here's an example of a cross country from Colorado Springs to Wichita.  You can see from the pictures that about an hour from the destination, there's only an hour's fuel left.  Kinda hard to miss the yellow and red segments of the route.

https://www.aopa.org/flightplanner/

 

Fuel planning.png

  • Fuel Warning.png
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18 minutes ago, GeorgePerry said:

AOPA's flight planner has some really great new tools that should help prevent this.  

Here's an example of a cross country from Colorado Springs to Wichita.  You can see from the pictures that about an hour from the destination, there's only an hour's fuel left.  Kinda hard to miss the yellow and red segments of the route.

https://www.aopa.org/flightplanner/

 

Fuel planning.png

  • Fuel Warning.png

Great resource..Now if we can get pilots to utilize it.. Very nice feature.

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1 hour ago, Bob said:

What's the trend?

Inaccurate gauges?               Pushing the limits or personal fuel minimums?               Forgetting / spacing out / workload on other items other than fuel?

All of the above PLUS!

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Chris you forgot ignorance, yes some folks are dumb

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It is because we are being trained by newbie instructors who barely know anything about flying themselves. 300 hour instructors are far too common. I did not realize till I've been flying my Mooney with a full engine analyzer that you only get book fuel flow numbers when you properly lean to book values. A lot of beginners in trainer airplanes don't even bother leaning the mixture at all and could easily be burning 1.5x book values. They don't have fuel flow, totalizer, or any live info, just a timer and book values. A recipe for running out of fuel.

 

And then there are folks who are just careless and never bothered to check how much they had before they left. :blink:

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I'm going to guess it is not often the case that the offending pilot took off with full tanks and ran out of fuel on a single long leg that he tried to stretch. More likely the pilot took off with partial fuel, perhaps for a relatively short flight or several flights, e.g., Chris' tow plane or a shared or rental plane.

I nearly ran out of gas one time, over 45 years ago. It made such an impression on me that I very much doubt I've ever landed with less than 10 gallons on board since that day I put 50.2 in a 52 usable system.

I fueled up 4 times at KFMN this past weekend. We were doing 1 hour +/- formation flying sorties @ 2000', full rich, prop @ max rpm, throttle in constant motion from full to idle. No opportunity to look at the panel and certainly no way to change tanks. I wanted to start each flight on a full tank!

 

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I know that there are at least 5 different pilots who do the towing for the club. When I guessed who I thought it was, I had it right. Why is that?

I wasn't anywhere near Delaware that day.  one flight in the Cessna and I stretched the fuel and the feeling was the worst ever and one I will never forget.  Fuel management is not hard if you pay attention.  Remember its easy to push your fuel in a slow Cessna since the lightest headwind will keep you flying a lot longer than planned. but its all the same you have to know how long you can fly.  For me its fuel every 3 hours or less on a long X country I hold 54 and combined burn is 9gph with a long climb to plus 9000.  None of us is perfect well some perhaps but certainly not me.

 

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I posted in another thread that to a very small extent I understand where the fuel issues can come from.  For starters, there's a lot to do to transition a complex aircraft into the cruise regimen, forget to do something and your fuel calculations all go to hell.

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Do these people run out of gas in their cars as frequently as they do in their airplanes? If not, they should try it as an alternative. I'm quite convinced it's a lot safer....Just sayin' :blink:

They studied for and (presumably) got a pilots license. This isn't the hardest thing to do but definitely more difficult than a drivers license. So my questions is: WTF? Over......

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7 hours ago, N803RM said:

In my Mooney, it is real simple.  64 gallons of gas.   5 to 5 1/2 hrs. at 10 gallons or less of gas.  period.  If I have a tail wind of a 100 mph I went a long ways, If I have a head wind of a 100 mph I did not go very far.     The clock and fuel flow determine when to land, not the fuel gauges.

Ron

You could be setting yourself up for an accident.  Suppose that you have a fuel leak that does not register on the totalizer, would you disregard the the quantity gauge in favour of the totalizer?  In my mind both should be working and used, the totalizer for accuracy and the gauges for the trend.

Clarence

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7 hours ago, N803RM said:

In my Mooney, it is real simple.  64 gallons of gas.   5 to 5 1/2 hrs. at 10 gallons or less of gas.  period.  If I have a tail wind of a 100 mph I went a long ways, If I have a head wind of a 100 mph I did not go very far.     The clock and fuel flow determine when to land, not the fuel gauges.

Ron

I think it's really easy full, less so if you leave the plane with half-ish tanks like us, even less so if the wing gauges may not be accurate.To me 50 gallons total is 2.5 hours best case. That's how we keep the tanks, at 50.

I wish we had a totalizer, with such high burn in climb it doesn't take much of an error to be off a significant amount.

Edited by peevee

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Blaming the pilot is a common theme  - from a physiological approach this is called fundamental attribution error.  In order to protect our position as pilots who never run out of fuel, we say and state that we don't do the things that these accident pilots did,  in our mind to run out of fuel.   Case in point, In a lot of cases fuel incidents are recorded as power loss, as there is a huge stigmata associated with running out of fuel in a light aircraft, such is the level of pilot criticism for this issue.  "The stupidest mistake" 

The trouble with this very common human attribute to deal with these issues,  is that it cripples our ability to rationally handle the issue or underlying issues to establish a root cause.   Because  we have successfully separated ourselves from - "Those Kind of Pilots,  we won't do what we think those pilots must have done"  and we will tell other pilots not to do the same thing.   When you review training materials brought forward by pilots  or pilot organizations - it shows somebody looking into a tank - or somebody using a stick - know your fuel levels,  plan your flight.   The Jeppesen example is priceless - if the plan is really high tech - that'll be the solution. 

As pilots know the trouble with plans is that,  somedays the point of planning is to provide a mental step in the right direction,  if the plan has to change.

The real statistic is that pilots of all types from Student to Professional - run out of fuel in GA aircraft.   Pilots who are light on hours flown are statistically more probable for these events , like all other aviation incidents.   Every class of pilot is susceptible to fuel exhaustion and starvation.  I hear confessions daily because that is the business we are in.  If you think you are immune or above this common aviation affliction, I have an personal story example of your doppleganger.  

Inadvertently put in Full fuel into the totalizer - Check.  Misjudge the surface reflection of the fuel - Check.  Name a human thing you can do - and it has been done related to aircraft fuel level.   And I have heard the stories.  Pilots are really good at telling stories.   

If any of the above human misjudgments happen,  the Jeppesen flight plan above combined with your fuel totalizer will just lead you to a starvation event - You now have two high tech gizmos saying you have enough fuel, therefore I must be having an engine issue. Given these two corresponding pieces of information in the cockpit, how long will you have to really access the proper information that leads you to a solvable and safe conclusion. 

So what I know is that GA is especially prone to fuel starvation / exhaustion events for aircraft below 6,000 lbs 

As aircraft become more sophisticated - fuel starvation/exhaustion drops precipitously.

If a large aircraft is dispatched with bad fuel indication with professional pilots it may suffer a fuel starvation event (Most transport aircraft incidents have had bad fuel indication and are using MEL methods) 

Professional pilots when they fly GA aircraft suffer fuel starvation/exhaustion.

All other transportation modes that have fuel level indication - have as part of their Failure Modes and Effects Analysis that the loss of fuel indication leads to exhaustion.   

GA aircraft are not universally known to have quality fuel indication 

Boats are not known to have quality fuel level indication - similar issues 

In Boats and Light GA it is common to trust fuel totalizers to determine time of use.

In GA Aircraft the fuel incident accident statistic has remained relatively stable despite these advances or the acceptance of totalizers. 

One day,  and hopefully soon, I want to see an  AOPA, EAA, FAA, NTSB issue a pilot warning that states emphatically to fix or repair your aircraft fuel quantity instrumentation so that it works.  Working fuel level shows the fuel level from full to empty hitting the numbered or cardinal positions when the fuel in the tank is at that level.

The common idea that is presented by all of these in all of their publications on the subject, is to give you an out - they typically publish the very erroneous "They only have to be accurate at zero"   so go ahead fly with bad fuel indication and check your fuel level ahead of your flight - trust us, if you do that  - you'll be safe.  

In Australia they determined 100% of all fuel incident aircraft have bad fuel indication.  In Australia you have to calibrate your fuel quantity instrumentation (like your pitot static system) only every 4 years.   In Canada they are a little off the 100% number but well above 75% of all fuel incident aircraft have bad fuel level indication.  In the US, checking the fuel indication system on fuel incident/accident aircraft happens less than 50% of the time.   We don't really know if it hurts or helps here in the USA.  Luckily we built most of the aircraft and they are the same in Australia and Canada.  If they were looking - the FAA and NTSB might find corroborating evidence. 

YES - this is my business and YES I have a bias - but if you have fuel quantity indication in your aircraft, as you are required to do per 91.205.  It would benefit you greatly if this system reliably and accurately provided you with sufficient warning that something human happened to your plan or aircraft,  and that you should make appropriate and timely  accommodations to find a suitable and preferable place to land.  _ The above is opinion _ 

Note:   Part 23.1337 (Light AIrcraft) and Part 25.1337 (transport)  the regulations that cover fuel quantity indication are worded identically - Nobody believes a 747 should only be accurate at "0" usable fuel.  The Alphabets should know better   CAR 3 is similar but allowed a wide range of indication type. 

Edited by fuellevel

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1 hour ago, fuellevel said:

Blaming the pilot is a common theme  - from a physiological approach this is called fundamental attribution error.  In order to protect our position as pilots who never run out of fuel, we say and state that we don't do the things that these accident pilots did,  in our mind to run out of fuel.   Case in point, In a lot of cases fuel incidents are recorded as power loss, as there is a huge stigmata associated with running out of fuel in a light aircraft, such is the level of pilot criticism for this issue.  "The stupidest mistake" 

The trouble with this very common human attribute to deal with these issues,  is that it cripples our ability to rationally handle the issue or underlying issues to establish a root cause.   Because  we have successfully separated ourselves from - "Those Kind of Pilots,  we won't do what we think those pilots must have done"  and we will tell other pilots not to do the same thing.   When you review training materials brought forward by pilots  or pilot organizations - it shows somebody looking into a tank - or somebody using a stick - know your fuel levels,  plan your flight.   The Jeppesen example is priceless - if the plan is really high tech - that'll be the solution. 

As pilots know the trouble with plans is that,  somedays the point of planning is to provide a mental step in the right direction,  if the plan has to change.

The real statistic is that pilots of all types from Student to Professional - run out of fuel in GA aircraft.   Pilots who are light on hours flown are statistically more probable for these events , like all other aviation incidents.   Every class of pilot is susceptible to fuel exhaustion and starvation.  I hear confessions daily because that is the business we are in.  If you think you are immune or above this common aviation affliction, I have an personal story example of your doppleganger.  

Inadvertently put in Full fuel into the totalizer - Check.  Misjudge the surface reflection of the fuel - Check.  Name a human thing you can do - and it has been done related to aircraft fuel level.   And I have heard the stories.  Pilots are good at telling stories.   

If any of the above human misjudgments happen,  the Jeppesen flight plan above combined with your fuel totalizer will just lead you to a starvation event - You now have two high tech gizmos saying you have enough fuel - I must be having an engine issue. Given these two corresponding pieces of information in the cockpit, how long now do you have to really access the proper information to lead you to a solvable and safe conclusion. 

So what I know is that GA is especially prone to fuel starvation / exhaustion events for aircraft below 6,000 lbs 

As aircraft become more sophisticated - fuel starvation/exhaustion drops precipitously.

If a large aircraft is dispatched with bad fuel indication with professional pilots it may suffer a fuel starvation event (Most transport aircraft incidents have had bad fuel indication and are using MEL methods) 

Professional pilots when they fly GA aircraft suffer fuel starvation/exhaustion.

All other transportation modes that have fuel level indication - have as part of their Failure Modes and Effects Analysis that the loss of fuel indication leads to exhaustion.   

GA aircraft are not universally known to have quality fuel indication 

Boats are not known to have quality fuel level indication - similar issues 

In Boats and Light GA it is common to trust fuel totalizers to determine time of use.

In GA Aircraft the fuel incident accident statistic has remained relatively stable despite these advances or the acceptance of totalizers. 

One day,  and hopefully soon, I want to see an  AOPA, EAA, FAA, NTSB issue a pilot warning that states emphatically to fix or repair your aircraft fuel quantity instrumentation so that it works.  Working fuel level shows the fuel level from full to empty hitting the numbered or cardinal positions when the fuel in the tank is at that level.

The common idea that is presented by all of these in all of their publications on the subject, is to give you an out - they typically publish the very erroneous "They only have to be accurate at zero"   so go ahead fly with bad fuel indication and check your fuel level ahead of your flight - trust us, if you do that  - you'll be safe.  

In Australia they determined 100% of all fuel incident aircraft have bad fuel indication.  In Australia you have to calibrate your fuel quantity instrumentation (like your pitot static system) only every 4 years.   In Canada they are a little off the 100% number but well above 75% of all fuel incident aircraft have bad fuel level indication.  In the US, checking the fuel indication system on fuel incident/accident aircraft happens less than 50% of the time.   We don't really know if it hurts or helps here in the USA.  Luckily we built most of the aircraft and they are the same in Australia and Canada.  If they were looking - the FAA and NTSB might find corroborating evidence. 

YES - this is my business and YES I have a bias - but if you have fuel quantity indication in your aircraft, as you are required to do per 91.205.  It would benefit you greatly if this system reliably and accurately provided you with sufficient warning that something human happened to your plan or aircraft,  and that you should make appropriate and timely  accommodations to find a suitable and preferable place to land.  _ The above is opinion _ 

Note:   Part 23.1337 (Light AIrcraft) and Part 25.1337 (transport)  the regulations that cover fuel quantity indication are worded identically - Nobody believes a 747 should only be accurate at "0" usable fuel.  The Alphabets should know better   CAR 3 is similar but allowed a wide range of indication type. 

So to summarize the message behind lengthy commentary while trying my best not to frame anything out of context:

Pilots are not to blame for running out of fuel.  To say so is fundamental attribution error, which is crippling our rational ability to define the real cause of fuel exhaustion. What really prevents fuel exhaustion is not individual pilot responsibility and training but the more sophisticated fuel management systems present in non-GA aircraft. But fuel totalizers won't help prevent fuel starvation. What we really all should insist on instead are highly accurate, calibrated fuel gauges to offset this unpreventable category of human error. 

Ignoring the (incompletely) disclosed bias in the statement, does anybody find this argument compelling on its face?  I don't, other than the part about more accurate fuel gauges being generally useful, which seems self evident.  Even when they are wildly inaccurate, they can provide some warning of a fuel leak if their trend is suddenly abnormal relative to their typical behavior against the totalizer (as Clarence notes above).

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1 hour ago, fuellevel said:

Professional pilots when they fly GA aircraft suffer fuel starvation/exhaustion.

Please provide evidence to support your claim that professional pilots suffer fuel starvation accidents in GA aircraft with anywhere near the incidence of accidents caused by non-professional pilots.  I call BS.

2 minutes ago, DXB said:

Pilots are not to blame for running out of fuel.  To say so is fundamental attribution error, which is crippling our rational ability to define the real cause of fuel exhaustion. What really prevents fuel exhaustion is not individual pilot responsibility and training but the more sophisticated fuel management systems present in non-GA aircraft. But fuel totalizers won't help prevent fuel starvation. What we really all should insist on instead are highly accurate, calibrated fuel gauges to offset this unpreventable category of human error. 

Ignoring the (incompletely) disclosed bias in the statement, does anybody find this argument compelling on its face?  I don't, other than the part about more accurate fuel gauges being generally useful, which seems self evident.  

No.  Sounds like the opening/closing argument of a personal injury attorney: "that 1947 Cessna 120 wouldn't have crashed in 2008 had Cessna installed a highly accurate, calibrated fuel gauge to offset this unpreventable category of human error."

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