I Can’t Believe I Did That #9

Editor’s Note: This is the latest article in our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: editor@airfactsjournal.com

Running out of Fuel Near a Nuclear Power Plant

By Farhad Kashani

Last February, on a weekend, I decided to take a flight from Tehran to Shiraz, in the south of Iran. I asked my instructor pilot and friend to accompany me. I have no problem with the flying part, but wanted him to be there to manage all the communication with several centers. The airport we took off from is called Azadi airport which is 80 miles from Tehran and is dedicated to privately-owned LSA airplanes.

Farhad Kashani

The author stands by his airplane following the forced landing.

We were flying a 2011 CTLS. We were carrying 120 liters of premium fuel in the 130 liter tanks. The distance was roughly 400 miles.

My friend has a CP license and I have a SPL. The flight was VFR at 11,500 MSL. Iran is a mountainous country and most of it sits over 3000 feet above MSL. And we had to cross some mountains at 9000 therefore going over 10,000 was a must. We were using a GPS and a backup.

The flight to Shiraz (actually a small airport north of Shiraz called Zarghan) was OK and took 3:50 minutes probably with the help of some tailwind. On the way back the next day, we were told that the premium fuel was not available in that area due to sanctions. They recommended that we fill the gas tanks with regular fuel. Since the airplane manual was clearly mentioning the premium fuel, I decided to use the regular fuel as minimum as possible. We did the calculations and took enough fuel for five hours. The burn rate is roughly 15 liter per hour.

We encountered a heavy headwind up to 30 knots and 4:30 hours later we were still one hour away from the Azadi Airport.

We could not find any non-military airports in the area and roads were mostly two lane roads with traffic. We decided to continue until we ran out of fuel and then either pull the airplane parachute or find a place to land. We decided that I would continue the flying while he constantly looked for a suitable place to land. As soon as the engine died, the plan was to hand over the controls to him who had over 1500 hours of flight time and I would put my hand on the parachute lever ready to pull if he asked me to do so.

Four hours and 50 minutes after we had started, the engine died. We followed our agreed upon procedure. He had found a dirt road before running out of fuel which was a mile away from some buildings. He aimed at the road and used the soft field landing procedures.

All was going well, but we encountered a bump on the road. The front strut broke and propeller broke as a result. The broken strut accumulated dirt in front of it until the airplane could not move forward anymore. It started flipping but luckily returned back to earth after the tail went up 40 degrees and came to a standstill. I thanked my friend for doing such a great job and told him any landing you can walk away from is a good one. The cost of repair was $5000.

Like all other accidents, more than one thing went wrong for us to end up in that situation:

  1. No premium fuel available.
  2. Being optimistic and thinking that since we came in 3:50 we should be able to go back in 5 hours max.
  3. Zarghan airport’s takeoff procedure required us to go up spirally to 9000 feet so that Shiraz radar can see us. This took 10 minutes.
  4. Fuel drainage was done by a technician who threw away almost one liter of good fuel.
  5. We could not take the direct flight due to the proximity to some military bases and installations. We could have shaved off 15 minutes from the flight.

We figured we only needed 20 more engine minutes to make it to the airport but people get killed for being short on fuel for a few seconds. Two weeks before the crash, I was reading, probably in Air Facts, about someone who ran out of fuel and I thought that is the most stupid way of dying in a plane! I now know that stupid things can happen to smart people, too.

Farhad Kashani is originally from Iran and most of his 175 hours of flying since 1972 have been in Iran even though he has been a US citizen since 1978.

39 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I’d live to read more about GA flying in Iran, if Air Facts is interested in publishing it, or if you have a blog.

  2. Ray Taylor says:

    I agree that running out of fuel is stupid, I have told friends in the past that if I ever crash I hope it is because I am out of fuel. Even though it would be extremely embarrassing,it has been my observation over the years that crashes cause by this situation are much less likely to result in fatalities.

    • Dennis says:

      … The bad news is you just ran out of fuel in mountainous terrain and might crash.
      The good news is that you probably won’t burn to death so your body will be more identifiable.

  3. mike bucknall says:

    what can i say except that never ever assume you are lucky and have learned a lesson that will never be forgotten.

  4. For those of you who wanted to know more about the GA in Iran. The government only allows two seat LSA’s to be purchased and kept privately. There are over 100 such aircrafts in Iran and there are dedicated airports for them too.
    Iran has a good climate for pilots and weather for the most part is predictable. However being on a high plateu means you rarely find any land less than 3000 feet above MSL anywhere except next to the Persian Gulf on the south and Caspian Sea on the north. One thing you do not need to worry about when flying in Iran is crashing into another plane. Imagine 20 airplanes flying at your altitude in the entire country which is the size of Texas.
    In the past two years 3 LSA fatal crashes were reported that two of them that I was involved in the investigation were because pilots flew VFR inside clouds and IFR conditions. the third one happened yesterday that the plane went down vertical into the ground. Reason inknown. There are at least 50 female pilots some also are instructor pilots. I witnessed one wedding flight where the bride was the instructor pilot and took the groom for a flight and the sermon was performed in the air by radio by a mulla.
    if there are more questions please let me know.

    • Thanks, Farhad. We need to hear more — OECD-country citizens know very little about Iran, except for scary warnings from US security pundits.

    • Hi everyone,

      I am really delighted to hear that Iran has civilian pilots and General Aviation exist in that country. I was born in Tehran and have been flying in the USA as a commercial pilot and instructor during the last 25 years. Although I agree that running out of fuel is not really smart, but it can happen even to the best of us. I am glad that no one was hurt.
      Farhad, if you are ever in Michigan, look me up I love to give you a ride on my C310 . Best of luck to you in your flying and be safe .

    • Patrick says:

      Hello Farhad,

      I would like to know if it is possible to make VFR fuel stops in you country? I Have an Van’s RV-4 and I would need AVGAS 100LL.

      Thanks in advance for your reply.

      Best regards,

      Patrick Geneva
      Switzerland

      • Farhad Kashani says:

        There was a shortage of 100LL eight months ago due to sanctions. I do not know the situation right now. In general that kind of fuel was available in all major airports.

        Best Regards,
        Farhad Kashani

  5. I also agree with Ray that the best crash is out of fuel crash for two reasons. Light weight will make the landing easier and no fire is a blessing.

  6. Pete Nelson says:

    I would love to read more about GA and Iran. I know as an American with no ME ties that it would be near impossible for me to fly in Iran, but as a high altitude flyer (my home base is 5000ft AGL) there is much we can learn from each other. Please share more stories and details about the regulatory framework required to fly in Persian airspace if you can. Thank you for your story, and I can relate because I starved by aircraft as a student once. Luckily I was in the pattern at my local airport and I landed without incident.

  7. GA in Iran:
    All 4 seaters are owned by flight schools or government.
    I have a friend who has flown to all possible 61 airports that are open to Light Sport category. I even have his picture on my site http://www.farhadkashani.com except that the site is in Persian language except for few articles that are in English including one about flight 800 and its relation to its sister that belonged to the Iranian air force that crashed in a similar manner in 1976 in Spain. The site covers cars, planes, motorcycles, and traveling.
    More than 51% of college graduates are women. The only astronaut and first race car driver were women. So unlike most moslem countries women play an active role and that includes flying. I know a father and daughter who fly cross country every weekend and daughter is the one who does most of flying.
    You have mountains equivalent to Rockies covering north and west side of the country so sometimes you need to be at 13000 to cross the mountains safely and definitely the mountain flying skills come handy.
    After the US drone was downed there small plane pilots need to be more careful with reporting their position not to be mistaken with drones.

    • Daryl says:

      Ok, I think I have this in the right space now…I COULD NOT HAVE SAID IT BETTER! So much for pre-flight planning. M20c Ranger Pilot

  8. Carl says:

    Or, and this is just a thought, how about planning the entire flight, on both ends, know where you can get gas, and know you have 1 hour of reserve (it’s called a personal minimum, something the FAA and AOPA stress,) and if absoluty necessary, look for a place to land well before you run out of gas, so you can do a fly by and/or a go around if you see a “bump” in the road, or if there is traffic on the road.

    Four of the five lessons learned were blamed on someone or something else. . And the fifth was blamed on optimism. The only blame here is the PIC.

    I can not believe folks are telling him he did a good job.

    • I don’t think people are telling him he did a good job running out of fuel, but he’s doing a good (and brave) job sharing with us.

      People aren’t machines, and our brains aren’t digital computers. Even the world’s smartest, most-experienced pilots, like the late Sparky Imeson, can make seemingly-bizarre errors in judgement that make no logical sense to us after the fact, sitting comfortably at our computers.

      Every time a pilot takes off his/her macho mask, admits she/he actually *isn’t* perfect (surprise!), and fesses up to doing something dumb, the rest of us get a chance to understand how these errors in judgement really happen, and maybe a chance to prepare and protect ourselves from ourselves in the future.

      So thanks, Farhad. Carl is right about fuel planning, but you knew that already when you wrote the post. We appreciate your sharing your story.

    • Bob Fry says:

      I think I agree. “We decided to continue until we ran out of fuel and then either pull the airplane parachute or find a place to land.” I understand discovering in-flight that you don’t have enough fuel to continue, and also there are no suitable airports…I hope I’m not in that situation.

      But surely the proper decision, then, is to make a “precautionary” landing, with the engine running, on the highway or road. The poor decision was the one made: to just let things happen by chance and good luck. That goes to fundamental attitudes to life.

    • Mike says:

      I know it’s hindsight but I would have filled it to the top with cheap fuel in real life the 912s runs pretty good on it and wouldn’t have hurt for one flight

  9. D. Edward Curran says:

    Running out of fuel is like being caught with your pants down. How embarrassing. And no excuse.

  10. Mort Mason says:

    I can assure you that I’ve made my share of mistakes during almost 20,000 hours of flying the Alaska bush. But I can also assure you that running out of fuel wasn’t one of them. I appreciate this pilot’s having shared his experience, but not landing while the prop is still turning under engine power is not airplane control: it’s betting on luck. And that, gentlemen, is a REAL error . . .

  11. Jim Frankenfield says:

    Right on, once again, Mort.

  12. I have 2 questions for the people who think there were better options?
    1- you want to fly 400nm. Your airplane does 100 cruise easily. There are no reliable wind reports and it is sunny. Yahoo weather is your only tool and lower octane fuel is your only choice. Would 5 hour fuel do it?
    To this date no one has seen the wind that we saw and it is well understood that it is a less than 4 hour flight.
    Would you land in a military base with fuel onboard, US citizen onboard and NFlight camera onboard?
    would you land with fuel on a safe road where you know you or your plane will be detained for hours if not days because of the drone phobia and weekly threat of airstrike by foreign forces?
    We evauated all of that and decided to go as far as we can and not land on a public road pr close to it. we were unlucky and landed in a barren desert that half an hour later it turned out that it was a 5000 acre poultry farm owned by a branch of government. The airplane had to be inspected by authorities and we were not allowed to put it on truck till 6 hours later.
    The broken propeller returned from Germany repaired but has not cleared customs yet due to dronophobia! They need all kinds of proof that it is not used in any drones.
    Actually the police was wondering if the plane was a drone and we were laughing saying it is a piloted drone!

    • I’ve never had to fly anywhere without good, detailed weather briefing materials (ie here in Canada and the US), and frequent alternates along my route where I can stop if headwinds are worse than forecast, without worrying about being shot down as a suspected drone.

      I guess with less GA infrastructure in Iran, the kind of flying you’re doing is more like 1920s lick-your-finger-and-hold-it-up-to-the-wind stuff in North America.

      In that situation (e.g. zero reliable info about upper winds), I personally might go for a 90-minute fuel reserve, but I’m just speculating. What are your plans for future flights?

      And thanks again for sharing your story.

    • Dennis says:

      I understand that there are much different flying circumstances in Iran than in the USA. But regardless of the regulations and distances and availability of suitable alternate runways, it’s still your life. Many of the limitations you described would have made the flight a “no-Go” for me. Some days, it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the sky than it is to be in the sky wishing you were safely on the ground.

      But if I encountered headwinds like that I would either make them tailwinds and return to base or find an immediate alternate and figure out the high octane fuel problem on the ground.

      Finally, as someone else suggested, it is a lot better and safer to land with the engine running and makes a “Soft Field” landing much easier and safer. But most importantly, you have a chance for a go-around if the terrain looks bad when you get close.

      But that’s all my speculation (and my experience), I wasn’t in your plane and you survived.

      All survivable landings are good landings, some are just more expensive than others.

    • Ali Sandi says:

      Disagree!
      first of all you must to be able to calculate your TAS and GS also you had GPS to figure out. Next, you missed lots of hard surface agriculture runways even in better condition than your destination runway, that you were not familiar with them. Probably couple of them in your glide range after engine failure, just look at G5 from jeppesen for your area. Also you missed civil airports like OIHR. Finally controlled crash landing in a farm might be better than glide landing in some situation.
      Gool Luck

      • Ali Sandi says:

        You should ask others, there is a phone number for Wheather Organization provides wind information for FL010 which is good enough for you. Another quick resource for wind information is a number you can receive wind aloft on your cellphone by text message not in detail as same as the USA but good enough, unfortunately I clean forgot the numbers.

  13. I might add having a good working parachute is a blessing and a curse. Not having it could force us to make decisions differently. I know two guys that used them in less than 200 feet and both survived with no injuries to them or their passengers. The picture of one is on my site. I will not buy a plane without it and if I had an old plane just retrofit it with a parachute at any cost.

    • The chute might be a mixed blessing.

      We don’t know exactly why the fatality rate is higher in the SR-22 (with chute) than it is in planes like my simple PA-28 (without) — more-complex plane? higher performance? more cross-country? glass-cockpit distraction? — but one possible explanation is that it’s like the airbag effect in cars, where people are encouraged to take greater risks when they have more safety equipment, nullifying or reversing the equipment’s real safety value.

      That said, I wouldn’t say “no” to a chute if someone could add it to my PA-28 for free without decreasing the available load. Of course, I also wouldn’t say “no” to magic gas tanks that refilled themselves … :-)

  14. Howard Billman says:

    This is an interesting view into a country of which we know little… I fly a 182 and have flown long distances including Mexico, central america and Canada….all of these people speak English…

    I am curious Farhad, if I wished to fly through Iran…say..entering your airspace from the Black Sea..would I be welcomed? My next trip is to fly through Europe but this could be an interesting sojourn…

    • Farhad Kashani says:

      Flying over Iran with a 182 seems like a piloted recon drone! I do not think so but try it.

      Best Regards,
      Farhad Kashani

  15. Just a question about the aircraft powerplant if that aircraft is powered by a Rotax 912 or 914 isn’t auto fuel better for the engine than high octane for example 100 Low Lead Avgas. What high octane fuel are you referring to?
    Most of us here in Alaska would go for carrying more fuel even if it was not 100 LL and the POH indicated that auto fuel is acceptable….

    • Ali Sandi says:

      He means he used regular gas instead premium, Both are car fule. You right, It has got Rotax 912

  16. Ali Sandi says:

    First of all, I’d like to say a hello to Mr.Kashani. As he’s already mentioned GA in Iran has been limited to light sport A/C. Subject I know him and his commercial instructor you can see poor planing and nothing about ADM in his story, keep flying to run out off fuel or use of parachute!!! todays, all of the best pilots talking about precautioning landing not even emergency LDG. Unfortunately the biggest problem with training in Iran is a simple word that is called “procedure”, lack of knowledge and negative self-image is another reason for us to reject advance training, we have lots of talented people but the problem is that president of GA comes from military system it’s called SEPAH who involved in terrorist activity without knowledge only with gun, no way to deal with him for civilized people. I’m ATP pilot who left Iran and living in San Diego today.

  17. Farhad Kashani says:

    I try to answer to the given comments all at once. First off I learned my lesson the hard way. This was supposed to be a warning for others not me. I guarantee you that I will never run out of gas again.
    The engine was a 912 that uses premium auto gas that was not available at that time. Regular auto gas was the only option. I am the only pilot in our club who insists on flying with a full tank even for a one hour flight. That was the only exception in the last 41 years and will remain the only exception. I did not understand what did my stupidity had to do with following procedures. Don’t people run out of gas in this over regulated country? I read a case before mine that the guy ran out of fuel in a half an hour flight in the US!
    Regarding landing in an agricultural run way looks like the ATP pilot has not flown in Iran lately. Due to the drone incident police has to investigate any airplane landings anywhere outside the regular airports and they have put big gravel pieces on agricultural airport rinways not to be used as an airport.
    They kept us in that farm for 6 hours to find out who we are and where we are coming from. Azadi Airport Manager was even afraid to send a fax to authorities saying our airplane was stationed at their airport.
    I do not think any of us can claim we are half as good as Steve Faucet with 5500 hours of flight hours, ATP and over 100 records. If Steve can make a mistake and crash it can happen to anyone of us. So lets be humble about it.
    Of course all human error related crashes mean some procedure was not followed some where.

    Best Regards,
    Farhad Kashani

    • Ali Sandi says:

      You are right, absolutely. Any time in future if you need land on agricultural runways just do it. Don’t worry about big gravel pieces on the runway, those are in order on center line of the runways and runways are wide enough for your high wing puppy.

  18. Hooman Mostoufi says:

    Well said Farhad. The title says it all “I can’t believe I did that”. We share our mistakes and we learn from each other’s mistakes and misfortunes. I am really glad you walked away from this incident. too many lives have perished in recent years in GA incidents in Iran. I learned to fly Ultraligts in Azadi airport over twelve years ago, it’s disappointing to see the infrastructure for GA hasn’t improved in this time.
    Fly safe and Happy Landings.

    • Dan French says:

      Thanks for the story….enjoyed must be interesting flying in Iran.

      • Farhad Kashani says:

        Thank you. It is fun to fly in Iran or any place where the space is not crowded and you do not need to constantly monitor other planes and listen to their radio communications.

        Best Regards,
        Farhad Kashani

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