Forced landings: is getting your shoes muddy the biggest risk?

I was always of two minds about forced landings after a power failure. One, if I thought the engine was going to quit I wouldn’t go flying. Two, I knew that engines did quit so I had best not be surprised if one did, and had best have a plan for what comes next.

I always tried to minimize the chance of an engine failure. That meant spending copious amounts of money on maintenance and being acutely aware of what is going on with the power. For example, on every takeoff I monitored all power parameters with special attention to the EGT readings and when takeoff power was set I always asked myself if the engine sounded perfect. If it didn’t I would have changed the plan right then.

After takeoff I kept a running tab on all readings as well as the projected fuel on board after landing. If that value dropped below one hour at normal cruise power, I would stop and buy fuel. I had an experienced pilot with me one day when I made such a fuel stop and he couldn’t believe that I made the stop when the projected reserve dropped to 58 minutes. To me, flying was always about drawing lines in the sky and not crossing those lines.

Fuel gauges getting low
Keep it simple on fuel–always 60 minutes in the tank at landing.

Fuel is not something that any pilot should allow to become part of the risk of flying. Running out of fuel is purely dumb, stupid, idiotic, and there is no excuse for it. I addressed this with my one-hour rule. Even a mechanical problem that causes an increase in fuel burn shouldn’t result in a fuel shortage if the pilot is paying attention to everything.

Fuel system mismanagement also leads to forced landings and this is directly related to proper understanding and operation of the airplane. All a pilot has to do is be aware of any required fuel management and make that part of the normal operating procedure.

Despite taking all precautions I would still entertain those “what if” thoughts as I flew along. Sometimes they were disquieting like when flying at night in bumpy clouds over the eastern mountains. There still had to be a plan in case the power failed. Fly parallel to the ridges, use the radar or terrain depiction to identify a valley for an arrival, arrange for a minimum speed touchdown, and use any available lighting for last minute small heading adjustments. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Confession is supposed to be good for the soul, so here goes. On occasion I would find myself so engrossed in something, usually challenging weather, that I would realize I hadn’t been monitoring other things like the power. I thought about this when reading Mort Mason’s post about scud running. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking about how he would handle an engine failure while he was flying formation with another airplane and dodging clouds and boulders in the wilds of Alaska.

To guard against preoccupation with strong challenges I tried to develop a system of prodding the old brain every few minutes to rotate attention through other important things. Did that help? I’m not sure but it certainly didn’t hurt.

The nature of forced landings prompted me to do a lot of research on the subject a while back, to try to determine how much risk is really there. Certainly an off-airport forced landing would be inconvenient, and you would probably get your shoes muddy, but where in the acceptable range does the true risk to life come out?

If you want real numbers on this, there aren’t any and it is likely there never will be. That’s because the NTSB’s definition of a reportable accident does not include the failure of one engine (even if it is the only engine) and does require that there be serious injury to people or substantial damage to the airplane for it to be classified as an accident. You can look up the rule (Part 830) for the details but the people can be pretty beat up and the airplane pretty bent up before the event reaches the level of a reportable accident.

When you look at FAA preliminary accident information as opposed to NTSB reports, less than half the forced landings in the FAA files become an NTSB investigation so they are not part of any statistical picture. Then, FAA attention comes to the matter only if the incident is called in by local law enforcement, air traffic control or anyone who becomes aware of an airplane parked in an unusual place and makes a call.

Cessna in field
If everybody walks away, does it ever get reported?

The next question is how many of the actual forced landings come to the attention of the FAA? My wild guess would about half because if the forced landing is a non-event then nobody is likely to notify the FAA that anything happened.

So what is the risk to life? If all the numbers are stirred around and simmered for a while, it appears that about five percent of the engine-failure related forced landings in single-engine airplanes are fatal. If there is any error in that number, I would say it is likely on the low side but probably not by too much.

The good news is that you have a 95-percent chance of surviving such an event. That sounds pretty good but would not be an acceptable risk in any other endeavor so the best policy is to try to keep those engines running.

Which brings good news: the risk is not there at all as long as the engine runs. My personal experience during over 20,000 hours and 57 years shows only a couple of complete power failures and they were quite early in my flying. I would hasten to add that later on I would not have flown those airplanes on a bet. They were trouble looking for a place to happen.

My current interest in the subject was sparked by what seemed to me to be an unusual number of media reports about accidents related to engine failures. I do think that a better picture of what is going on here might actually be found by typing in “airplane crash” on any news site. I know that I have read about events there that never made the FAA or NTSB sites. I also saw a Facebook post by my friend Pete Bedell that covered what might have been the ultimate forced landing location. It involved an Aeronca Champ, flying over the Hudson River next to Manhattan. When the engine quit, the choice was between landing in the icy river and landing on the George Washington Bridge. The latter was chosen and the two occupants walked away.

Champ on GWB
When there’s nowhere else to land…

That was many years ago and when looking at the picture of the slightly rumpled Champ on the roadway about in the middle of the bridge my only thought was, “How did he do that?”

I have research that I did on the Bonanza 36 accident record of about twenty years ago and I reviewed it and compared what happened then with now to see if there might be an increase in power problems in an aging fleet of these airplanes. Both studies, then and now, covered three year periods and about a million flying hours with, if anything, fewer hours likely in the current period.

It is no secret that when there is less flying there are less accidents. There were 19 fatal accidents in the old picture, when there was probably more flying, and 13 in the new. Total accidents were close.

Also close were the total accidents related to power problems, about 40-percent in both time periods.

In the older days there was not a single fatal accident related to a mechanical failure of the engine. There was one in the later period. There were three instances of fuel starvation leading to a fatal accident back when and but one in the more recent period.

One thing that puts an asterisk by the Bonanza 36 record is our total lack of knowledge about how much they are flying. I think it is a safe bet that this fleet of airplanes is not flying as many hours as it was 25 years ago. FlightAware shows a declining presence in the IFR system even though it seems active relative to like airplanes, especially the Cessna 210 which seems to be almost vanishing. The steady decline in avgas sales also suggests that piston airplane flying is down, perhaps sharply.

After poring over all this my conclusion is that the mechanical reliability of Bonanza 36s is not cratering with time, at least so far. The reason I picked this airplane to look at is that even the oldest are relatively high-value airplanes and as a result are more likely to be well-maintained.

Regarding aircraft value, I think there is probably a direct safety relationship between the value of an airplane and the cost of a remanufactured or top-quality engine overhaul. Certainly if the total airplane’s value isn’t up to what an engine costs, even after the money is spent on the engine, an owner if likely to look at cheaper alternatives if he wants to keep flying the airplane.

That problem is exacerbated with twins where two engines are involved. There aren’t many old twins around that are even close in value to the price of a pair of top quality engine/prop overhauls.

Some forced landings are not related to a power failure. These are often called precautionary landings because while the airplane will still fly, something is screwed up and the pilot decides he’d rather be on the ramp scratching his head and trying to figure out what is wrong than doing just that while flying. The big and quite real risk here comes when good flying technique goes by the wayside during a hasty and poorly planned arrival. A burst of brilliance and fancy footwork can be as important here as after a total power failure.

I am going to tell you a true story that relates to this this.

A young pilot was to fly his boss to another city where he was to make a speech. When he picked the boss up in a car to go to the airport, he laid the garment bag containing the tuxedo in the trunk. Then, for some unknown reason, he dropped the car’s keys in the trunk and shut it.

They were already close on time and were even closer by the time the trunk was pried open to retrieve the tux and the keys. So there was pressure to get going when they reached the airport.

Nose baggage door open
Don’t let one mistake lead to another – if the door opens, fly the airplane.

The garment bag was carefully placed in the nose baggage and they took off. I bet you have already guessed what happened next. The nose baggage door had not been properly latched, it came open, and the tux was sucked out and fed through one of the propellers.

Despite all the distractions the pilot carefully returned to the airport and made a normal landing. He went in search of a new job while his boss was provided another airplane and pilot and arrived late to deliver his speech in a rented tux.

Despite his original lapse and failure to properly preflight the airplane, I thought the pilot deserved an attaboy for good flying after the baggage door came open. The inadvertent opening of cabin and baggage doors has led to a lot of fatal accidents and these are usually related to a hasty and poorly planned return during which a low-speed loss of control occurs.

Most airplanes will fly okay after a cabin or baggage door pops open. There will be vibration and if it is a cabin door there will be a lot of noise and loose objects might be sucked out. Most doors will open a few inches and the airplane will yaw in the direction of the door that is ajar. When the Piper Apache first came out, several pilots mistook the yaw as an indication that the engine on that side had failed. I instructed a bit in Apaches at the time and popping a door was part of every check out.

Some airplanes become hard to handle and performance suffers greatly if a cabin door comes open. Many years ago this was recognized as a substantial problem in Aerostar twins and a door ajar light was mandated. More recently, the cabin door of a Citation XLS came open after takeoff and the performance and handling was marginalized so much that the crew reported that they couldn’t climb and had their hands full. They landed safely.

All a pilot has to do to avoid the risk in this type forced landing is maintain doors properly and personally see that everything is buttoned up tight before takeoff and make sure passengers know what is not to be touched. If a door does come open then the requirement is to perform a methodical and unrushed return for a landing to set everything straight. In most airplanes it is not really possible to close a door in flight though in a few cases a procedure has been outlined in the POH.

Precautionary landings for other reasons might also be considered a modified form of forced landings with the circumstances defining how forced the landing really was.

The Cessna P210 I flew for almost 9,000 hours and 28 years had some bad days and I made a lot of unscheduled landings to go in search of mechanical help.

Landing because of a charging system failure was not a big deal because I headed for the nearest suitable airport as soon as the failure occurred. There was one exception here. One alternator failure was accompanied by electrical noises and a little acrid smoke in the cockpit. I got it on the ground pretty quickly that time.

Avidyne R9 MFD
Watch those gauges like a hawk.

Some vacuum failures were non-events but the ones that occurred when flying in clouds were always good for expensive thrills. I had a few magneto failures resulting in a rough enough engine to send me scurrying for a runway, preserving as much altitude as possible for as long as possible should roughness turn to quiet.

The key to all the precautionary landings in that airplane was a calm and methodical approach to making and executing a plan.

I was one of the original doubters about the airframe parachute in Cirrus airplanes. Over the years I doubted less but a short while ago I watched a video that turned me into a true believer.

Almost everyone has seen the Coast Guard video of the Cirrus splashing down under its parachute after a fuel problem on a flight from the mainland to Hawaii.

What hasn’t been widely seen is the video that the pilot took on his way to the sea under the chute. It is sort of the ultimate selfie of a pilot who kept his cool. He had the cabin door open on the way down and at one point he looked straight up, through the door opening, at the beautiful canopy that was lowering the airplane. I looked at that and thought hotdamn, if I got a do-over I would want one of those.

This pilot’s happy ending had another element that I want to mention. The Coast Guard sent a fixed-wing airplane out in response to the distress call. They did not have any rescue resources in the area so the Coast Guard contacted a nearby cruise ship and asked if they would help. The answer was affirmative, the Cirrus was directed to the vicinity of the cruise ship before the engine failed, and the pilot had not been in his raft long before a motorized lifeboat from the cruise ship picked him up. The Coast Guard video, grainy as it was, showed no problem but what looked like a little plumber’s butt as the pilot was hoisted into the lifeboat.

I decided something else when looking at that video. If ever I take a cruise, it will be on the Holland America Line. That captain stopped his big ship full of paying passengers to help one our fellow airmen.

Perhaps forced landing risk should be contemplated in two stages. What’s the risk of having a forced landing (a little) and what is the risk if I do have a forced landing (a little more)? There are things that can be done to mitigate those risks but if worse comes to worse and you do a nice bit of flying you might get to meet the farmer’s daughter or to complete your journey on a cruise ship. Or, you might get your shoes muddy.

19 Comments

  • Mr. Collins, as always you provide a thorough dialog on another aviation topic! I would like someone like you to strongly suggest that the chute should be the last option as you loose the ability to land it where you want it. The Fayetteville, AR landing by the high school is a good example. I do agree that ditching in the water is one of those very good reasons to use the chute as it minumizes touchdown speed. The problem with ditching with the chute is the winds can drag the plane in a way that fills the cabin before you get out, if this isn’t considered when landing.. This can be observed somewhat in the flight to HI as you as referenced. A good way to remember is you want the wind blowing into the door you are going to get out.

  • Richard,
    I wonder if future pilots will someday look back in amazement that the airframe parachute was so reluctantly embraced by pilots of the late 20th century. My guess is that the parachute will become the norm for all but the lightest sport planes and the most recalcitrant airmen. If I were younger and had the bread, I’d go Cirrus for that safety margin; I’m sure my wife would!

  • As a course of business, I spend a lot of time looking at the fuel exhaustion / starvation piece in GA. I have reviewed the FAA, ASRS and NTSB sites as well as the equivalent sites around the world where an english translation is available. What is factual is that there are 10 times more fatal accidents then there are incidents. By a corollary for Near miss events where the accident was narrowly avoided, there are 10 more Near Miss events than there are reported incidents. Mr. Collins the author alludes to this in his blog. If we utilize a commonly reported metric, there are 3 incidents per week involving fuel in GA. If we now measure up this statistic at a 10 fold Fatalities to Accidents, there are 30 Near Misses per week in the USA . 1500 Near Miss fuel events per year in the USA would be an estimate, but shows how significant the issue is.————————————————————————————————————————-
    So lets look at engine issues, it has been reported but not factually confirmed that approx 1/3 of the engine issues in GA are actually fuel related. (This information comes from internal GAMA and NTSB people – but not as such reported in print) The supposition is that statements like those by the author shared in this blog – inhibit pilots from reporting the actual reason the aircraft lost power. If those are included in the metric – running out of fuel or misplacing it in your aircraft is a real issue that would demand authoritative attention. I don’t believe the following statement made by Mr. Collins in this blog leads to a problem solution, it only just perpetuates inaccurate reporting of a safety issue in aviation. That is my opinion.

    “Fuel is not something that any pilot should allow to become part of the risk of flying. Running out of fuel is purely dumb, stupid, idiotic, and there is no excuse for it. I addressed this with my one-hour rule. Even a mechanical problem that causes an increase in fuel burn shouldn’t result in a fuel shortage if the pilot is paying attention to everything.”

    We all know the above is an issue because fuel starvation in aviation is a “Movie Cliche” everyone even non-pilots know it. Aircraft issues are always addressed with a tap on the fuel gauge. Ironic isn’t it – common belief that in our community is “dumb, stupid, idiotic” but unfortunately human. So why do we do this, instead of studying the issue in depth. A quick peak into human psyche – Denial is an initial response “It hasn’t happened to me, it will never happen to me” That one is easy so let’s add another psychologic term “Fundamental Attribution Error” where we ascribe bad ju ju on the “dumb, stupid, idiotic” pilots instead of researching a true root cause. The last sentence is very revealing in why we can’t seem to quash this persistent problem in aviation, if noted gifted journalists like Mr Collins pass on the same vibe, how are we aver going to discuss this in a manner that promotes a solution. I know some of the pilots involved in the incidents that brought this blog to fruition, not well, but well enough that I would label them, as the author did. Human things happen to pilots and in fact in this particular fuel issue can occur to pilots like Shaun Tucker and has. I would not cast stones, but rather look in depth to the issues involved and form a better solution. Labeling pilots behavior does not seem to do the trick.

    • Scott,

      I take it that you think because labeling stupid behavior as stupid somehow prevents people from acting stupid, or trying to do something to compensate. Well, hey, we’re ALL capable of acting stupid from time to time.

      Well, one of my favorite comedians has a famous tag line saying that goes, “You can fix ugly, but you can’t fix stupid”. I certainly agree that people who are actually congenitally stupid will not have long piloting careers.

      With that being said, I and every other person on the planet is capable of making stupid decisions every now and then. Not because we’re congenitally stupid, but because we sometimes make a bad judgment between available options. Usually that is because of external or internal pressures of one sort or another that overwhelm our ability to make a sound decision in real time. These are decisions that, if we weren’t actually feeling those pressures in real time, we’d likely say, “Well, of COURSE I wouldn’t do something THAT dumb!”

      But then, we do.

      What Richard does with his inviolable personal “1 hour in the tanks at the end of the flight” rule is to provide himself, and others who follow that rule, a mental crutch that allows us to psychologically override all those other pressures to do dumb things, like run out of gas.

      The typical pressures are time:

      “I don’t want to take the time to make an extra landing”.

      Or “get-there-itis”:

      “The FBO or the self-serve gas pumps aren’t operating at the airport where I just landed, and I absolutely have to make my destination tonight.”

      Or stinginess:

      “I want to save fifty cents or a buck a gallon on fuel over what that nearest airport on my GPS will charge me, so I’ll just fly on no matter what the headwinds, the flight timer, or the gas gage tells me”.

      Or ego:

      “I know how much gas my airplane uses to the tenth of a gallon per hour, so I can take it right down to fumes and I still know that I can still make my destination airport”.

      Or, lacking any other pressures, hope:

      “I’m committed now … I sure hope I can make the airport!”

      Richard does us all a service by providing a guideline that he used successfully for many decades to prevent fuel starvation incidents in his own flying. It is a rule that I use, and that I have never violated yet. Indeed, I was really angry with myself when on one occasion I actually got nearly down to one hour in the tanks. In that instance it was because I let one of those pressures listed above cloud my judgment. Personally, I’m a heckuva lot more comfortable if I plan to have at least one hour in EACH of the two tanks upon landing.

  • Actually, I believe there is a partial solution to the fuel exhaustion problem. It would seem reasonable to me to change the aircraft certification requirements for piston aircraft to match those of turbine aircraft. The essence is simple, all the fuel scheduled to be used by an engine must get there without action by the pilot. I’ve never been a big fan of manual fuel tank selection. Of course, this could not cover all the legacy airplanes but I’m surprised that the new ones, like Cirrus, haven’t gone that route; with or without the regulations.

  • When you have this very myopic look at the issue it becomes more cloudy. I agree Mr. Collins admonition to have 1 more hour of fuel is a great mental concept for the pilot. CFR 91.151 & 91.167 states a similar but less conservative time frame as a fudge factor. As we know or as I am stating here fudge factors are to cover unknowns in the aircraft, in this case fuel. But having a fuel reserve is not only a good pilot idea, it is actually law.

    So here is the rub and part of the issue – most fuel starvation/exhaustion events run all the fuel out of the respective wing tank or aircraft. All the fuel, including the “Zero” fuel amount which is typically around 2 gallons in each tank, and for a lot of cases no fuel is found in the lines filters and pumps as well. approx. 10 to 15 minutes of flight time @ 15 g/hr.

    What this means is that in a fuel exhaustion event you not only burned up your mandated 30 minute minimum FAA reserve, but also most of your additional 30 minute fudge factor that Mr. Collins suggests and I concur as a bare minimum. In the actual aircraft for total fuel utilizing tMr Collins and a very popular common pilot method, would give you 1 hr and 20 to 30 minutes of flight time.

    Lots of caveats here in lower fuel consumption on descent to land etc. – but there is a pretty large safety margin built in by design and the data from accident aircraft lets us know it is being utilized by those unfortunate pilots. Zero fuel is established on an uncoordinated maneuver that would move fuel away from a pickup, not typically the case for a coordinated aircraft on descent to land.

    As I stated lot of pilots, most pilots, ascribe to Mr Collins prudent rule – at least those I talk to, and yet we as a pilot community still run out of fuel at a relatively predictable rate.

    But it gets a bit more complicated, If you look at an aircraft fuel tank, it holds by regulation of not less than 2% for an expansion volume – most aircraft allow more expansion room by design – I know I measure it every day with a calibration system. So lets look at a typical 90 gallon aircraft. A lot of pilots fill the aircraft to an absolute full amount, some do so inadvertently by filling one wing and then the other, other pilots try to get as much fuel onboard on purpose. Note: Ramp angles and aircraft gear position on gear set can make some fairly radical apparent level changes in the type of fuel tanks used on aircraft.

    So this is relatively unscientific – but if a pilot regularly practices filling the aircraft until it can hold no more fuel – they have bought themselves another 20 to 30 minutes of flight. The motivation is to do so is great, and a lot of pilots tell me that flying over gross in no big issue. This isn’t a big bad aviation secret, it is pretty common. So now given the zero fuel amount, and this semi-standard practice we have 2 hours of additional fuel on the aircraft.

    Again pilots still run out of fuel at a relatively predictable rate.

    This lends credence to Mr Collins point – how could this possibly happen to a rational thinking pilot.

    So what have we done to address this – Sticks for measuring fuel

    This still subject to the vagaries of ramp angle, gear set and now the technique of the operator i.e. verticalness and position of the stick – yet pilots report to measure fuel quantities to 1/2 to 1/4 of a gallon with astonishing predictability and repeatability, I usually bring a milk jug of water to these demonstrations, as when I pour 1 gallon of water onto a ramp it typically flows to a surface area roughly the size of an aircraft fuel tank – I then look at the pilot with the stick and ask if they are discerning enough to make a prediction on variances represented by the water level in front of them.

    Fuel totalizers

    Usually established on a reference fuel volume physicality or stick – but at best it is an reasonable but not exact estimate. Equally it doesn’t tell you where your fuel might be located. With the wrong inputted initial values, a totalizer may mislead you into a false sense of security, or complete surprise as to why your engine is sputtering.

    Again the advent of fuel totalizers has not effected long term starvation/exhaustion rates.

    So lets look at aircraft side – some aircraft suffer fuel starvation at a dramatically different historical rate than others – So equipment can make a difference, or more appropriately aircraft fuel tank design can have a dramatic effect of the fuel starvation statistic. What are those characteristics. These are difficult as operation of some aircraft are remarkably different – flight school, beginning pilot vs extended range cruise et al,

    What is very obvious is that this particular aviation issue has not had the in-depth look or evaluation other than stern and demeaning admonitions to not do it.

    Yes Mr Collins – I hope I do find the appropriate nut cracker for this issue

    • Scott – What you call “myopic” is what a lot of folks would call “understanding of human nature”.

      You missed my point entirely.

      We continue to see too many fuel exhaustion incidents and accidents NOT because we pilots are too stupid to understand our fuel systems (such pilots don’t generally last long in a Darwinian sense).

      Nor is it that we pilots don’t readily have all the tools necessary to properly monitor our airplanes’ fuel consumption, through a wide variety of tools (gages, stopwatches, soundings, GPS navigators that tell us precisely how much time to our destination and even calculate how much fuel remains and needed to get to the destination … as well as even more technologically-advanced tools like precision electronic fuel monitors).

      Nope – my point is that pilots do stupid things when we turn our brains off and let various pressures and personality tics get the best of our piloting judgment. There is no techno fix for that … there is no pilot-proof machine that can eliminate bad decisions. It comes down to successful and safe pilots developing a mental discipline that is capable of overriding the pressures that we or others place on ourselves in performing our duties as pilot in command.

      Even fully-autonomously guided aircraft designed to never run out of gas can still be overridden by a pilot who still elects to make a dumb decision (where is Yars when we need him to chime in!). You cannot make a machine human-proof, you can only make it somewhat human-resistant.

      • Duane:

        Yes I understand that – one of the accident scenarios was a pilot ferrying his aircraft after maintenance to his home hanger at night. For the first time in 10 years he forgot to switch tanks. He had 3000 hrs in the same aircraft and had carefully documented each tank switch. One day he forgot, today he is contemplating never piloting an aircraft again. The human element is very much a part of the issue. I believe the “pilot stigmata” centered around fuel starvation events in aviation is part of his decision matrix. He was simply human.

        Could it have been helped – well maybe, the new Cirrus G5 warns of a fuel imbalance based on accurate fuel quantity in the tanks. That warning “might” have saved him from a chute pull. Maybe it will save future aviators, only time will tell.

        My point is that from my perspective as a new supplier of aviation equipment related to this issue I have an interesting and very different front row seat. A totally different perspective from my experiance as a line boy or as an occasional pilot. I didn’t set out to set the world on fire with a new gizmo, I was simply responding to a business need from an OEM and that we could make money at servicing that need. My hair wasn’t on fire to address an issue in aviation – I simply fell into it.

        As a virtual outsider, but connected peripherally to the issue I did not look very far into the system aspects of fuel quantity and fuel containment in aircraft – very few people do. If I use GA I can count them on 1 hand. The process of being in a business tends to be a complete immersion as it is our live blood to deal with functional fuel issues on aircraft everyday.

        My point is that has allowed me a different vantage point to look at this problem. I think we need a different dialogue, the old one is tired and not effective.

        I know opinions in aviation can change – my dad keeps telling me LOP will ruin my engine. I have hope.

    • Your inference that pilots might fill the 2% expansion space is somewhat in error.
      Per 14 CFR 23.969, ” It must be impossible to fill the expansion space inadvertently with the airplane in the normal ground attitude”. This rule goes way back to the CAR days, so even the legacy airplane are covered. That said, it is not required to have an expansion space if the tank vent discharges clear of the airplane. Many legacy airplanes took advantage of that nuance.

  • Stephen It would be conjecture if and only if I didn’t have data from mfd outputs illustrating that this is being done. Baron 58 for example are placarded for 75 gallons per side – they will take 85 gallons. I have several threads from popular pilot forums where flying over gross is discussed, a significant percentage of forum responders indicate that this is preferable to running short of fuel. I believe we have created a methodology of piling on more and more fudge factors for unknown quantity of fuel onboard. We are trying to achieve never ever running out of fuel by adding more fuel or subtracting more time. Frankly the accident statistics tell us this doesn’t work

    As for 14 CFR 23.969 – that is why you see fuel fillers approx. mid span or 3/4 span of the fuel tank. So the careful wording is inadvertently – I have seen it done and as a line guy accomplished the inadvertent and it wasn’t impossible. Most aircraft incorporate wing tip venting as you state – which is where there fuel exits when this technique is accomplished on a warm day. I have seen metal tanks on fabric aircraft that made the impossible of the regulation more plausible.

    Stigmatizing fuel accidents in aircraft by labeling the offending pilot as dumb has far reaching effects on overall GA safety – I believe that this prolific pilot practice especially espoused by the flying pilot pundits should come to a grinding halt .

  • Richard, the ship captain who rescued that pilot did a good thing, but it was not by choice. It is the law that all vessels must go to the aid of a vessel in distress.

  • Everyone knows or should know how unreliable older fuel gauges can be, as in pipers from the 60s. This becomes a blessing in disguise as I always measure with the quantity by hand before each flt and having drained the tanks prior and filled I know exactly what the tanks hold- assuming the pump that filled was accurate. Then I bought a fuel flow meter which that does the math and shows fuel remaining. With 49 gal useable I land with ten remaining. I am too old to stay in an airplane until fuel starvation – it is just too uncomfortable

  • Ralph:

    I see this with old Piper PA-28’s all the time. Instead of taking the time to remove the tanks and fix or replace the senders so that they are not unreliable – Pilots then chose to add additional non required equipment on the aircraft. The aircraft was designed to have reliable fuel level indication, and having a working fuel gauge is an operational legal requirement CFR 14 Part 91.205. Why is it so common to believe otherwise in the aviation community.

  • “If a door does come open then the requirement is to perform a methodical and unrushed return for a landing to set everything straight”

    I was flying a Cessna 425 (turbo prop) when one of the two nose baggage cargo hatches flew vertically open at 1000 ft on a final approach. The nose area held bags, chocks, and various other bits and pieces and there was no cargo net on this aircraft. My first thought was what would happen if any of this lot fell out and went into the prop.

    With that in mind I very quickly feathered the prop on that side figuring there would less damage than if articles fell into a turning prop. I continued the approach which only required a small increase in power on the live engine to hold the glide slope. The landing was normal apart from the feathered prop and vertical cargo door obstructing the view through the front left windscreen. I stopped on the runway and parked the brakes and closed down the remaining engine.

    Then I got out, mumbled an apology to the unimpressed passengers and went around the front to lock the cargo door again. The locking device worked normally. Started the engines and taxied to the FBO. I was promptly sacked by the aircraft owner.

    At the time I had over 15,000 hours with a Boeing 737 command, so by any standards I was no raw amateur. I discovered later that it was not unknown for the Cessna 425 (pressurised) to pop open a cargo door as the aircraft warped slightly during normal de-pressurisation during descent. This was despite both over-centre locking devices being firmly home before engine start. During my type rating training on type, no one had told me to use the little locking key as a final back up after locking the cargo door.

    I knew of one owner of an Piper Apache who swore by the use of an elastic band to hold closed the inside handle of the entrance door in his aircraft.

  • As an ex Coastie, I can assure Mr. Collins that the actions of the cruise ship captain were not unusual but were in accordance with both the unofficial “Law of the Sea” and several United Nations conventions on the safety of life at sea. The same consideration given by the Holland cruise captain would be followed by most any ship in the vicinity of the crash. I’ve been involved in rescues where 1000′ oil tankers stopped to assist 25′ sailboats. I can’t imagine any ship from a friendly country leaving anyone in distress if there was a possibility of helping.

  • Richard, I have enjoyed your articles for many, many years. I hope to do so for many more. One thing I have never really understood is the teaching to students the ‘range’ of any particular airplane unless you’re talking about the range of the craft on a particular day, at a specific time and altitude. Drilling into a new student’s head religiously the belief that his Cessna 172 has a range of 480 n.m. (or whatever the current number is), is absurd. What instructors should be indoctrinating into the heads of their students is the ‘endurance’ of the aircraft, as in: “And with an endurance of 4.0 hours, we can travel xxx miles with the meteorological conditions we have today.” Once you start the engine, it is a matter time before it runs out of fuel and quits, not a matter of miles traveled.

  • We lament the need for emergency landings and often state “I would never do that!”
    It doesn’t matter how much care one takes there is always the possibility of needing to make an emergency landing.
    Therefore, it is necessary to be proficient in the landing touchdown of an unpowered aircraft be where you want. The idea of not being low or slow results in over 75% of these off-field landings being mid-field or beyond on the chosen site and 50% of the fatalities from overrunning the site.
    It just happens being proficient in emergency landings is not required for PPL.

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