5 min read
SR-20 crash site

The chute saved the day, but why was it needed in the first place?

We stink at fuel management.

The latest evidence? On January 23, a Cirrus SR20 crashed a few miles short of the runway in Danbury, Connecticut and made national headlines for its colorful parachute getting caught in power lines. While the media focused on the parachute, most pilots wondered what went wrong to necessitate pulling the handle. Surely a plane as advanced as this one couldn’t just run out of fuel. There must have been a mechanical problem, right?

While the final cause won’t be out for a long time, the initial NTSB report is pretty damning:

Initial examination of the airplane by an FAA inspector did not reveal any visible fuel in the airplane’s fuel tanks, nor were there any indications of a fuel spill at the accident site. After the airplane was recovered, approximately 26 ounces of fuel was drained from the airplane’s fuel system.

Simply put, they ran out of gas, most likely due to bad planning but possibly due to some major in-flight fuel leak. How does that happen in a fairly new airplane with a glass cockpit, a fuel totalizer and a flight instructor on board? It was only a 32 minute flight from GON (their departure airport) to DXR (where the airplane came up short), so barring a mechanical problem, that means they took off with about 30 minutes of fuel on board. That is inexcusable. They were barely legal to land with that much fuel, much less take off. Anyone who has ever seen the fuel gauges indicating 30 minutes knows how frighteningly low that looks.

A more disturbing part of this particular accident is the initial reaction by many pilots in the Cirrus community. There was celebration that the pilot had been smart enough to use the parachute, and all three on board walked away. “Pull early, pull often” has become the mantra in Cirrus training, and this accident proves that it is working, many said. The pilot even raved about his training, saying he was ready to pull the chute. Some went even further, saying basically, “Who cares why the engine quit? Kids had fathers that night because of the parachute and that’s what counts.”

I find this attitude alarming. It’s like applauding the drunk driver for wearing his seat belt after he wraps his car around a tree. Sure, it’s nice that he did that—it probably saved his life. And maybe that means our public service campaign about seat belts is working. But it cannot excuse the terrible decision he made in the first place.

In the end, the parachute simply improves the odds of survival in a crash. It cannot improve flight safety anymore than an air bag can help you drive through the snow.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a Cirrus-hater or a parachute skeptic. The SR20 and SR22 are marvelous airplanes, and the whole airplane parachute system has saved a number of lives (not to mention the many passengers who are comfortable flying in small airplanes because of it). But all it did in this situation was bail the pilots out after a terrible mistake.

The more important conversation to have is not about “pull early, pull often,” but about how can we avoid accidents like this in the first place.

Avidyne R9 MFD

Can glass cockpits reduce fuel mismanagement accidents?

Many aviation safety experts hoped that glass cockpits and their built-in fuel totalizers would eventually eliminate fuel exhaustion accidents, which are the most preventable kind. The trend did decline some in the early 2000’s as glass cockpits became more mainstream, and there is anecdotal evidence that airplanes with integrated avionics have fewer crashes due to fuel exhaustion.

But this decline has leveled off recently, and it remains one of the top ways to crash a general aviation airplane. Nearly 100 airplanes go down every year because of fuel mismanagement, a number that should embarrass us as pilots. As this accident shows, it’s not just 50-year old airplanes running out of gas.

Like many things in aviation, the best reaction is to focus on the fundamentals. Those do not change, no matter what airplane you’re flying and what the avionics are.

Everyone has their own rules for fuel management, most of them proven by experience. Here are mine:

  • Always land with 60 minutes of fuel in the tanks. This is an ironclad rule that does not get violated. But even if you do mess something up–terrible winds aloft forecast, bad weather at destination and alternate, mechanical–you should still have 30 minutes when you land.
  • Trust the fuel flow rate (fuel totalizer) more than the fuel quantity gauges. Airplanes are legendary for having inaccurate fuel quantity gauges, and that reputation is deserved. But my experience is that the fuel totalizer is very accurate. If you started with 50 gallons and the fuel totalizer says you’ve burned 45, ignore the other gauges and land.
  • The follow-up is obviously to know how much fuel is in the tank at takeoff. If you’re going to use the fuel flow rate to manage your fuel, you must know how much was in there to start. Looking at the fuel gauges isn’t enough, so determine this based on how much fuel was pumped into the tanks or by visual inspection.
  • If you don’t have a fuel totalizer, know your actual fuel burn rate. Don’t take the POH’s number. You can figure this out for yourself in about two flights by carefully monitoring how long you flew at certain power settings and much fuel is added to top off the tank.

In the end, dealing with fuel planning is just like dealing with weather: we need to be skeptical and we need to build in some margins. When in doubt, land and figure it out with a fuel truck waiting.

John Zimmerman
119 replies
  1. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    I don’t know much about the Cirrus’ systems but I have found it difficult to the point of being intimidating to calculate fuel in my FBO’s Archer II. On top of the fuel gauges being wholly inaccurate, there is no fuel flow or fuel calculator on board. the ONLY way to measure the fuel correctly is to start with full tanks and be diligent with timing and switching. I have been using a triple-timer to some success, one timer for each tank and a third for the total flight time. But the high workload and mental math needed for fuel management is intimidating for someone coming from a different aircraft with better systems.

    To address the trouble with fuel management, this should be emphasized in training and in the checklist. The addition of a simple low fuel light set to come on with 30 minutes of fuel left would be a big help.

    • Tom Yarsley
      Tom Yarsley says:


      Your Archer II has bent metal “tabs” in each tank – you can see them when you remove the fuelcaps. If the fuel level is at (or above) the bend, you’ve got 17 gallons (or more) in that tank. Its 180 hp Lycoming will burn about 10 gallons per hour at 75% power. Two tanks with “tab” fuel means 3.5 hours to dry tanks. Flight-plan for not more than 2.5 hours for such a leg. By then, your stomach and/or bladder will need atention, anyway!

      Fly safely!

      • Meredith
        Meredith says:

        That’s true, I knew about the tabs, but the fuel is rarely right at the tabs. If someone has used the plane before me, it is usually somewhere just below. How much fuel is left at 1cm below the tab? 2cm? I am most comfortable just topping off.

        • Tom Yarsley
          Tom Yarsley says:


          If full tanks are an option, you’re all set. But unless you’re flying with a light load of persons and things, filling the tanks isn’t a (legal) option with most light GA vehicles.

          Instead of using multiple stopwatches, try “writing your way through the sky.” Just make a paper notation (or an I-pad one, if that’s how you do it) of the Zulu time whenever you switch tanks. The resultant log quickly converts to fuel burn amounts for each tank. Think of yourself as a human fuel totalizer!

          If you can find a cooperative line person, ask them to let you watch as they add fuel to your tanks. Suspend fueling, and check the visual level after each meaningful increment of added fuel (gallons, liters, whatever). This will give you a very good read on the relationship between fuel volume and visible fuel level in the tanks.

          Most important of all, check the visual levels of fuel remaining after each flight. Then do the math, to see how accurate your calculations are. This will both improve your abilities and increase your confidence. If at all possible, start with a known quantity (full or “tab” tanks in the Archer), then re-fuel to one of those known quantities. That will give you a more accurate determination of fuel used.

          Another valuable trick is to note not only the start and stop times in clock hours, but also the start and stop times on the vehicle’s tachometer. After you’re done flying for the day, do some quick math. You’ll learn about typical clock/tach ratios for various mission profiles. Watch how it will vary between touch-and-go operations and cross-country operations. Relate it to the respective fuel burns. You’ll learn a lot about fuel use!

    • ken spencer
      ken spencer says:

      There is a device that Sporty’s sells, that is a calibrated thick-walled plastic tube, that you use like a soda straw. You put the tube into the tank, then put your finger on top, and withdraw it, and read the number on the side of the tube. I am not sure, but some of these devices are already calibrated for certain aircraft. The one I bought years ago, was not, so the drill was, start with a really low tank, and ask the fuel guy to add 5 gallons, take a reading, then ask for 5 more, and so on. You record the readings on the graph paper that comes with the plastic, connect the dots with a curved line, and you have a pretty accurate way to check how much fuel is in the tank.

      • Mike Brown
        Mike Brown says:

        I’ve got one of those plastic dipsticks, which is calibrated for my Cessna 172 with long-range tanks. Sporty’s sells various versions for 172’s, depending on what sort of tanks you’ve got. I’ve found it to be quite accurate – when I first got it I tried dipping the tanks and then filling up, and the numbers were within a gallon or so, which is about as good as you can expect. If anything the dipstick is pessimistic, which is fine with me.

        That said, my time-to-full-bladder range is so far below the fuel-to-empty-tank range of the airplane with full tanks, reserve fuel isn’t an issue. I flew to Colorado in 2011, with the longest leg just over three and a half hours, and the most fuel I put in was just under a half tank’s worth.

    • Chris Schubert
      Chris Schubert says:

      ARE YOU SERIOUS???? It is too much work to keep track of fuel burn in a Piper Archer???? Personally I think you should immediately surrender your certificate. Help the rest of us in aviation and find something else to do.

      feel free to contact me directly for the number of a local checker club.

      Chris Schubert

      • tom
        tom says:


        Your tips are so useful! Are you a CFI? Good that you know how to use your breadth of knowledge and humility to teach others a better way. I’m sure you would make a wonderful mentor for apprentices willing who publicly address their weaknesses.

      • John Doe
        John Doe says:

        So……. anyone else want to start making embarrassing phone calls to this unfriendly pilot??? I’m thinking he’s going to need to have a long conversation with his doctor about how his recent colonoscopy examine turned out to be using possibly contaminated tools, and how he needs to promptly report to the doctors office first thing in the morning :D

        Any other ideas?

    • Cary Alburn
      Cary Alburn says:

      Meredith, et al, you need only a watch and your kneeboard notes. Note the time on take-off, then 30 minutes later, switch tanks, write down the new tank and the time. Do it again 30 minutes later. It’s minimal workload and keeps accurate track of the amount of time the selector has been on each tank. If you miss by 5 minutes, no big deal, because you can still quickly add up the total time on each tank if you need to. This works for literally every airplane you’ll ever fly, whether it has 2 tanks with only L & R, 4 tanks, 6 tanks, 7 tanks, or whatever.

      If you stuck the tanks during preflight, you should know how much fuel you’re starting out with, whether you have tabs or not. You do stick your tanks, don’t you? If not, why not? You can either purchase a stick for your airplane, or you can make your own. Just hang onto it when you stick the tanks–you wouldn’t be the first to drop it into the tank and incur your mechanic’s wrath. :)

      BTW, I have an accurate totalizer in my airplane, which typically matches the fill-up by a tenth or two. I have it set to flash its fuel light every 5 gallons, and now I switch tanks according to the light–but it better match pretty close to my watch, which I still use regardless. My airplane burns just under 10/hour. And I still stick my tanks every time, because I rarely fill them except when preparing for a long cross country flight.

      I’ve played the stretching game twice in the distant past, and it’s stupid. It’s strictly through the grace of God that I didn’t end up on some NTSB report. Incidentally, one of those times was when I purposely ran the T210’s left tank dry, and it took a small eternity to restart on the right tank. If you want to find out actual usable fuel, do it over an airport, in case the engine won’t restart.

      No matter how much sophisticated equipment is available to measure fuel used, it still takes 3 things to guarantee not running out: knowing how much is there to begin with, knowing how much is used per hour, and knowing the time aloft. The only way to know how much is there to begin with is to either fill it or stick it accurately, experience and measuring will tell you how much is used per hour, and if the total time aloft leaves an hour of fuel aboard, you can’t run out, barring a loose cap or other leakage.

      It ain’t rocket science, but as many as run out each year, you’d think so.


      • Dale Alexander
        Dale Alexander says:

        I always switch tanks over airports if possible. Good place to land if the engine quits due to fuel starvation because of the switchover.

    • Nate D'Anna
      Nate D'Anna says:

      I have found where some pilots are “stretching” the length of their flights to take advantage of cheaper fuel at their destination or returning to their home base.

      As a result, to save a few bucks sometimes they hope for the best, stretch too far and run out of fuel.

      As far as Cirrus pilots popping the chute, I see where insurance companies will reconsider raising premiums for this airplane when the attitude is,” Oh, I can just pop the chute if I get in trouble” instead of better planning and pretending that the chute does not exist. That chute system was designed to help pilots out in the event of catestrophic failures, NOT poor planning and sloppy pilot technique.

  2. Carl Pennington Jr
    Carl Pennington Jr says:

    I have a Navion Rangemaster and the fuel indicators are not trustworthy as you say.I have a dipping stick (home made) and clock,that I depend on.
    I was beat into my head by my instructor of long ago(1974),that the fuel/runway behind me will not help now.

  3. Stefan W.
    Stefan W. says:

    I flew a 76 Archer for a number of years and now fly its larger sister. The fuel system in a Cherokee is simple really .Left tank and right tank or OFF.
    Fly on the right tank when the minute hand is on the right side of the clock face and on the left tank when it is on the left.
    The quantity before the flight is tougher, since there is only a metal tab to show a partial tank level or full. So a calibrated dip-stick is the only alternative to either flying with full tanks only or two half tanks filled to the tab.

    Like most of us I do not like regulations and penalties all that much when it comes to flying. But I think there should be some enforcement action if you run out of gas. If you can show that your pre-flight planning showed you would arrive with the legal limits you can “legally” arrive with dry tanks after encountering stronger than forecast winds if the flight was non-commercial in nature. That is wrong.

    No pilot, but especially a CFI should ever run out of gas unless there was a real mechanical failure on the fuel system.

  4. Brent
    Brent says:

    I was combing the accident stats for a recent article and I was blown away by the number of times we get this wrong. Great article to bring awareness and some counter measures to the issue.

  5. Steve Phoenix
    Steve Phoenix says:

    Pull early, pull often, collect insurance….hmmm
    In the other airplanes it is a problem with the fuel gage accuracy. The cert regs don’t help much because they really only require the gages to be accurate at the unuseable fuel condition (ie zero). I think it is technically possible to build accurate fuel gages now days. Even some of the older airplanes like the Archer can have accurate gages and, if your renting, you should insist that they be working properly before you take the plane. If you own, it would be wise to spend the time and money to make them work. Totalizers are ok, but there is a human element required for programming which, as we know, is fallible.

  6. Frank Ladonne
    Frank Ladonne says:

    Folks, compared to all of our other responsibilities as pilots, this one is not rocket science. Stick the tanks each and every time, know your burn rate and plan to leave an hour of fuel in the tank when you land. If you run into headwinds or a reroute that changes your plan, land and top off.

    MORT MASON says:

    If you’re relying upon your fuel gauges, you’re looking for trouble one day. You’d best get used to (1) knowing your fuel load, (2) knowing your fuel burn rate, and (3) using your clock or wristwatch to time use from each (or any or all) the airplane’s fuel tanks.

    Period !!!

    • Jimbo
      Jimbo says:

      Agreed. It’s like the days when engineers were using slide rules to do calculations. You had to mentally know the order of magnitude of the answer because the slide rule wouldn’t give it to you. Similarly, the pilot of a glass cockpit aircraft (and everyone else) should be doing the math as Mort described and not relying on bouncing level gages or fuel computers alone.

  8. Paul Wisgerhof
    Paul Wisgerhof says:

    As to the Cirrus pilot, did he even look at his fuel tanks prior to take-off? Did he follow a check-list? The answer to both questions is probably not. Does his fuel system require him to enter the amount of fuel added to the tanks at the last refuel? If yes, I’d bet he didn’t. If no, then he likely didn’t even look at the fuel gauges until after take-off…and then decided he could make it. I have a hollow dip-stick for my tanks. Gives me an accurate reading to about plus/minus two quarts per tank [if the aircraft is level]. Using it during every pre-flight lets me know exactly how long I can fly; not how far, just how long.

      MORT MASON says:

      Paul Wisgerhof is right. And if you want to stretch the distance of your flight for some reason, slow to 10% above normal glide speed, trim for level flight, and settle in for the most miles you’ll get from your fuel load.

    • tom
      tom says:


      For the first part, how do you know these things? If he refueled and failed to update the FF computer, how does that cause fuel exhaustion? Lots of speculatin’ going on here and not very professional.

      As for your hollow diptstick, good idea.

  9. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    I bought a FuelHawk universal fuel gauge, and calibrated to my plane. http://www.mypilotstore.com/MyPilotStore/sep/7914

    You construct a card correlating gauge readings to actual gallons. Directions are included, and it’s not all that hard to do. This can be done for different tanks on a plane, different aircraft, etc. One gauge can serve for many different tanks, just correlate the conversion card to the tank.

    I dip the tanks EVERY time I fly, even if it’s just in the pattern. But, then, I’ve been called a wuss pilot.

    Even if fuel gauges were accurate (and, why in heck aren’t they??!!) one of us would neglect to read them. We can make the plane fool proof – but not damned fool proof.

    • Thomas
      Thomas says:

      I would like to purchase the fuel measuring device.
      I have a Mooney M20J, could someone share their calibration with them.
      Also, let me know if you used fuel device was used.

      I have 32 gallon tanks wet wing Mooney.

      Thank you.

  10. Frank Ladonne
    Frank Ladonne says:

    Aircraft fuel gauges are not accurate for MANY reasons, not the least of which is that the tanks are an irregular shape and the scale on the gauge is either linear or logarithmic so its response doesn’t track the volume of fuel in the tank. Additionally, as you fly, naturally, the fuel is sloshing around. This is dampened out somewhat by the fuel gauge circuitry but due to tgis sloshing around, the fuel gauge is most accurate when you’re sitting on the ground (when you need it least) and then due to the irregular shape of the tank, not even terribly accurate then.

  11. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    Sloshing? I guess I fly away from turbulence, so haven’t experienced much of tossing around. And, baffles can curtail effects of that to a large degree. Gauge potentiometers can be made to compensate for irregularity of tank configurations.

    Kinda hard to believe that we can put folks on the moon, but can’t make an accurate gas gauge! Come on. If we wanted it, we would have it. We, as an industry, are satisfied with where we are, and simply don’t feel a strong enough urge to move off of dead center. Pure and bloody simple.

    • Jim Butler
      Jim Butler says:

      It’s interesting you referenced putting men on the moon. On our first moon landing we nearly ran out of fuel and crashed.

  12. Justin Hodges
    Justin Hodges says:

    Just a guess here, but ….
    Caught my attention –

    I think in almost all instances pilots are aware they “need to keep an eye on” fuel, but unfortunately most of us are not very good at making 3rd person (POV) decisions in 1st person (POV) situations.

    I’ll never forget the beating my wallet took stopping in Palm Springs (my destination was only 1 hour further – Yuma) to fuel up even though I knew the fuel gauges read far lower than actual. But I feel that sometimes to be a prudent pilot you still have to haze yourself sometimes.
    (I found out after fueling +$7/Gal I had plenty to get there with reserve, but still I flew away with a smile knowing it’s just another personal test passed in my goal to be “pilot elite”)

  13. L814SPD
    L814SPD says:

    My wife’s Honda CRV (and I suspect most newer automobiles) has a very accurate miles to empty on the instrument panel, maybe glass panels should have an hours and minutes to empty indicator which might make it less complicated about knowing when to land and get more fuel….

    • Daniel Clark
      Daniel Clark says:

      My JPI EDM 700 has that exact feature and has proven accurate down to the minute. Changes with fuel flow are also taken into account. No need to do any mental math at all, just watch the EDM right? Wrong! Ever get a bad return from a calculator? How about an excel spreadsheet formula? What if the breaker on the EDM pops? Always know at a minimum the fuel burn, and leg time. Do the math when the computer works so you don’t have to worry about it when it goes TU.

  14. Frank Ladonne
    Frank Ladonne says:

    Yes, Kayak Jack, absolutely right. The technology is certainly there. I worked on variable capacitance fuel senders for the military in the mid 70’s. The real question is, what would you be willing to pay for a precise fuel gauge. Next question do you really need it – no. Stick the tanks, every time, know your burn and leave a margin. You don’t NEED a gauge that’s accurate to the thimbleful.

    • Kayak Jack
      Kayak Jack says:

      Yeah, cost is a consideration, and I didn’t address that. May not want to – sticker shock??!!

      I fully agree with stick dipping the tanks, and know the fuel burn rate, and land with reserve. I like an hour + twenty minutes reserve. Wussy. But, a live wussy.

  15. Chris G
    Chris G says:

    It’s always a bit more difficult when you’re renting, but it IS your responsibility to know the aircraft’s fuel state; however, I learned from Dick Collins years ago that you fly by the HOUR, not by the fuel guage. If I have x amount of fuel on board, then I fly x gallons times average/trip usage, minus 30, 45, or 60 minutes depending on your personal safety margin. Of course, with today’s totalizers and fuel flow meters, this is helpful to verify; but flying by the hour, minus your safety margin will ensure your arrival at the airport – maybe not YOUR airport or destination – but THE airport with fuel in the tanks and not left at the departure fueling station!
    Incidents like this are hurting GA beyond belief in the public eye. Having safety items on board DOES NOT entitle you to leave caution – or your mind – behind! You have to bring along ALL the necessary items for a successful AND a safe flight, to include enough fuel for the task at hand.

  16. Patrick Collins
    Patrick Collins says:

    I am not a Cirrus hater by any means, but I am a Cirrus pilot hater when they do stupid stuff that makes us all look bad. I have said it before and i will say it again, G-Whiz panels make some pilots think that they don’t have to FLY THE AIRPLANE ANYMORE, IT WILL DO IT FOR ME! As for the “pull the chute” mentality… maybe they shouldn’t have been flying such a sophisticated aircraft in the 1st place…just saying.

  17. Steve Phoenix
    Steve Phoenix says:

    I would have to disagree with the “sticking the tanks, fly by the hour” crowd. These are useful things to do but they do not replace an accurate fuel quantity system which provides real time data. “Sticking” the tanks tells you how much you took off with, not how much you have. Knowing your fuel burn or having a totalizer for that matter, tells you how much you should have. None of these things tell you if you forgot to lean the mixture, left a gascolator drain valve open, left a fuel cap off or set the totalizer wrong. In my time of flying I have done all these things…once. Maybe I’m just a dummy, but I suspect others have made these errors. It is possible to have accurate guages, it requires something called maintenance. My 55 year old Piper Pacer, not exactly cutting edge technology, has gages accurate to 1 gallon. Most airplanes can be set up equally accurate, but it requires more than a “parts replacer” to do that. Having an accurate fuel quantity system is as necessary as an accurate oil temperature or pressure gage.

    • Justin Hodges
      Justin Hodges says:

      That gave me a good laugh – I was sumping a Mooney M20J doing my initial checkout and for the life of me I couldn’t find the gascolator drain … looking and looking I finally found it right under the pilot floorboard … poke with the tester cup …. fuel … unpoke … still fuel … poke up and down rapidly to unstick … fuel all over arms ….stick finger over hole to stop fuel and whistle for the mechanics to come over, they look around but don’t see me under the plane… whistle and yell, same result with the mechanics… With one hand I had to pull my wallet out, roll up a business card and stuff it in the hole to slow to a drip – climbed into the cockpit to shut off the fuel, and saw “fuel dump” on the pilots floorboard with the ring and pin lifted. I pushed it back down and all was well again, but I know exactly what you mean about gascaps and gascolators – done it and seen it.

  18. mike
    mike says:

    I’m sorry my comments my seem insensitive but I just think these type of accidents fall into the unforgiveable class or should I say what in the h— were you thinking? A 32 minute flight and you ran out of fuel, come on who did the preflight. These are the things that give all of us in GA a black eye. Fuel planning isn’t rocket science by any measure. I’m just glad the no one was hurt or killed.

  19. Gennaro
    Gennaro says:

    Steve has it right. It is possible to have accurate gauges. I suspect that most are accurate enough right now, but by saying “my gauges are not (notoriously) accurate we can then rationalize flying long after the gauge is screaming at us to land, land, land. Pilots will always find something to blame except themselves.

  20. Nate D'Anna
    Nate D'Anna says:

    My Grumman AA1A has only 22 gallons of usable fuel.
    Even with my thrifty Lycoming 0235 C2C engine burning an average of 6 gallons per hour, range without reserves is 300 miles (statute).

    This airplane is equipped with sight tubes, thus one would think that the arrangement is better than mechanical fuel gauges. Not so as the airplane’s tanks are the tubular spar itself, movement of the airplane and dihedral just cause the fuel to bounce around in the tubes. You may be able to stabilize the airplane long enough in perfectly calm air to get a decent reading, but this is not always the case. As a result, the sight tubes similar to gauges are only accurate when there is no more fuel left. If you can’t see fuel in the tube, that means the tank is dry.

    So I bought a timer that has 3 time modes. I use #1 to time the left tank, # 2 to time the right tank and # 3 that counts down from 3 hours and 10 minutes (This timing of 3hours 10 minutes allows for conservative VFR reserve)

    Well I became proficient enough that when the line men would fill my tanks, my calculations were within 2 to 4 tenths accurate. Note that I figure 6 gallons per hour total which includes start up, taxi, run up, climb, cruise, descent, landing and taxi. Naturally these scenarios require different power settings, but no matter how you slice it, at the end of the day, the engine uses 6 gallons per hour.

    Although successful at using the timing method, I decided to invest in a a JPI FS 450 fuel totalizer and it is the best investment I have ever made. This instrument is accurate to 1 tenth. I bought it and had it installed by my IA for less than $1,000.00. JPI has offered a rebate every year following Oshkosh that the price of the unit is very reasonable. Someone said that these units are nice but still subject to human error in that you have to remember to program how many gallons you have in your tanks after refueling. To that I say, an airplane in and of itself and ALL the equipment in it is subject to human error. Therefore, I disagree with the human error opinion. Do it right like everything else in flying and you’ll be fine.

    That being said, even with the fuel totalizer, I STILL use my trusty timer to manually figure my consumption as a backup to the instrument.

    Using these 2 options has made me very confident in figuring fuel consumption. It just works—-very well.

  21. George Dyer
    George Dyer says:

    I got my glider rating before my commercial pilot certificate. If I ever run out of fuel in my 185, so what! As long as the landing gear doesn’t fall off when the tanks go dry, just glide in and land.

    If a parachute must be part of the deal, wear it on your back, maybe that will make you think about the check list. The Cirrus crowd is pathetic and gives GA a bad rep, as is anyone else who can’t figure out fuel burn rate, or those who don’t even check their fuel quantity before departure.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      George, I think it’s unfair to lump all Cirrus pilots together as “pathetic.” Plenty of Cessna and Beech pilots run out of fuel. This example looks pretty bad, but it’s a pilot issue, not an airframe issue.

  22. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    This discussion is making me very happy with the float wire that protrudes from the fuel cap of my Aeronca Chief: when the wire stops bouncing, it’s time for a landing. Speaking of inaccurate fuel gauges, you should experience the Ford Model A gauge on the glareshield of the Chief. Yikes.

    The discussion also reminds me of how valuable it is to think of oneself as a “professional pilot,” even when flying on a PPL or Sport Pilot certificate. Professionals fly by the book and by established safety norms. As said above, running out of gas is almost always an unforgivable, totally avoidable pilot error.

      MORT MASON says:

      Like you, I enjoyed the fuel indicator on my Aeronca Chief. Until the sediment bowl dropped off during a flight on the last day of moose hunting season in 1858 while flying at 200′ in the Alaska bush. I was too busy there for a moment to notice the fuel gauge wire while putting my little ship down in the 8′ willows.

  23. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    Mike Brown sez, “my time-to-full-bladder range is so far below the fuel-to-empty-tank range of the airplane with full tanks, reserve fuel isn’t an issue.”

    I’m with you, Mike. Maybe pilots who run out of fuel are only younger guys? ;=)

  24. Frank Ladonne
    Frank Ladonne says:


    Now I know this is taking the discussion in a whole different direction but anytime a non-pilot finds out I own a plane, invariably, their first question is, “How far can you fly with full tanks?” And just as invariably, my answer is, “Fuel is never ever the limiting factor. How long can you go without peeing?”

    I’m with you, we should parse the data and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you find that only young pilots run out of fuel!

  25. Steven Anderson
    Steven Anderson says:

    Great comments from all of the above.

    But being only a single solo, many many years ago, but a product of a father who was USAF Safety Officer, and Accident Investigator, and a survivor of a couple of engine fires, Who had us wearing seat-belts in our cars, long before seat-belts were even installed as an option,then mandatory..

    But, not a designer, but what if someone could come up with a device, that would register the weight of the A/C on its landing gears, the temperture of the engine, (being cold – before starting), and amount of fuel in tanks, and if it is below a certain level or weight of fuel in tank , engine will start allowing you to do the minimum preflight steps, and then stop. Only a AP type of guy, could modify this action. This could be a computer chip, or black box, allowing minimum weight added to A/C ‘s weight. Sort’ve like the breath analyzer required in cars of convicted drunk drivers, who have to blow or car won’t start. Just an idea, and as far as it goes, NOTHING as far as i have been taught , during my growing up with my father, or my flight instructors, or other pilots and friends in all walks of life, NOTHING can take the place of using your Brain, regardless of the complexity of the action, that is what training is for. 20 yrs of NAVY training, 7 in Naval Aviation, the rest in Law Enforcement, but we train to do what has to be done, automatically, without thinking, for time could be of essences. But nothing against parachutes or the training to pull soon, pull often, that to me, just is leading to unnecessary follow up, by a whole lot of people that were not necessary. just my opinion as a non flyer, and wanna be one day to continue again, into the wild blue yonder….

  26. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    Friend Steve Anderson sez, ” NOTHING can take the place of using your Brain, ”

    BINGO! Intelligence has its limits – stupidity knows no bounds. Trying to legislate intelligence is like trying to legislate honesty. Human nature will beat you often enough to be severely frustrating. While I would not prefer an aircraft with a parachute attached, maybe it is just the ticket for some personalities?

  27. tom
    tom says:


    You are mixing two things here: Fuel management and when to hit the silk, and you let your outrage color both. Lets be clear, fuel exhaustion is THE stupid pilot trick. Boo. As Paul Bertorelli points out at Avweb, the Cirrus crash survival rate has not lived up to expectations, and reluctance to pull the handles is one of the reasons. When the USAF equipped fighters with ejection seats they went thru the same reluctance to eject, so Cirrus is trying to re-educate their owners. If you really want to be outraged, ask why Cirri need parachutes . . .

    The FAA will shoot the wounded soon enough, so lets turn this into a learning experience and focus on fuel management.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      “lets turn this into a learning experience and focus on fuel management.” My point exactly. Amid all the celebration about pulling the handle (which WAS the right decision), we forgot why they needed to in the first place. Train to use the chute if it’s needed, but plan so it’s not.

  28. tom
    tom says:

    Meredith: I don’t recommend the ‘visual level’ option. Too subjective. Here are what I think are better options in level of ease:

    1. Google ‘Archer II type club and ask members if they know of a pre-made dip tube, or the measurements to make your own. Just remember, aircraft are hand made and vary by serial number. But close is better than a wild guess.

    2.You can buy a ‘universal fuel gauge’ from sporty’s. http://www.sportys.com/PilotShop/product/9324 but you still have to calibrate it. Why spend that kind of money and end up doing the work?

    3. Make your own from some aquarium aerator tube and a sharpie. It’s a piece of stiff clear poly tubing with about a 1/8″ ID cut to the depth of your tank plus about 4 inches. Any clear, small ID, stiff and avgas tolerant tubing will work. Practice with it beforehand so you know how to hold it and get consistent readings by holding the tube vertical, dip it to the bottom of the tank, seal the top with your thumb and lift it out. Note the level of fuel in the tube. Soon you’ll add calibration marks.

    4. Run a tank dry in flight. Doing so is important because it uses the ‘usable’ fuel. Switch to the other tank and land. Then refuel the ’empty’ tank in 5 gallon increments, marking the dip tube as you do.

    Then repeat the process for the other side, just to be sure they are the same (not all are, especially if it is a bladder tank).

    Promptly transfer those marks and measurements to a sheet of paper and keep it somewhere safe. You’ll lose or break the dip tube, but if you have a template, you can make another.

    I put velcro on the side of the tube that never goes into the tank and attach it to the cargo area of my plane so I always know where it is. Ditto the sump drain tool.

    Don’t believe those old wives tales that running a tank dry somehow damages things. There’s no evidence of that: avweb.com/news/pelican/182044-1.html

    Perhaps a bit anal, but I saw a dip tube with a bulls-eye bubble level glued to the top and a ‘flute’ hole in the side for air venting. The owner said he has a very tall sea plane and positioning the dip tube to give the same reading twice was a challenge that the bubble level solved. Just so ya know.

    All of this blather is so you can compute burn rate. That plus a timer will tell you fuel remaining. Determine this by carefully refueling after each flight. If that’s not possible, dip the tanks and calculate how much you burned after a flight. Fuel burned divided by the hobbs, tach or airborne times give burn rates per hour. Just be consistent which kind of ‘time’ you use. They might or might not match the POH based on your leaning technique, power settings etc. If they disagree a lot, figure out why. It could be reveal a problem with leaning, engine management, or a leak.

    A well calibrated dip tube is the tool used to preset fuel flow meters when the tanks are less than full. Airliners use dip tubes built into the bottom of each tank so don’t think of this as primitive. Well, it is primitive but its also accurate.

    • Kayak Jack
      Kayak Jack says:

      Tom has some good points. I pretty much agree with everything he says here, with a couple of caveats. I’m not at all sure that a sharpie (or any other Magic Marker type pen) marking on a smooth surface will withstand avgas. Markings will fade and disappear pretty quickly under those circumstances, I’d think. You may end up with a stick, and cutting notches into it?

      Whatever you use to dip a tank with, it should be long enough so that when you fumble it (and it will get fumbled at some time) it cannot fall down into the tank. I laminated the conversion card for mine, and tie it to the dipstick. It’s handy to read whilst standing on the stool and dipping, and the card is bigger than the tank opening.

  29. tom
    tom says:

    KJ: True, a sharpie wears off with time, but my plane has an anti-siphon flap that drags on the dip tube, so I attribute the wear to that more than fuel solvency. I’ve found that sanding the tube with 600 grit and remarking with a sharpie makes it last longer.

  30. tom
    tom says:

    A scenario missing from the discussion is proper engine management. In my experience, it goes out the window for touch and goes and ‘short’ missions. I’m speaking of leaning mostly, but rpm is a close second, since it directly relates to fuel burn. For example, an IO-540 burns 24 gph at takeoff. Neglect to reset power to a cruise setting of half that and one can easily find themselves taking off with an hour’s worth of fuel that only lasts thirty minutes.

    The advancedpilot.com online course teaches engine management from start to shutdown, and wide open throttle, lean of peak operations are SOP, and the rule is to ‘park’ the engine LOP as soon as possible, then monitor FF and CHT to ensure you did it right. Using that technique I gain almost two hours of fuel per tank vs running rich of peak, often saving a fuel stop. Yes, I lose about 10% in airspeed, but that’s a fine tradeoff for a 25% increase in range over ROP cruise. Stingy owners learn this pretty quickly. “Wet’ renters not so much, because the incentive isn’t there.

  31. tom
    tom says:

    For those who suggest a low fuel light or a miles per gallon indicator, it’s already here, and are STCd for almost all GA aircraft in the form of engine data monitors with fuel flow – EDMs. If you really want to they make PMAd ‘primary’ units that replace all engine instruments, including gas gauges. They also include data recording so you can analyze engine problems on a computer, and display a flight on a graph, or play the whole flight back on a virtual engine monitor, all of which is diagnostic gold for aircraft owners, and a training tool for instructors.

    The line of EDMs from Electronics International and JPI accept a data stream from any GPS, handheld or panel mount. The EDM uses groundspeed and fuel flow data to display hours remaining; fuel required and remaining at waypoint/destination, gallons per hour and is user programmable to alarm at a user settable flight time remaining to empty. Go to minute seven on this video for the whole fuel management list: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrLXYsEBW5A

    Most Garmin handheld GPS can also accept a data stream from a FF device to display the same info on the GPS utilities screen. So if you have the instrumentation you can get the displays. Or, you can enter fuel flow manually into a GPS utility page to get a good approximation of the same list of information.

    If you don’t have a multiprobe engine data monitor with fuel flow, you need one, especially if you fly single engine aircraft. An EDM is like a flight engineer, monitoring fuel flow and engine temps to make sure they don’t go beyond preset parameters. If they do, it will give a visual and audio alarm into the audio panel.

    IMHO there are three things that will shut down an engine: Loss of fuel pressure, loss of oil pressure and pre-ignition. Ok, carb ice too, but you can easily fix that. You can fix pre-ignition but you have to know its happening. Legacy aircraft with single probe CHT (Or no CHT like the ’68 cardinal) can indicate all is well while a non-monitored cylinder is melting off its studs. An EDM that monitors all cylinder CHTs will help avoid that.

    With an EDM you can finally manage the engine and set the red knob based on data instead of old wives tales and ignorance.

    Note that I didn’t address EGT. So many are in love with an EGT reading but by itself and except for TIT it’s only a relative indicator. CHT on the other hand is a limit, and the wisdom based on data is that one should set a climb CHT limit of 400F and a cruise limit of 380F or less. factory CHTs of 450 and 500F are designed to sell more cylinders, stick valves and cause pre-ignition.

    The good folks who brought us the GAMI balanced fuel injectors and Tornado Alley Turbo STCs offer an online engine management course at http://www.advancedpilot.com APS provides the theory and set of procedures to manage engines – injected and carburetted – based on the EDM. They run an engine in their test cell to show what detonation and pre-ignition looks like, how cylinder pressures relate to CHT and why keeping pressures and CHTs low is good for your pocketbook, fuel economy and engine longevity. You’ll learn about WOTLOP – Wide Open Throttle, Lean of Peak procedures – that cool an engine with air instead of fuel, which can increase fuel economy and range up to 25% with a 10% speed penalty. You can use that info to decide if you want to go fast, or go far on a fuel load. Most importantly, it raises awareness of engine and fuel management.

    People who take the course prioritize ‘parking’ the engine at a setting that economizes fuel and cools the engine. Add a nagging EDM and running out of gas takes effort.

    MORT MASON says:

    Seems to me that running out of fuel is a violation of the FARs. Isn’t the pilot charged with making sure that there is a reserve amount of fuel after reaching his first intended point of landing? And if the pilot doesn’t know his fuel load and fuel burn before he starts the engine, it seems that he’s already set himself up for that potential problem.

  33. Kendall
    Kendall says:

    The Cirrus running out of gas incident reminds me of a serious incident experienced in a C172. I had to make a 3 hour trip against head winds at low altitude to avoid even higher winds. (I always planned for an hour reserve.) The engine was leaned out. for minimum fuel burn. The engine got rough on final and when I shut down the tanks were dry. Fuel stains over the wing from both gas caps meant that there was a porting problem. A quick call to Cessna revealed that the flight was made below 3000 ft and that fuel flow had not been tested at those conditions. I got a double whammy on the fuel flow. Gas caps were immediately replaced. I write this to suggest the fuel totalizers would not catch porting from a bad gas cap. This problem may not account for the Cirrus incident but it is food for thought. The only warning that I was in trouble was the fuel gauges stopped moving!

  34. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    As I remember from reading USAF accident reports, there were three causes:
    Acts of God
    Materiel failure
    Human error

    Materiel failure could often be traced back to human error because of deficiencies in design, installation, maintenance, inspection etc. Human error can be traced back similarly. If the Master Creator had wanted us to be error free, She would have made us that way? So, with a little rationalization, its easy to conclude that I’m not to blame for making all those mistakes that I make – its God’s fault. ;=))

    It’s probably a safe assumption that pilots don’t run our of gas on purpose. We just screw up sometimes. It seems that distractions often figure into our errors. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to slow down a bit and regain composure, go back a few steps on the checklist and regain my train of thought, and proceed methodically.

    But sometimes – its difficult to do that in the excitement of the moment. And then, Mother Nature says, “GOTCHA!”

  35. Randy McKnight
    Randy McKnight says:

    Maybe there could have been a fuel leak but a flight instructor leaving the ground with a student and not being sure how much fuel flying time he had is inexcusable and his license should be pulled. Calculate fuel burn flying time and don’t rely on the fuel gauges. These kind of pilots give General Aviation a bad name and safety record. They were lucky to walk away!

    • tom
      tom says:

      Randy: How did you determine there was a student on board the incident flight or that the instructor was anything other than a passenger? It seems there’s a lot of assuming goin’ on here . . .

    • tom
      tom says:

      Randy said: “These kind of pilots give General Aviation a bad name . . .”

      I’d really like to know what group is keeping that score. The ones who hate airplanes are the whack jobs who build next to airports, then bitch about airplane noise in general, not just GA. Pilots however seem eager to badmouth fellow pilots, like eating their own young.

      Randy also said “. . . and safety record.”

      It appears you don’t know much about the Cirrus safety record, which is higher fatals than comparable aircraft without parachutes. The builders came up with the chute idea after a midair and thought it a good idea. The FAA certified the plane without demonstrating spin recovery because it has a chute. We don’t know if they were in a spin or just couldn’t find a landing spot. It doesn’t matter.

      “They were lucky to walk away!”

      How can you say that? They had a parachute, and used it. No luck there. Based on the scant data available it appears they used the best tool in their kit and deserve attaboys. I disagree with John that saving their hides after running out of gas is a disgrace. To me a disgrace would be a reluctance to hit the silk and kill people, but that’s just me.

      As I’ve writ in detail, there are several scenarios that could have lead to fuel exhaustion after departure with enough fuel for the trip, and we don’t know which is the correct one. So maybe we should pull your speculator’s license eh?

      • John Zimmerman
        John Zimmerman says:

        Tom, I do not think it’s a disgrace that they pulled the chute–I think that’s the right thing to do. As you say, if you have it, use it. But that is the final step in the decision-making process. What leads up to that is worth scrutiny, just as much as the decision to pull the red handle. I think some in the Cirrus community gloss over that in their zeal to promote CAPS.

        • Chris Schubert
          Chris Schubert says:

          Well put. If it is determined that they ran out of gas they should be made to pay for all damages out of pocket . The pilots that run out of gas should be held accountable so that the insurance premiums do not continue to rise for those of us that don’t run out of gas.

          Chris Schubert

    MORT MASON says:

    It seems that most CFIs are using flight instruction as a waypoint on the road to the exalted ATP, and are working toward an airline job. That seems to have been the trend for the past three generations of instructors. The more we rely upon the panel and its displays, the more liable we are to get into trouble somewhere along the way. How many of today’s young pilots, or their instructors, for that matter, are comfortagble with partial panel flight? Not many . . . . . Time and known fuel burn will ALWAYS be the best answer for avoiding fuel starvation in flight. Always.

    • Kayak Jack
      Kayak Jack says:

      I agree, Mort. The mind is (still) our best bet. Instruments – whether steam gauge or glass – are indicators of reality; they are not reality. When a warning light of any kind comes on, you know only one thing for sure – the light bulb works. Its indication of a real condition may be very accurate – or not.

      Trust, but verify. Plan ahead. Etc. These silly axioms are standard for a reason.

    • tom
      tom says:

      Mort: How do yo know the CFI was instructing and not just hitching a ride from a crew doing his way? It seems there’s some assumin’ going on here . . .

    MORT MASON says:

    I don’t, of course. But I’m not comfortable in thinking he was asleep during the preflight. Are you? I’d think that any instructor worth his salt would have at least a modicum of, if not a keen interest in, the preflight of any airplane he was about to strap himself into . . .

  38. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    While I agree with you, Mort, that doesn’t match my experience. I would preflight, get a weather briefing, the instructor would arrive, and we flew. Personally, I would have expected them to at least ask how it went, how much fuel is aboard, or do a fast walk around for themselves. Trust, but verify.

    MORT MASON says:

    Yes, Kayak Jack, two heads really are better than one when it comes to leaving the earath behind. Slipping the surly bonds off earth is one thing, but slipping from common sense and safety are quite another.

  40. tom
    tom says:

    Mort said . . . “I’m not comfortable in thinking [the CFI] was asleep during the preflight. Are you? I’d think that any instructor worth his salt would have at least a modicum of, if not a keen interest in, the preflight of any airplane he was about to strap himself into . . .

    Was this an instructional flight? Was the CFI PIC? If yes, it matters if he slept. If a pax just happened to be a CFI then not: Why would he interfere with a flight crew? If a CFI was pax on a B787 and the same thing occurred would you hold him responsible? Why or why not considering what has been said so far?

    The bottom line is, we don’t know if this was an instructional flight or something else and it gives me cold pricklies when people speculate at someone’s responsibility and guilt. What exactly, does it accomplish?

  41. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    We’ve all gotten way off track here. Maybe we’ve wrung this subject out, and we need something else to chew on.

    MORT MASON says:


    If the instructor was in the pilot compartment, then I’d presume he was rated, or at least qualified, as a flight officer for that ship. In which case, I’d certainly hope he had enough training behind him to be more than a little concerned with the preflight, yes.

    And, who really cares whether or not it was an instructional flight? A CFI is supposed to be one notch above the GA wallahs around him. That means that we expect him – – – or her – – – to be just a little alert. Sorry . . . I’m from the old school. When someone is going to drag my old bones off the ground, I assure you that I’m going to be alert to all the preflight niceties. That’s one of the reasons why, after 20.000 logged hours of Alaska bush flying, I’m still flying. Safely.

  43. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    What if someone came up with an accurate cost effective fuel level sender for GA one that reported to tenths of a gallon addressing sloshing, funny tank shapes and water (remember Centurions and C twins have Capacitive systems). Potentiometers, capacitors – I thought the Model T reference was old.

    What would happen, what would the commentary be like here. What if the fuel gauge values were just as accurate as the totalizer a real comparison (Totalizers are not a FAA airframe requirement but most pilots trust them).

    Now — What if there were over 250 aircraft flying with 10 more being added every week with this system and not one reported issue. You would think this is something you would know.

    I can’t tell if it would be just one more G-Whiz device, or a real benefit

  44. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    It is reality and has been installed on two of the most produced production aircraft and soon to be on a third. Initiated a year ago. Retrofit program in motion and a few other minor players for OEM and retrofit.

    Unfortunately this was after the subject aircraft was produced.

    Only the relative obscurity of the new system ……. for the what if’n

  45. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    You’re tiptoeing around it; can you come right out and disclose what we are talking about here? Name of the gear? Where we can read about it? Where it is sold? Options? Prices?

  46. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    All you need to do is click on the Fuellevel – you will get where you want

    Fuel level sender – Accurate reliable —

    So this combines “toms” admonition for fuel totalizers matched with senders that are just as accurate http://youtu.be/6-DJ8ULakP8

    Cirrus only at this point (Gipps, Quest, Vulcanair and next week one more) from a OEM. Cirrus only retrofit —- at present.

  47. tom
    tom says:

    I don’t understand why the person posting the fuel sender comment couldn’t speak directly, but I recalled a similar discussion on the Cardinalflyers.com and found the below discussion between the fuel level developer at http://www.ciescorp.com and some Cardinal engineering types, sanitized to protect the guilty and edited to eliminate most of the engineering stuff. tom

    From: Scott Philiben ([email protected])
    Subject: CIES Fuel Level Senders

    Well yes, we play well with others. And our output is unique, it is a frequency output in the native form, from approximately 40 Hz to 256 Hz as a 5 volt square wave.

    Working with Larry E at JPI, we are compatible with the JPI 900 Series engine monitors. The senders are FAA TSO`d,

    Our system for fuel level measurement is patented, so while the EI fuel sender might sound like the same animal, it should be different.

    All CIES units are tested and qualified prior to delivery.

    We are working with a Cardinal owner on a 337 to start the ball rolling (on a cardinal STC. tc).

    Videos and info on the website blog and youtube

    To a question about coupling a modern fuel sender like ours to the conventional Cessna gage, we have actually accomplished this for a boat unit we did, using the Op-Amp method, kind of. This can be made into an aircraft unit.

    Actually, the loads imposed by the conventional gages are quite high, with a lot of power dissipated. So we PWM [pulse width modulate] the output to achieve the virtual resistance. The converter carries its own calibration curve – it first senses the resistance of the gauge, and drives it full scale. You calibrate the full and empty position (two ground wires). One moves the pointer left, the other moves the pointer right, for empty position and full position. Then, you put in zero fuel – ground a calibration wire – the gauge goes to E. You now have 10 positions to fill to full tank capacity on the POH, divided by 10. At full the gauge reads full – no more.

    All the above being said – the digital output we use for the current TSO unit is virtually an unbreakable communication method. The Cessna resistive system relies on perfect connections – the digital frequency on the other hand is dog reliable with any connection. You should see the wire harness we used for the DO-160 testing – splices- connections – bad solder joints.

    Thanks for the part numbers on Cardinal fuel gages from the parts catalogs, your article on the CFO website (below) – that helps alot – I have the Cessna drawings – but it is cryptic to tell where they go.

    I see EI is offering their magnetic sender via Aircraft Spruce. But, I like ours better! :-)

    Scott Philiben, President CIES Inc 221 SE Timber Ave. Redmond OR, 97756 PH: 541-977-1043 Cell: 541-408-1095 [email protected] http://ciescorp.com http://fuellevel.blogspot.co

    From: Scott Philiben
    I`ve been doing a little research. First, a comment on what Cessna was trying to accomplish, and why maybe it`s not as big a deal anymore. Cessna was trying to match a linear change in resistance to a non-linear tank capacity (gallons per inch) as represented by a non-linear float to lever arm connection (where the sin of the arm rotation angle is the vertical displacement of the float). The good news is that they had degrees of freedom to try and accomplish a better match. The bad news is that it`s unlikely they`d ever get it REALLY close.

    ) But, nowadays, the modern digital fuel level indicators, whether EI MVP50 or JPI EDM900 or AeroSpaceLogic or other, have linearization table features whereby one adds a gallon at a time and then `tells` the gage that the changed fuel transmitter signal now represents an incremental (or decremental) gallon. So we`re not as beholden to mechanical linkage linearization as Cessna was back in the `60`s and `70`s, when electronic linearization required thousands of dollars of discrete electronics.

    Bob Nuckolls of AeroElectric Connection offered to devise an interface, but it`s moot if you go to the EI, AeroSpaceLogic,or JPI monitors that include fuel level, as I believe they all can cope with the 1 to 5 volt input… it`s only the stock gage that`s challenged.

    Electronics International writes: Our P-300M Magnetic Float Sensors were designed to work with a system that allows a `mapping` of fuel level positions to the various voltage output. The P-300M fuel probe range from about .5 to 4.5 volts and that is just an estimate. Once the system with the fuel probe installed is calibrated, the output will repeat for a given position. We found that most of the old resistive fuel probes will not repeat the same signal at a given position. The fuel probes retail for $349 per probe. For us to build these we would need to have an existing fuel probe so that we can model our length, fulcrum and bends in the rod.

    Bob Nuckolls writes: It`s pretty easy to craft an op-amp signal conditioner that will apply the necessary gain and offset to spread the 1-5 volt signal over the legacy instrument`s scale. These tend to be `beefy` instruments of perhaps 10 ma full scale. The signal conditioner would have to be vetted for this much sink or source current.

    I am replacing all of the analog engine gauges (In a Cardinal) with a JPI EDM 900.The unit is really cool, and opens up all kinds of panel space. Installation is still in progress, and I will send a pirep as soon as I get some time with the unit.

    I`m experiencing problem with the fuel level senders. The shop tested the units in the plane, and found that their output was somewhat erratic. Rebuild quotes were breathtaking: $700 each.

    We found operational used units for about half that amount and opted for them. When it came time to calibrate the fuel level readings on the JPI there was no level shown. Test of both the JPI and the senders indicated that they were working, but the problem is that the JPI unit works with resistances in the 0 – 300 ohm range and the senders, both original and units we purchased, had 4k ohm potentiometers on them and outputted 400 – 4,000 ohms. They were clearly stamped 4k on the pots. We are looking for different senders currently but wondered if anyone else has had this issue?

    CFO writes: Doesn`t JPI have a plan for dealing with senders of this type? Your best alternative may be to contact Paul Malkasian at 360-683-6245 http://www.fuelsenders.com for a discussion. He knows more about the options and electronics involved than anyone, and may have seen this exact situation.

    I had the JPI EDM 900 installed in September last year, and had the same problem. We ended up getting our two senders repaired for just over $200 each by Paul Malkasian.

    Since then, Scott Philiben at CIESCORP.COM has announced availability of magnetic (no leakage path from the tank) senders. Scott reports he`s successfully worked with JPI to have them configure their units to accept his new-industry-standard 1 volt to 5 volt output signal in lieu of the historical, Cardinal original installation, zero to X ohms resistance style, where X is someplace between 200 and 4,000 ohms, depending on whether you have Leigh, Stewart Warner, or Rochester senders installed in YOUR Cardinal (and of course, some Cardinals have different senders on each side).

    Electronics International has a very similar style sender now, too, and they`re easy folks to work with. However, JPI does NOT play well with others, and considers EI a significant competitive threat… so it will probably be easier to coordinate between CIES Corp with Scott`s help and JPI than trying to get EI and JPI to play nicely together.

  48. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    Tom Well I believe I even wrote some of that –

    I know there is good reason to have a working fuel level system in an aircraft. I obviously believe it and invested in it. It is an easy sell to OEM’s faced with getting quality fuel level to an increasingly complex instrument panel – imagine depicting incorrect fuel level with fuel available. Or worse Cautions and Warnings from bad data. The specific aircraft model forums are/were rife with unhappy campers with fuel level reporting in newer aircraft. The manufacturers are my target.

    Near to your personal heart… Beechcraft is presently trying to get legacy resistance senders to pass an environmental test regime for the FAA. I believe they are on Round 3.

    There is a lot of pilot belief that one ….. its not possible to have working fuel gauges and two with an engine management system …. is it even necessary and gauges only need to tell you you are empty. Which was part of your point above – a strong endorsement of engine management systems as they have proven reliable.

    My point / mission is that you can have both – and that they will generate two sources of fuel level data from two independent means and that if you put a similar intelligent effort to the sender design – the information will match.

    We were confident in the patented manner and operation, and we TSO’d the senders and have OEM acceptance. My differentiating message to any competitor …


    All that said – I want to know – If this pilot who reported observing fuel to tabs on pre-flight got into the subject aircraft (this is the shift) and now believing his gauges as they have reported accurate and trustworthy information – would he have continued his flight or would he have added the additional fuel to reach an acceptable weight and balance conclusion and then also reached the destination airport under power.

    If he did have a fuel leak which has been surmised – knowing this with (again the shift) trustworthy fuel level information – would he have chosen to land at an airport along the flight path and had maintenance find the issue.

    I want to know like you – what can a bit of technology do – if fuel level is no longer the scapegoat of aircraft gauges and proven trustworthy – will it change behavior


    That was reason to stay – cloaked – I believe historically crap fuel level gauges are a contributing link for fuel exhaustion. but not the only link. So I wanted to query a dialogue on the subject

  49. tom
    tom says:

    Dear Fuellevel – How about a name and URL eh? Playing ‘I’ve got a secret’ isn’t a very good marketing strategy, and most people wouldn’t bother to google your hints to see where it leads. Be direct.

    That said, I agree with the first part – redundancy is good and gauges vs FF are complimentary if reasonably accurate and understood.

    Your second part is unclear. Who is the pilot you are referring to? Meridith and the tabs in her archer, or the accident aircraft? I’m confused. If you are simply asking if reliable gas gauges would prevent fuel exhaustion I’m not so sure. But – If you tie in a blinkey ‘min fuel’ light I suspect it would have the desired effect. I find it amazing how people totally ignore gauges but overreact to a blinkey light.

    I’m the moron who has run almost every piece of machinery I own out of fuel one time or another, and came close in legacy rental aircraft a time or two. Hence my obsessing over dipsticks and FF. When I bought a Cardinal the first project was to install an EDM830 with GPS input and program it to raise hell when it calculates that I’m into the last hour of fuel remaining. It is interesting how easy it is to ignore fuel gauges heading toward ‘E,’ but a flashing light or display gets lots of attention and lively discussion. 2400 hrs later, so far that strategy has worked well.

    As far as crap fuel gauges – it appears that most of the older pilots have adapted. diptsticks/timers and FF/totalizers also compliment each other unless there is a leak, so an uber-accurate gas gauge might be a hard sell to that crowd. A lot probably depends on price, labor and reliability. That said, almost all the gauges in my plane are from EI or JPI, so I’m a sucker for blinky lights and widgets that lighten the load and grab my attention if the price is right. For the new pilot, uber accurate gauges are probably expected and relied upon. In fact, it takes a while for the concept, care and feeding of a totalizer to sink in whereas any car driver understands a gas gauge.

    • Steve Phoenix
      Steve Phoenix says:

      Accurate gages and warning lights are all good. Will they prevent fuel exhaustion accidents? Did flat panels eliminate CFITs and Loss of Control accidents? Even with all the gizmos, there is a small probability that one day you can make an error from which they cannot help you. Sightseeing detour, leaving a fuel cap off, no fuel available at last airport, unexpected winds, whatever; there are a lot of possibilities. With an airplane it is also possible not to discover the error until you are position between airports at which making it to the closest one, with fuel, is questionable. One could land safely in that field below, but it would be very inconvenient and might damage the plane and cost a lot to recover it. Human nature heads for the closest airport with hope. Which, I believe, is why many fuel exhaustion accidents occur fairly close to airports. And then there’s the guys that will stretch it to get to a field with gas that’s 25 cents cheaper. The good thing is, there is never an after crash fire.

  50. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    @tom if you mouse over Fuellevel as I mentioned and yes the Cirrus aircraft in the blog

    @Steve Phoenix “Sightseeing detour, leaving a fuel cap off, no fuel available at last airport, unexpected winds, whatever; there are a lot of possibilities.”

    That is exactly true and if your fuel gauge let you know or gave you accurate information

    How many aircraft just make the airport or make it and exhaust fuel on the way to the line station. that is the true measure – near miss events.

    CFIT and flat panels are a ‘Red Herring” argument very clearly the best example on the other end of that is TCAS – Near Miss events went down exponentially with new technology despite early griping that it had no impact.

    • tom
      tom says:

      Gah! I feel like I’m drilling loose rivets here! So you want me to click on your NAME fuellevel in the blog? Got it. Sadly, the browser never connects, taking me to the house of 404. Perhaps just providing a tried and tested URL would stop the frustration.

      I have no clue what ‘. . .yes the Cirrus aircraft in the blog’ means.

  51. tom
    tom says:

    Running dry while taxiing to the gas pump reminds me of some testing we did in a 2005 C-182 while running a tank dry in flight for maintenance. After the engine quit making power, we could gently slip the plane to raise the wing containing the empty tank and got almost five more minutes of full power. When it quit again, we played with pitch attitude and found that by pitching up we got power back. Pitch down for a 3 degree approach path and the engine quit. We played with that for maybe five more minutes. My point is, know thine airplane: there might be a way to use ‘unusable’ fuel.

    A look at the fuel tank pickup location of the 2005 C-182 explains why: the port is at the inboard aft edge of the wet wing, so maneuvering spilled fuel over stringers, formers and gobs of sealant in the tank to the fuel pickup screen. On taxi, the pitch attitude with nobody in the back seat is more like a glide, and unports the fuel pickup.

    My point is, run a tank dry at a safe altitude and see if you can ‘maneuver’ fuel to the engine with banks, slips and changes in pitch attitude. Even occasional or partial power buys time so you can get to a better place. Like a parachute, it isn’t something you plan to use, but knowing how and the quirks of your ride might save you from needing the parachute.

    John’s article claims the inspector drained 26 oz of fuel from the plane. That’s a couple tenths of a gallon. Not knowing how Mr. Inspector drained it, there might have been 4-1/4 gallons more unless the crew burned ‘unusable’ fuel. According to this URL, http://aviation.ju.edu/Aircraft/CirrusSR20.aspx the SR20 has 60.5 gallon fuel capacity and 56 usable. that’s darn near a five gallon can of ‘unusable’ fuel sloshing around in an SR20 that goes on every flight. Learning how to access it could save a lot of embarrassment.

  52. tom
    tom says:

    Just to blather about glass panels and their failure to prevent UA and CFIT: I went to the Cessna school on the 2005 G1000 and brought a new plane ‘home’ for CAP. The TAA syllabus was frustrating and drove the older crowd nuts because it was ‘autopilot on at 300 ft and autopilot off at DA.’ Everything was done thru the KAP140 autopilot, which if you’ve flown one, isn’t a modicum of clarity. CAP insisted we follow that damn syllabus when teaching search pilots. Since most were not IFR pilots they resolutely resisted becoming one, but there it was in the syllabus.

    The real resistance came from the guys who had been putting around in the canyons and coulees all their lives: They had never flown an autopilot and the refrain was “What the heck do we need an autopilot for? It’ll kill us!” Indeed, a few years later after the Steve Fossett search two graybeards apparently did as told and let the plane fly them into a mountain. I suspect there was boredom and sleep involved, but I disliked the syllabus so much I prefer to be unreasonable and blame the people who made it mandatory.

    But, in an upset situation readily inspired by inadvertent IMC or just a boring turbulent night over desolate country – the autopilot can save your bacon. I knew it already from thousands of hours in my flivver using a Garmin handheld with terrain and an ancient Century 1 wing leveler, so I worked hard at convincing greybeards that if they got into trouble in the CAP aircraft “press this button, point the nose toward black on the MFD and let go.” We practiced it a lot and a few incorrigible curmudgeons allowed that that was pretty cool. Which is saying a lot for pilots who were used to hauling hunters in the fall, gunning coyotes in the winter, tracking griz in the spring and throwing it all away dryland farming in the summer. However, with a little bit of training an S-Tec 30 and a handheld Garmin can do the same thing for a lot less money.

  53. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    I’ve begun to wonder how much effect distractions have in these fuel starvation incidents? Fatigue, weather, bothersome passenger, illness, get-home-itus, etc. will all work to dilute our concentration on the tasks at hand. No matter what kinds of instrumentation and warning systems we have operational, we can miss it, and/or react late or wrong.

    I suspect, though, that some evidence of distractions may get lost amongst other issues in accident investigation and reporting.

  54. tom
    tom says:

    K. Jack: The FAA report is instructive: “The familiarization flight with a flight instructor, a private pilot, and a passenger . . . departed from DXR, landed at GON, and were returning to DXR at the time of the accident. The airplane was on approach to runway 26 at DXR . . .”

    This was a round robin. The accident occured at 1925 EST, so it was dark and late. Maybe they were on the search for cheaper fuel at GON but as someone else pointed out, needed a phone call to arrange for after hours refueling. If so then they departed GON knowing they were going to have to milk the fuel load for all it was worth and lost the gamble. Here’s where a dip tube would have been worthwhile in case the FF totalizer was not working or misprogrammed. If it was working and accurate then they ignored it.

    Or as it says, a fam flight with the fuel kept low for three bottoms in the seats and possibly a prospective student or buyer in the left seat? If so then lots of Q&A and as you say, distractions. I’ve been on show and tell flights and looked down in disbelief at firewalled mixture and prop controls: both good ways to double the fuel burn. Oops.

    A little bit of data I dredged up: The Conti engine in the SR20 has a ‘self leaning fuel pump.’ I have no clue what that translates into. It still has a mixture control, but maybe they relied on the self leaning feature below some altitude. Pure speculation, since I haven’t read the POH. But according to some blogs thaT engine runs great @ 50f LOP. But, I’m speculating.

    In the end we are going to know more than most want because the report says: “The airplane was equipped with a remote data module (RDM) mounted in the empennage, which was intended to record engine and flight parameters. In addition, a memory card was found in the Avidyne multi-function-display unit located in the cockpit. Both the RDM and memory card were removed and forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory, Washington, DC, for data download.”

    Nothing like a heartless silicone snitch to mess with speculation.

    On that note: Did you know that you can buy a program from Garmin called ‘mapsource’ that will download and plot where any of their handheld devices have been? Great for tracking people and vehicles. Combine that with OBD II velocity and vector data from a vehicle’s computer and you too can become Big brother – er – a responsible adult.

  55. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    One short diversion here. A program I find handy to use with handheld GPS is ExpertGPS.com. It interacts with handhelds, and you can feed info back and forth from map to field and field to map. It shows topos and aerial photos of the CONUS. I bought a lifetime subscription. Nice to have the flying route pre-programed on the handheld as a backup to the iPad.

    But, it doesn’t put fuel into our tanks.

  56. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    The SR20 pilot reported to have filled the aircraft to the tabs – 30 Gallons –
    The plan was for two 1 hour flight – 32 minutes to KGON to DXR and 32 minutes back to KGON – I believe I heard but cannot confirm a full stop at DXR – The SR20 fuel burn 12 gallons per hour worst case.

    His totalizer would have said he had plenty of fuel – another 1 hr and 45 minutes. Potentially to recreate his flight and still have a 45 minute reserve.

    Did the misread the tabs – 1/8 inch equates to 1 Gallon on the SR20 at the tabs – so worst case 28 gallons or maybe 26 Gallons. 1/2 Hour error

    So in the original premise that the blogger put forward – How would proper planning and a fuel totalizer help this pilot

    The damning of the pilot, Jordan G seems to be inappropriate

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Proper planning means really knowing how much fuel you have–a guess at the tabs doesn’t count. In a long, thin wing like the Cirrus, you can easily mis-read the tabs on the order of 10 gallons or more. Especially at night. So I think it’s highly possible they didn’t have 30 gallons. It’s really hard to know without a dipstick or seeing the fuel truck meter.

      Even so, my 1 hour rule (shared by most pilots I think) helps with errors like this. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s more margin. Seems like these guys were planning to cut it close by my standards, even with an optimistic estimate.

      As others have pointed out, the fuel burn at low altitude and for multiple takeoffs may have been the final blow. But that’s part of planning.

  57. tom
    tom says:

    K. Jack. Here’s a story from John Deakin on what you speak, but it has to do with landing a B747 gear up instead of out of gas. Gas. Gear. Starts with Gah! Distractions can mess with both, and he had four well trained pilots in the pointy end helping him do it. http://www.avweb.com/news/pelican/188536-1.html

    The Air France 447 crash may have been a similar situation. They were near thunderstorms, lost airspeed indications, lost the autopilot and automated protections against stupid pilot stuff. Then they did stupid pilot stuff and rode a perfectly good airplane 35000 ft in a stall with the stall horn going. Why? Again, thanks to silicone snitches we learned that someone decided they were in a condition they weren’t really in and responded inappropriately. Is it safe to say the loudest in the room can distract everyone into ‘groupthink?’ With a mechanical AI and GPS ground speed located between the pilots, one would think someone might have looked at it and come up with a better solution.

    The below analysis is one man’s opinion and might not be as rigorous as the official French government report, so there are facts, some interpretation and opinions. Google ‘air france 447’ for the government report and other articles from aviation sources. http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/aviation/crashes/what-really-happened-aboard-air-france-447-6611877

    I put myself in the cockpit of AF447 in IMC in the middle of the intertropical convergence where the last look at radar indicates very bad news dead ahead. Then big red Xs grow across the glass panels as the pitot tube iced up, the autopilot disconnects and you have just warned the stews to batten the hatches for turbulence. Then it gets turbulent. Are we IN that storm? Perhaps add some lightning and St Elmo fire for Hollywood effect. Is that distracting enough to forget there is GPS groundspeed and an iron gyro AI available for cross reference before (inexplicably) yanking and banking on the joystick? None of the reports I’ve read address the thunderstorms and make a glancing run at fear, which seems odd. IMHO, fear is the worlds largest distraction, and once it starts rational thought leaves the room.

    During the Viet Nam War one of the few good things that came out of McNamara’s bean counters was statistics on pilot survival: If a fighter pilot survived his first seven missions he’d make it to the end of his tour, barring a golden BB. That’s the reason USAF had Red Flag and Navy has Top Gun: Make students fight for their lives while old pros grow fangs and shoot blanks at them, then play it all back on the ACMI for a group debriefing and ribbing. Once the students know what it’s like to be shot at, they settle down and do the job.

    SAC F-111 bomber crews showed the greatest improvement at Red Flag. They would come in wide-eyed and SAC trained meat on a hook. The first week was a turkey shoot as aggressors passed over smokey F4s to pick off shiny new F111s. By the end of week one they were growing fanglets and threw away the the GD checklists. In week two we never saw them, down low in F105 country and going almost as fast, without guns. They went home fully fanged, steely-eyed tactical innovators nobody saw coming. Pretty good for bomber pukes.

  58. tom
    tom says:

    Fuellevel said:

    “The SR20 pilot reported to have filled the aircraft to the tabs – 30 Gallons –
    The plan was for two 1 hour flight – 32 minutes to KGON to DXR and 32 minutes back to KGON – I believe I heard but cannot confirm a full stop at DXR – The SR20 fuel burn 12 gallons per hour worst case.”

    You have it backwards according to the FAA report: “departed from DXR, landed at GON, and were returning to DXR at the time of the accident.” http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20130123X73100&key=1

    Fuellevel said: “His totalizer would have said he had plenty of fuel – another 1 hr and 45 minutes. Potentially to recreate his flight and still have a 45 minute reserve.”

    I get 1.5 hr, but close enough for gov’t work. The real question is what did the gauges and dipstick say?

    Fuellevel said: “Did the misread the tabs – 1/8 inch equates to 1 Gallon on the SR20 at the tabs – so worst case 28 gallons or maybe 26 Gallons. 1/2 Hour error”

    Not knowing how wide the gas door is on an SR20, how well their Zippo lighter illuminated the tab, wind chill, pax yelling to get going etc, 1/8″ accuracy reminds me of the definition of military precision that involves micrometers, chalk and axes. For that precision, we rally need a calibrated dipstick. Or, perhaps as you hope we conclude, your gauges.

    Fuellevel said: “So in the original premise that the blogger put forward – How would proper planning and a fuel totalizer help this pilot

    The damning of the pilot, Jordan G seems to be inappropriate”

    Beats me. Who is Jordan G? Regardless, I agree, the damning is based on opinion and speculation since we don’t know the facts and testimony other than what is on the FAA report. Which leads me to ask: where did you get the info about the accident aircraft being filled to the tabs? Got a link or reference?

  59. tom
    tom says:

    Ever had a fuel truck gas up the identical plane next to yours? I have. As a result, nobody touches my plane unless I’m there. Because of Monarch Anti-siphon flaps I usually do it myself to get it topped off Hence, I have my own visual of how much and what goes in the tanks.

    I also don’t trust truck mounted meters. My state does not regulate them, so if the totalizer and the truck disagree by 5% I ask for calibration data, and if it isn’t available we haggle. If it’s a partial fuel load, then I tow the plane to a level spot as defined by the inclinometer in the TB indicator and use the dip tube to calibrate the FF totalizer.

    I’ve also refueled a twin Cessna the night before and the next morning one of the tip tanks was almost empty. I had been warned against doing this and sure enough, someone had used a Redneck Credit card to siphon 45 gallons out of the left tuna tank. A gas gauge would have caught it. But we always insert an eyeball just to be sure all tanks (six of them) were topped and I was aware of the theft problem. That could have been exciting during takeoff because the engines can only be fed from the tip tanks. The aux and lockers transfer to the tips.

    Finally, I topped my Cardinal for an early departure that was delayed a week due to snow. I stopped by the plane a few days after the storm and the tail had settled to the ground to an angle that the carb float apparently couldn’t handle and it flowed freely. The snow was stained with fuel where it vented out the caps and carb. I had lost about 25 gallons.

    The Cardinal is an odd duck because it has a fuel selector and a separate shutoff valve. The off valve is supposed to be safety wired in the “ON” position with breakable copper wire for reasons that are unclear. After that episode I said the heck with the safety wire and shut the fuel off after every flight. However that does create another problem: forgetting to turn it on. I know precisely now far I can taxi with it off . . . Frequently using a valve that had not seen much use also promptly resulted in a rather large fuel leak at the valve in the cabin. Viton O-rings are cheap. Manufacturing the special tool to do it, not so cheap . . .

  60. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    Correct – Sorry looked at Flight aware – DXR to KGON back to DXR
    Sorry I am West coast – it is still only 1 hr of flight time –

    Tabs or stick – both are physical reference points of tank volume – there is no difference
    One hopes he used a flashlight – the pilots name is Jordan – I know a very good friend of his and he reported as such on the Cirrus Owners site. Zippo lighters aside

    Accurate gauging, with a suspension of belief that it was actually possible, would only help if he was loosing fuel. If you have not flown with a system that has demonstrated capability to you personally or somebody you trust – I would not expect you to believe it. I could no more sell you working fuel level than swampland in Florida – Now I do want you to carefully consider this — one by one OEM’s are installing our system standard – we actually have more than 50% of the below 12,500 lb market and we will gain another 15% next week – so something is happening – and I yes won’t get Diamond as somebody pointed out.

    – No sane person or manufacturer would recommend against physically checking the tank quantity prior to flight and just blindly trusting a fancy gauge output. The SR20 pilot checking the fuel will be in the NTSB final as well as all the physical data from the flight including fuel burn and flight GPS data.

    So we are left with – too many operations at the intermediate point or fuel leakage
    If it was the former – shame on him ( but to burn up 1.5 hrs of fuel govm’t wise sounds too foolish ) – If it was the latter and in both cases he would have run one tank dry – prior to running the other dry at that point the conclusion to pull the parachute was appropriate.

  61. Kayak Jack
    Kayak Jack says:

    Wow, I go out to dinner and – lots of good comments came rolling in. I keep learning. Good work, guys.

    I learned a long time ago, on lawn mowers, to turn off the fuel. Float needles in carburetors are fickle and untrustworthy. They can piddle fuel all over the place, and create a very good way to start a fire. Scraping a nail in the bottom of your shoe, across a concrete floor with gas fumes around, oughta do it just fine.

    Being human, I’ve also found out that trying to start an engine without turning it back on doesn’t work real well.

  62. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:

    As I am spending a lot of time on fuel issues on aircraft. I am definitely not of the opinion
    that if every pilot does – A then confirms with B he will get C

    I do know the following

    Pilots like totalizers because it does the hard work for them – calculates fuel flow for different flight operations. Relieving pilot workload is good and for a good pilot, confirmation of good planning activity. Yes i have calculated correctly or no I have to revise my plan and I have new experiance

    Sticking (or observing the FAA mandatory physical tank indication – TABS and observing fuel qty is not just good practice it is mandatory . Of course this is just one more opportunity for human error as shown below.


    So in the error chain – we have the pilot assessment of tank contents, the fuel introduced to the aircraft, the pilot flight planning, the confirmation of fuel level on the ground, the confirmation of the fuel level in the aircraft instruments, both fuel gauges and entry for the totalizer if present, confirmation of the plan in flight. Totalizer or calculation check of fuel level at the end of flight (which brings us back to the beginning) However with fuel theft or leakage this step needs to be done twice

    @John Z – 10 gallons off – that is a red herring thrown in to support the supposition of your blog – 5 gallons per side is and inch and 2/3 below the very obvious right angle bend of the Cirrus fuel tab – In this case the final analysis will show – He checked the tanks A, he had enough fuel for his planned activity B. And either because he spent to much time at the intermediate point with unplanned activity or he had a fuel issue he did not get to C. But we will all know that as he had a pilot nanny onboard in the form of stored flight data.

    As this subject is still in the NTSB TOP 5 it needs serious dialog and evaluation – mandatory tank reports on landing or when the aircraft is refueled after flight would provide the near fuel exhaustion data necessary to extract real change. That would weed out the weak pilots. Or what about ramp checks and calibrations for working fuel gauges, that would weed out the weak aircraft – How many would comply. From what I have seen, not very many

    The problem is systemic and needs to be addressed as such – blame is a poor substitute

  63. tom
    tom says:


    Thanks for that. The FAA link you provided makes a profound statement that pretty much violates the social expectations that most people have about fuel guages, which is that they are meaningful. In the conclusion they say: “We require them but don’t trust them.”

    The FAA says: ” . . .As you can see, the regulations only require that the aircraft fuel gauge read “zero” during level flight when the quantity of fuel remaining in the tank is equal to the unusable fuel supply determined under 14 CFR ‘23.959(a). Therefore, the gauge cannot be depended upon for checking the fuel quantity in a tank. This is especially true of the smaller, less sophisticated general aviation aircraft. Visual or physical checking or both are the only safe means of determining the actual quantity of fuel onboard such aircraft. ”

    Perhaps having to dip the tanks of a half million dollar plane is an insult to the pilot’s intelligence. On high wing aircraft it can be real work. Yet, we find that relying on a notched weenie roast stick and a kitchen timer are the best way to avoid embarrassment barring leaks and improper engine management. Uber reliable gas gauges will appeal greatly to that segment of pilots.

    I’m really happy that I installed an EDM with fuel totalizer. Tied to a GPS, they dynamically recalculate time remaining as the FF and ground speed changes and warn of bad engine management. They are also instructive because most owners are astounded at the 24-30 GPH takeoff fuel burn for a big six – Numbers found nowhere in the POH of legacy aircraft. Heck, a Lyc O-360 guzzles 18 GPH, a huge number compared to the power charts that expect proper engine management yet don’t tell how to do it. With FF its not unusual to go balls to the wall to climb on a 5 hr trip and have the totalizer announce that based on the new burn and lower ground speed in the climb we’ll no longer reach the destination. That’s a powerful warning to park the engine back in the ‘go far’ mode at level off.

    As I bang away I keep wondering what I’ll conclude about fuellevel’s product. It seems that I don’t need it except as a leak detector and of course redundancy, but wouldn’t refuse it if economically priced.

    For newer pilots, the attitude may differ because expectations that gas gauges are meaningful will differ. As I wrote earlier, either good gauges or a totalizer and a warning light sure could have saved me some wasted heartbeats.

    I must add that many of my sins were fixed with the first handheld GPS. Having groundspeed and dynamic time-to-waypoint data is gold for single pilot stuff on long trips. Without it, workload goes up a lot. I might consider a failed GPS a nogo item for a long cross country, especially IFR. Or a local trip canyon crawling just for the topo data it provides. but I could easily get by without the fuel totalizer OR gas gauge as long as I have my trusty fuel tank dip tube, and use it. But that’s after years in a certain plane that I put on more than get in. If something isn’t ‘normal,’ I usually know it.

  64. Fuellevel
    Fuellevel says:


    My point and the FAA’s point is why put anything in an aircraft if it doesn’t fulfill a purpose or requirement. Good looks – give me a break – if fulfills a checkbox – really you all believe that.

    Fuel indication is a requirement FAR 23.1337 and that fuel system should read zero is another requirement,

    b) Fuel quantity indicator. There must be a means to indicate to the flightcrew members the quantity of usable fuel in each tank during flight. An indicator calibrated in appropriate units and clearly marked to indicate those units must be used. In addition–

    (1) Each fuel quantity indicator must be calibrated to read “zero” during level flight when the quantity of fuel remaining in the tank is equal to the unusable fuel supply determined under [Sec. 23.959(a);]

    I find most pilots quoting the zero FAA reference disregard the fact that a gauge indicating quantity is required as well – so therefore a crappy gauge is not fine nor acceptable

    Who told you that – The FAA Administrator, the pilot common knowledge database or a magazine scribe once wrote about it in a 1970’s issue of Flying.

    I may be in left field but only ZERO fuel is not what the FAA intended – the funny thing is that you all know that.

    The FAA TSO requirement requires my product to be within 0.75% of actual quantity for fuel level indication – that is a tough nut Why would they require me to do that and really all I had to do is tell you – Damn you just ran out of fuel

    So the FAA is very clear – you should have accurate gauging in your aircraft

    The real question —- is why don’t you ? …. and who let that happen ?

  65. Dave Evans
    Dave Evans says:

    I fly Skyhawks. Nice plane, hard to break, no parachute. They all have fuel gauges, none of them accurate. But I’ve never come close to running out of gas and I have an eight hour bladder if back off the coffee. My secrets? If I’m on the ground, fill ‘er up. Too heavy now? Sorry, one of you guys is going Boeing. Preferably the big guy with the small bladder.
    When the fuel tank cap seal fails, and eventually one will, the gauge drops pretty fast. Keep and eye on it, and if it looks funny, land. That’s kind of a golden rule for me. When I start thinking “Huh. That’s funny. I wonder…” time to put thinking on the back burner and landing on the front. My thinking is much better when I’m not multitasking and there’s plenty of time to think it over, poke, prod, look, theorize, whatever. Two miles a minute with people depending on me not to kill them is no place to be figuring the inexplicable out.
    Works for me so far.
    Always subject to revision.
    Would have worked for the Cirrus guy. “Heyyyy… Why is that stinkin’ fuel gauge so low??? Forget the takeoff, we gotta check this out.”

    • Jim Frankenfield
      Jim Frankenfield says:

      That’s good advice, Dale. Here are some anticdotes from my flying experience circa 1955/80 re/pucker flights due to low fuel. (Had to quit when ‘shingles’ went into my left eye). I’m a l5.3K TT, 10K dual given, former DPE Pvt., Comm. and Piper light twin multi’s. ABE FSDO.

      I joined the EAA (lifetime) in the mid 50’s and our Chapter 60, Bethlehem, PA finished the first chapter project, a Corben Baby Ace in 1960 and I offered to fly it to the EAA Convention at Rockford, Ill., flying formation with friend John, in a C-120 we were to ferry to ElCajone, Calif. We parked the Baby Ace at Rockford about five days before the start of the 1960 Rockford Fly-In, met Paul Poberezny, and took off for St. Louis in the 120, the first leg to Calif. The ferry flt. went well and United got us back to O-Hare, John continued east and a DC 3 got me back to ROK. After enjoying the fly-in (I went to Rockford each year in the decade of the 60s, Tom and I took top honors with our D-260 Senior Aerosports Rockford ’68. The convention moved to OSK in 1970), I took off intending to gas up at Findley, OH. Findley had four airports evenly spaced around the town; so I circled the first one- not a soul in sight that Saturday late afternoon. Same for number 2 and 3, so headed for the fourth, a farmers’ pvt. stip. Had to land as ‘cork’ quit ‘bouncing’ in the 12 gal. tank. Farmer gladly sold me 11 gals. of gas. Then on to Willouby, OH to spend the night with friend Tony, who told me of a ‘pucker’ flight he had driving a Saberliner, lost an engine beyond the point of no return, mainland to Bermuda. Next morning, in 1000 ft and 1 and 1/2 viz. I took off for the uneventful flt. home.

      The nearest I came to ‘spoiling the day’ re/ fuel starvation was when I ran out of gas on base leg at Charlotte, NC in a 1929 Waco Taperwing we were ferring Atlanta to Turner Field, north of Phila. My leg was from Hickory, NC to Charlotte. The damn airplane was two years older than me! Owner Walt Weber gassed it up (well, he put in 54 gal. (and a gallon of oil) said “that should be enough”. NOT It had a 350 hp Wright Radial that had to be hand-propped. OK, off we go, me following the other guys in a Cherokee 180 who’s owner/pilot thought a VOR radial was the place to practice S-turns. I finally got tired of this routine, pulled ahead of him and flew a straight course to the VOR ahead. They couldn’t figure out how I did it, sans a radio. We called it “Pilotage”. Anyway, as we went along I’m seeing the fuel guage rapidly going down. With about 30 miles to go, I power back a bit and lean the mix. We were only at a couple thousand feet, but this didn’t look good. Walt hadn’t discussed the fuel burn with me before take off. When he gassed it, I assumed he knew how much would be ‘enough’. NOT. Finally, gauge on zero, I had the field made…short downwind, turn base, charge the throttle…nothing! Flared and landed OK, and in the three-point attitude I got some fuel flow to taxi to the gas pump. Lucked out again! (Found a crack in the center-section wooden spar upon rebuild. Walt rebuilt the plane and used the $$$ upon sale, to send his two boys to college.

      Speaking of ‘stretching’ the fuel, Tom, a CFI and Bill, both engineers at NARCO Radio Corp. in the front seat and me in the back took off at dusk from Turner Field in Bills 150 Tri-Pacer to go to Rockford, ILL to the 1967 EAA Convention. I promply dozed off as I often do in the back seat. So it’s dark now, over the western PA mountains, I woke up and asked where they intended to gas up. Youngstown???? I asked if I could borrow the chart, plotter and E6B. I finally said to them “you’re not going to make it!” I told Bill to power back a bit, and lean…I mean real lean (cool side of peak), burn a tank dry, when it sputters, lift the nose and raise that wing so as to get every last drop of fuel from that tank, then switch tanks. OK so far so good. Then I said call the tower, tell ’em you want a straight-in approach, advise them on our low-fuel status. Landed OK, plane holds 36 gals…we took 35. Whewwwwh.

      Another simular deal, again in a 125 hp Tri-Pacer, Charlie R. and I flew it to St.Pete (Zepyrhills, FL) to pick up Carson B. the owner and his wife Belle, for the return flt. to Turner Field, PA. Carson was a steel erection foreman, had recently lost his right leg when steel fell on him. His loss was above the knee, but we got him ready for the FAA medical flight check in his TriPacer. FAA also made him demonstrate that he could control a taildrager, so he flew the Champ, and passed OK…quite a guy! He wanted to do the flying north and his wife insisted on doing the navigation. So off we go with me and Charlie dozing off in the back seat. Much later I found a sectional chart being thrust into my chest, Belle said “we’re lost”. They had been circling for I don’t know how long. I asked what state we were in…didn’t know! Fuel state was low, as I spotted a pvt. strip, had ’em land there and found a Twin Beech thru a crack in the hangar. I went out to a nearby road, flagged down a guy in a pick-up truck, asked him where we were, he said about 30 miles from Fayettville, NC and gave me our location on the chart. This time I sat in the front, left seat, Charlie in the right and Carson and ‘navigator’ Bell in the back. I did the ‘lean mix., burn tank dry…sputter…sputter, lift nose..wing, etc. etc. Again we landed with one gal on board.

      Even when you pick up a new Cherokee Six from the Piper factory at Vero Beach, bad things can happen. My boss Art Truner and the new owner-to be, a Mortician (they share the reputation with doctors and Stock Brokers), on the flight back to the Phila. area found a high fuel-burn, like 17 ghp when it should have been closer to 14. At one of the stops a mech found a fuel line only hand-tightened, spewing fuel in the engine compartment, like 3 gals per hour! They were luckey!!

      In 1968 when Tom and I had, after 4 yrs and 5K man-hours (each) finally finished our Award Winning D-260 Senior Aerosport bi-planes, it came time to ‘gas’em up’ and calabrate the sight gauges. Each plane had six fuel tanks (plus an oil tank and ‘smoke’ tank on the engine-side of the firewall). We had a ‘filler’ tank of 5 gals, just ahead of the front windshield which held 5 gals, and drained down to the left and right saddle tanks, (ll gals. each) and these three tanks drained down to the 5 gal ‘aerobatic’ tank between the rear pilots feet, which had the ‘flop tube’ to draw fuel in all attitudes, and from there to the fuel pump and pressure carb. So these four tanks acted as ‘one’ tank. In the center section of the wing were two 16 gal. tanks used for longer cross country flights, not for aerobatics, and had an on-off valve to drain this fuel down to the lower four. Trick was that you had to be sure that there was room in the lower four for this fuel. It drained at about one gal./minute, and if you didn’t watch it, the lower tanks would fill up and fuel would be vented overboard. Had to keep an eye on the saddle tank ‘sight gauges’ to prevent this.

      So, on the first fill-up, we propped the tail up to flight attitude and pumped in 5 gals (which filled up the aerobatic tank, then 5 gal. more and we began to see fuel coming up the sight gauge on the saddle tanks, put a fine tape around the spot, and 5 gals. more, repeat until the saddle tanks were full, and then top-off the ‘header’ tank. So far we pumped 32 gal. of 80 oct, and each center section tank took 16 gals, for a total of 64 gals, all useable. At 10 gph for the Cont. E-225-8 at 65%, we were good for 6 hours with a 20 minute reserve. FLL to north of PHL with a stop at CHS for gas (and relief)! 9 hrs total time. Then we did Tom’s airplane and it came out exactly the same as mine.

      OK, enough of this drivvel from ‘old Jim’. Blue skies and tailwinds.

  66. Mort Mason
    Mort Mason says:

    Well, Jim . . . . . I’m not sure that you could get away with such casual planning if tried that in the Alaska outback. Oh, sure – – – a guy can always find a place for a precautionary landing, but he sure as the world won’t find any avgas there. Or any auto fuel, either. Your options are either in the tanks and/or in cans carried aboard.

    I once sweated out a dark and rainy night flight when the vernier mixture cable broke loose and I had no leaning options. The fuel pump, after I had landed with the engine still purring along, read 96.6 gallons, this in 38.0 gallon tanks with 2-gallons unusable in each tank.

    • Jim Frankenfield
      Jim Frankenfield says:

      And I’m sure you are right about that “casual planning”, Mort.

      With all your experience in the Alaska outback, you have my greatest admiration. No doubt my anticdotes (of stupidity) would seem Mickey Mouse compaired to your ‘survival’ instincts. How about it, Mort….I’d love to hear of some of your more memorable flights in our most northern state. Old Jim

  67. Mort Mason
    Mort Mason says:

    Best way is to go to Amazon.com and type in my name. It should lead you to two of my books . . . . . Plenty of my boo-boos in those volumes. Some of which led to making a new vertical stabilizer of 5-gallon avgas cans, patching floats with smoke stacks pulled from an old cabin roof, and whittling spruce plugs to replace C-180 cowling screws. A great life, but sometimes a bit shaky ………………

    • Jim Frankenfield
      Jim Frankenfield says:

      Mort…I feel like I just hit Alaska Gold…on Amazon.com! It’s off to the library tuesday (rotator cuff surgery tomorrow). Looking forward to getting my hands on these two books. Thanks for the heads-up. Jim

      PS..Now we need to think about making a movie about your flying adventures. And yeah, it IS a great life. Praise GOD.

      • Jim Frankenfield
        Jim Frankenfield says:

        Mort: Local (Brevard Co., FL)library is a no-go….ordered “Chronicles” just now via Amazon. Est. delivery May 31……Can’t wait. PS. Rotator Cuff surgery went well..learning to type w/ rt. hand. Jim

    • Jim Frankenfield
      Jim Frankenfield says:

      Yeah Mort, I guess if one sticks around in this business long enough, one ends up getting into some ‘dumb’ predicimnts. (learning experiences?)

      We (Doc., my dentist, a former Marine Corps Corsair and Phantom carrier pilot) and me and two others, used to take a SeeBee and Doc’s C-140 to Lac d’ Loupes, Quebec from ABE, for northern pike, me in the 140 along with Bernie “Box” Carr, Doc’s fellow Marine pilot buddy, who was the administrator of the Altoona, PA hospital,and Doc and Russ in the SeeBee.

      So after we drop the 140 off at the nearby 9000 ft Canadian AF emergency strip, and confirmed that the 55 gal of avgas we had ordered was spotted, we picked out an island with a nice sandy beach in the middle of the lake, perfect for our campsite. We pitched the tent and assembled the “fold-a-boat”. We fished this lake the next day then decided to go over to the nearby Baskatoone Reserviour the day. Pike were biting good but the wind had pushed the plane back into the brush and saplings due to high water. Doc found a pole maybe 12′ long and tried pushing us away but I saw that the wind was catching the open right windshield door, and just as I closed it Doc came back with the pole and ‘popped’ the plexiglass windshield out of its rubber moulding.

      I never saw a guy move so quick. Doc ‘snatched’ it just before it hit the water and ‘saved the day’, well, almost. We spent a half hour (with the help of some engine oil,) finally slipping the plexiglass back to where it belonged, in the rubber moulding, while sustaining only a small crack or two and some duct tape took care of that. We finally got clear of the trees and flew back to base camp. I was the ‘cook’, fresh Pike, potatos, carrots, beans, etc. After 4 days fishin’, we got everything back to the jet strip and took off for Ottawa for overnite and to ‘quick-freeze’ the fish, dry ice and customs.

      The SeeBee and I got seperated south of Watertown, I elected to climb over the scattered cu, which became broken then solid approaching Binghamton and pushing me up to 9 grand, and, no mixture control on the 85 cont. and 9K seemed to be the aboslute ceiling. The little Cessna was not IFR certified so I was considering tossing the pike overboard but found that bringing the throttle back a bit I could gain 50 rpms. and some needed altitude. “Boxy” Carr was quiet the entire time over Binghamton, no doubt wishing he were in his F-4U, throttle up to 25 grand no sweat.

      Soon the undercast sloped down, became broken then scattered and the SeeBee and I landed at Bethlehem, PA within five minutes of each other, pike ‘cargo’ still on board, and another ‘lesson learned’. old,

      (not so bold), Jim

  68. Jim Frankenfield
    Jim Frankenfield says:

    Well Mort,

    Jeff Bezio of Amazon did himself proud by getting your book “Alaska Chronicles” to my mail box a day early. I’m already on Chapter 8…can’t put the damn thing down. Great book, congratulations, and I love your easy, down-to-earth writing style.

    “old,-not so bold”, jim

    PS I noticed that we were both born in 1931, me Aug. 13th, for whatever that’s worth! PPS We have a guy, LeRoy Rotgens, who is a licenced Alaska guide, in our EAA Chapter 1288, Valkira, FL, 6 mi S. of Melbourne. He’s back and forth to Alaska during the ‘season’ doing his thing. He has a C-180 (or 182) and a Dyke Delta homebuilt which he built and is our “Chief Pancake Cooker” at the monthly breakfast.

  69. Jim Frankenfield
    Jim Frankenfield says:

    Mort…the following is certainly not meant in any way to ‘challenge’ your ability to write a great book, just thought I could contribute to the thread….and Richard and John……if I “cross any line” of decorum, please let me know.

    I never “pranged” one, beyond the “incident” catagory, but I came close a couple of times, i.e.,on take off at Pompano Beach runway 14,around 1977, the right gear stuck in the wheel well of a Waco “Vella”, made in Italy. (simular to a Comanche, with a 150 Franklin engine.) New owner, a retired Army Colonel was being checked out by me. The ‘amazing’ Ron Houlk from FLL sold it to him, had his mech. annual it, tightened the oleo gland too tight, oleo didn’t ‘extend’ on take off, upon gear up- the hole in the wing didn’t line up with the tire, the ‘arm’ went beyond excentric, wouldn’t crank down.

    Fire guys foamed the right side of the first 1000 ft of runway 14. I elected to leave the nose and left gear down, cut the power over threshold as the colonel pulled idle-cut-off, mags and master OFF, held the right wing off as long as possible….the only damage was a broken pitot mast and broken foot step, right side, which supported the weight that side. Slight abrasion underside of rt. aileron tip. Flew it away next day. Sadly, the next week the Colonel was soloing it, I was overhead Pompano, as I watched him do it again, this time he left the gear UP! Oleo gland still too tight. Did a 180 on the runway with the gear up. What a fiasco….he was OK.

    At “Trigs” Bethlehem, PA, about 1957, I was giving a pre-solo student “bounces and recoveries” in our “Champ” 7-AC. I bouunced it (too hard?) student recovered, landed, taxxied back, took off, and on final approach the mech. drove out onto the (grass) runway, in the red jeep, holding up a 6×6 tire. We waved off, looked around, and found NO tire or gear on right side of the Champ. Streaching my head and neck, I spotted the gear hanging horizonally under the belly. OK, flew around for a few minutes, thinking about this…finally made the approach, flared with the left wing tip almosts touching the grass; Trig was running along the right side with the apparent intention of holding the rt. wing up by himself, an unrealalistic effort. I made a smoothe touchdown, expecting things to start “grinding around” underneath..guess what, the oleo found its’s way back up into the oleo housing….normal landing! My bounce had sheared off the 1/4 inch bolt, the bulletin calling for a cable to prevent the oleo from parting company with the housing had NOT been acomplished. Lesson learned.

    While practicing one-wheel landings in my homebuilt D-260 Aerobatic Aerosport, around 1970, using the hard surface runway 32 at Turner Field, the left tire blew. I pulled it off for another try, not being sure just what had happened, but on touchdown I immediately felt the ‘drag’ of the blown tire and came around for a landing on the grass runway. Penny-pinching Jim had bought helicopter tires from Johnny VanSant’s surpluss parts supply….bad idea, not many layers of ply. On landing, held left wing off as long as I could, brought to a stop, no damage even with wheel pants on! Lucked out again.

    When I first flew my aerobatic bipe in 1968 I went ‘nuts’ what with an airplane that could take anything I could give it (9 pos., 6 neg G) or so I thought. I was getting into tail slides (but I opted not to equip the left wing with the ‘streamer’ to show flow-reversal..stupid me.) Johnny Van Sant said I must have fallen back 400 ft duhhhh. When I ‘recovered’, after the aileron (stick) got away from me, I found that all four ailerons were hanging down at about a 45 degree angle and it took both hands to keep it level….couldn’t make a right turn. First time I considered leaving the airplane,…but I ‘could’ maintain control (fly the airplane!) Previously (three times) I paid good money to (sport) jump out of a perfictly good airplane. And I thought about the 5,000 man-hours it took to build the plane. Landing was slow as all get-out, what with “full flaps” (ailerons) hanging down. Found the right aileron push rod (bottom wing) was bent at a 45 degree angle. Previously I had bent the rudder on one occasion, and the elevator on anoother.. Quit doing tail slides!

    Came close to ‘buying the farm’ at Pompano Beach Airport,1976, I had just topped the tanks in a Senica, early model- no turbo, student in left seat, took off runway 14, just over the departure end, at about 150 ft altitude, left (critical) engine quit. Gear up, flaps up, ck. fuel selector, I said “I got it”, told student to call out blue line VYSE speed 93 mph and call the tower. Left wing up 5 degrees, took the time to retard/advance the left throttle-nothing, then feather the damn thing. I’m looking at three condo bildings at 12 o’clock, two big ones left and right and one shorter (smaller) in the middle. Too close to turn and avoid. We just cleared the ‘short’ one, watched the taller ones pass by at eye level, told the tower we had it made, got altitude over the beach and came around for the landing. Hard to taxi, shut down on taxiway. THREE COP CARS were there to meet us. Each wanted a report on what happened. Finally, by the third cop, I asked if he couldn’t get the info from the previous cop. Mech found three of the four injectors clogged, suspected fuel contamination from the gas truck.

    The only time I “crashed” was in Bob Trauger’s hot air balloon. Bob was one of our GI Bill students, going for his commercial license. He also performed in Bill Sweet’s Airshows. It was a cold day, snow on ground at Turners aerodrome, Bob assured me that his one-man balloon would would lift the two of us, considering the ‘low’ density altitude. As we prepared for flight Bob had laid out the canopy on the snow and was ‘pressing’ the rip panel together. (You ‘pull’ the rip panel after landing to let all the hot air out so you don’t lift off again.) Good God… I was amazed that it was only “velcro” that held the panel together.

    Well, it was a Pichard Balloon, so it must be OK. Sure! So, fire up the burner and off we go. Shortly after liftoff I looked up at the north pole and noticed the rip panel had seperated by about a foot. I kept quiet, but it kept growing. I called it to Bob’s attention but he didn’t seem too concerned. Finally I got allarmed …it was now maybe six feet long. Bob said “OK, we’ll land in that school playground, after we clear these high tention wires. Sure! We had just cleared the wires and it went POP. The whole rip panel from North Pole to Equator was flapping in the breeze and we were going down, from 150 ft. Bob said “hang on” while he was putting the burner to it and burning holes in the balloon, which by this time resembled one of my parachute jumps. We ‘hung on’, hit the snow, got hit on the head with the burner, laid in the snow, laughing our arses off, snuffing out the burner with snow. Art Turner was overhead in a Cherokee, watching this fiasco! Well, the guys in the station wagon were there to fold up this ‘show’….I gladly treated all to breakfast at the 202 diner. Nutty me went up with Bob again, this time in a three-man balloon. Much better!

    It wasn’t too much longer after this, that Bob lost his life celebrating the opening of “The Constelation Lounge” a real Connie up on pedistals, by Jim Flannery’s Restaurant near Phila. where they held the QB meetings. The highlight of the Grand Opening was to be the lift-off of Bob’s balloon, with a cocktail waitress on board. The launch was delayed while waiting for a photog to show up. Buy the time he did the wind had picked up, and his ground crew chief, Reno Benner from VanSants Airport tried to get Bob to move the launch point further upwing in the parking lot but Bob said “no sweat, it’ll be OK”. On lift off he drifted into the nearby high tension lines, the arc burned the cables, spilling him and the waitress out of the basket…they were probably fried by this time anyway. So sad…he was a neat guy. He got his commercial SEL on the GI bill, he had his own strip at Kellers Church, PA. Tom and I used to fly our bipes up there; he had a clipped wing cup and I flew him on some of his parachute jumps.

    While we were driving to Bob’s viewing, (Bob had quite a ‘harem’ of lovely lasses- they were there too.) and “Big” Ed Mahler was with us, Ed told me how to do a “Lomchevek” (tumble tail over nose). Go to 10-15 degrees beyond knife edge, 110 mph indicated, nose slightly high, punch in full fwd. left stick with full right rudder….and hang on. Next day I did five of ’em, before I saw too many flashing lights in my eyeballs (2 1/2 neg G). I ‘hung on’ too long once and found myself in an inverted spin. Never been in one of them! Reversed controls and it went positive, and I said to myself “I know how to recover from this”.duuuuuuhh. It wasn’t too long after this that Ed lost his life when he encountered horiz. stab flutter, tail came un-glued in his PJ 260. This was at McArthur Field, Long Island, doing some promo-photo work for the next days air show. I had the privelege of meeting Hal Krier before he lost his life testing a new design aerobat for “Pappy” Spinks. I taught myself aerobatics with Duane Cole’s books “Roll Around A Point” and “Of Lines and Symertry” on my lap. Great life. Old (not so bold) Jim.

  70. Mort Mason
    Mort Mason says:

    GREAT experiences, Jim but a bit on the sad side as regards those who have gone best. You’re a QB? My number is 33588, so “Burro”. And I’ll have one for your friens now gone West.

    I was early in having installed the gear safety cables on my Super Cugs, but late in placing the fiberglass cover over the rear seat stick stub after I had removd the stick. Had a 150-lb moose ham slide out from under its tiedown and fall over that stick stub . . . . . about ten minutes of wondering what would happen next, since I sas less than 50-ft above the willows . . . . . With all the back pressure required, I was afraid the stick would simply break off in my hand.

    • Jim Frankenfield
      Jim Frankenfield says:

      Mort…no, I didn’t “make the grade” to become a QB. When I worked for “Trig” at Bethelhem, PA (Trig was a member), we used to go to meetings at Harrisburg and I remember one at the Nuehweiler (sp), Brewery, Allentown. Then when I went to work for Art Turner near the Willow Grove NAS and we usually went to meetings at Jim Flannerey’s Eatery. Bob Trauger the balloonist, was going through the process of becoming a member when he lost his life in Jim’s parking lot.

      So Art Turner and John Rothrock, QB members, took me and Tom along as their guests. The last meeting, winter 1968, just a few days before Tom and I were to fly to Nassau, Bahamas, at the invitation of a Hans Gruenberg, Chief, Bahamian Ministry of Tourism, since we had taken top honors at EAA Rockford 1968 (got out picture on front page Nassau Gazzette), somebody had given me the blue, QB application for membership, and John Rothrock said I should get my little arse up and see if I couldn’t get some of my acquaintences there to sign as my sponsor. Well, I didn’t get very far with this intention when the Phila. chapter QB president John Thompson grabbed me and said “I need to talk to you” and led me to a deserted room with a desk in the center. I stood on the ‘carpet’ in fromt of the desk. He proceeded to ream me a new one…..”how dare you blatantly flash around that application here at a meeting….if I wanted someone to consider it, you should have made an appointment with the individual, and taken it from there.” It was like a Kangaroo Court. I didn’t even mention to him that John R. and my boss Art T. suggested that this would be the thing to do. I thought about getting John and Art to wittness for me, but thought the hell with it.

      After mulling this over for awhile, I think I may have come upon the reason for his ‘ire’. It might have been a month previous that I had given his son John Jr. his multi flight check, and hew flew OK-passed, but this was just at the time that John Doster’s FAA GADO, for whom I was a DPE, passed down a ‘diective’ to all multi DPEs, to “put a little pressure” on the applicant, especially during simulated engine-out demos. to see their reaction. John Jr. was a bit ‘slow’ when I pulled an engine, and I guess he didn’t appreciate my comment about it. Neither, aparently, did his dad. So, ‘dad’s “retrabution toward me was his “gottcha” moment. I don’t know, I could have it all wrong. Anyway, THAT cured my desire to become a QB. Too bad, there were some really great guys in that organization.

      Hey….I’ve got a book to read! Old Jim

    • Jim Frankenfield
      Jim Frankenfield says:

      Finshed your great book Mort. Now, maybe I’ll be able to get some sleep! Sure made the reader feel like he/she was right there in the cabin, with you. And your writing style is surperb, very relaxing and ‘down-to-earth’.

      Five stars and my reco. to any pilot who craves the ‘unusual’ flying tales. Surely you are one of the few “old-bold pilots” still around. ole. Jim

  71. Justin
    Justin says:

    Cheap, Easy or Plentiful
    Our choices typically are limited to only one of the above.

    Trying to squeeze two… your pressing your luck.

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