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Old 07-13-2010, 11:57 AM
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tkatc tkatc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: NJ
Posts: 1,747
Default Fuel Exhaustion (long but valuable)

Exhaustion/starvation is the leading cause of aircraft accidents/incidents. This is an audio clip of the actual controller trying to help me after I possibly made my last mistake. He did a great job along with a Spirit pilot trying to help as well. Everyone involved did a great job trying to make the best of a bad situation. I have a lot of people to thank and a lot to be thankful for.

This incident is a serious embarrassment and blow to my ego. It has taken me awhile to get over it but now that I have, I hope to educate other pilots so they do not find themselves in a similar situation. Before I begin, some background information is needed. I am a controller by profession and was recieving VFR advisories from the facility where I work as I was flying from one small airport to my home airport on an overcast November afternoon. (the day before Thanksgiving) The final leg of this day would be a short 20 minute flight.

That morning I did a normal pre-flight. I physically checked the tanks and they were both full. The fuel guages were not accurate and as such I did not use them. I based all my calculations off of the hobbs meter. I had been in the market to purchase my own airplane and in my search I ran across many advertisements that read "Cruises at 8 gph", many said similar things ranging from 6-9 gph. Occasionally I would come across an extremely thirsty plane that consumed 9.5 gph. I had trained in a C-152 that burned 5.5 gph and on this day I was flying a C-172 which I assume would never burn more than 10 gph. I figured that was a very safe estimate but obviosuly I figured wrong.

I took off from my home base in NJ to visit a friend in PA. About an hour flight. We hung out for a bit and then off I went back home. I had tentative plans to take a skydiving buddy of mine up for a local flight and when I arrived back home I called him and he said he was on his way. He explained he would be there in 20 minutes and asked if it would be ok to take his 14 yo nephew. I said "Sure", I wasn't fortunate enough to get many opportunities in my life, so I was always willing to supply a few when I could.

As I waited on my friend I figured I would fuel up and looked over towards the pump and discovered another airplane just pulling up for fuel. "Oh well" I thought, I have plenty of gas. There is only 2 hours out and should have at least 2.5 more hours.

My buddy and his nephew arrived and we took off for a local airport for lunch. It was a 25 minute flight. Unfortunately, the grill was closed for remodeling. Off we went to another local airport. We flew over the airport I work and decided to do a touch and go enroute. Then off to the destination airport. That flight took about 35 mintutes. We landed and had lunch. It was a great day and the 14 yo who had been nervous about his first GA flying experience was getting comfortable and decided to sit up front for our last leg home.

As we approach the plane my buddy asks me if I want him to check the tanks. I declined the offer and just rechecked the dispatch sheet and hobbs meter...the plane was only out a mere 3 hours. Surely I had enough fuel for the 20 minute flight home with 30-45 mintues of reserve.

We take off and I immediately acquire advisory service from the approach control where I work. Ten minutes into the flight...then engine sputtered and quit immediately. The following audio clip will explain the rest. It's slow at first but will have some highlights that may hit home and help you to avoid a similar mistake.

As you can see, this was a typical accident where a chain of events lead to this potential disaster. If I had broken any of those links this might not have happened.

As I said, I am extremely embarrassed to make such a mistake. At the same time I am extremely proud of the fact that I did not give up...I did not panic...I flew the plane until it would not fly anymore. It was hard enough to maintain composure but it was tougher when the 14 yo was crying out that he "wanted to see his mom again" and "he didn't want to die". (He is now a big 6'4" teenager that would never admit to this but I think he did a great job anyway) I knew my buddy would keep his cool because we have been in extreme situations with each other before. (we are skydivers) I told my friend to tighten up all the belts. We weren't going to make the open field off in the distance.

When the engine quits it is very quiet up there. 2 minutes and 21 seconds doesn't sound like a lot of time but it is forever when you are looking into the face of death. A non-moving prop looks very eerie. I remember at one point I tried to restart the engine and the battery was turning the prop over, for a split second I was pleased to see the prop turning over thinking it would actually propel me enough to make a nearby field. (Your survival instinct will play tricks on the brain sometimes) When we were coming into the treetops it sounded like an aluminum canoe slapping into some choppy waves. I flared as if I were going to land ON the treetops. This had us at a very slow speed. Soon after I had no control as the plane bounced off of several trees but I STILL tried to manuever. We came to a stop and we all got out without a scratch. The first thing I did was check the tanks for fuel...I was still in disbelief. On this day the C-172 burned 13.9 gph. A far cry from the 10 I assumed would be a lot.

A few lessons learned....

Never stop flying the airplane...NEVER.

Altitude affords you more options. I was at 2500' and was able to glide about 2.2 miles.

Don't immediately go to flaps...without flaps I could have glided another 500 yards or so and would have made my intended field.

Renters insurance is a must!! ; )

I am glad to have overcome this incident and I was grateful that most of the comments I heard soon after the incident were positive. I have since heard all the comments, good and bad, and my ego can now handle it. My skydiving buddies actually got me a copy of Jackson Brown's "Running on empty" for Christmas.
Flame me if you'd like. Dismiss this as a mistake you would never make. Just make sure YOU NEVER MAKE THIS MISTAKE!!!!
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:11 PM
Bob Axsom Bob Axsom is offline
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Default You have a lot of guts!


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Old 07-13-2010, 12:16 PM
vic syracuse vic syracuse is offline
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Very noble of you to put this out here. "There for but the grace of God go I" will most likely ring true for a number of pilots in this community. Great job of flying the airplane all the way to the end. It always makes a huge difference in the outcome. Hopefully, you will recover from this, both mentally and financially, and keep flying. The only pilots who haven't made any mistakes are those who haven't flown yet. Some mistakes are little and come with minor consequences, and some are far more critical. I am sure this episode should make you a VERY careful pilot for the rest of your flying days.

Vic Syracuse

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Old 07-13-2010, 12:18 PM
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tkatc tkatc is offline
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TOTYCHTMGIIYAOF?? is very real. It took me a few years to come to grips with this. there is NOTHING good about this event....UNLESS it helps somebody else avoid this in the future.

I would have been flying an RV by now had it not been for this. As you can hear...I sounded very scared....and the controller was a bit shaken too. A story of a lifetime eh?
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:22 PM
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Geico266 Geico266 is offline
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You are to be commended for telling your story so others may learn and live.

Lesson learned!

Thank you!
RV-7 : In the hangar
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RV-44 : 4 place helicopter on order.

Last edited by Geico266 : 07-13-2010 at 12:28 PM.
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:22 PM
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erich weaver erich weaver is offline
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Very sobering. Thanks for sharing this difficult event with us - a great learning experience. And good job keeping the plane under control as long as possible.

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Old 07-13-2010, 12:30 PM
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Geico266 Geico266 is offline
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Other than running out of fuel, is there anything you would have done different? I know you have replayed this event in your mind 1,000's of times. Any thing you can think of that you could have done better?

This is a very interesting thread to me. How anyone reacts under pressure, in an emergency, is always the unknown factor.
RV-7 : In the hangar
RV-10 : In the hangar
RV-12 : Built and sold
RV-44 : 4 place helicopter on order.

Last edited by Geico266 : 07-13-2010 at 12:40 PM.
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:38 PM
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Brantel Brantel is offline
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Very glad you had the guts to post this. A lesson for the rest of us.

Could have been any of us!
Brantel (Brian Chesteen),
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:40 PM
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Jamie Jamie is offline
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That post requires some guts.....thanks so much for sharing. Don't know why anyone would flame you for fessing up and admitting your mistake.

We always hear about fuel starvation accidents but we never really hear the pilot's side of the story.
"What kind of man would live where there is no daring? I don't believe in taking foolish chances but nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all." - Charles A. Lindbergh
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Old 07-13-2010, 12:41 PM
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scard scard is offline
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Thanks for sharing.
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