VansAirForceForums  
Home > VansAirForceForums

-POSTING RULES
-Advertise in here!
- Today's Posts | Insert Pics

Keep VAF Going
Donate methods

Point your
camera app here
to donate fast.

  #1  
Old 10-25-2012, 12:43 PM
N546RV's Avatar
N546RV N546RV is offline
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Brookshire, TX
Posts: 1,160
Default Being stupid with fuel

This is a somewhat old story, one that, for the longest time, I kept between myself and the other two occupants of the plane. Mostly that was out of shame, looking back at the series of stupid decisions that stacked up on me. As of late, I've been more open about the story, and I might as well go ahead and share it here.

To set the stage, I'd had my private for about 14 months at the time. Two friends and I decided to take a week-long trip to the Florida Keys, and mindful of the 14-hour drive, I proposed we fly down, a proposal that was welcomed. The flight down was totally uneventful; one fuel stop about halfway down, a bit of a diversion due to clouds in the peninsula, nothing to it.

Our original plan was to fly back home the following Saturday, but as the day approached, the weather forecast wasn't shaping up well. In the face of potential storms across most of the Southeast, I elected to postpone the homeward flight to Sunday. Sunday morning dawned bright and lovely; the forecast now called for only isolated/scattered storms in southern Florida. Figuring I could circumvent these, and keep nearby airports in mind in case I had to put down, I decided to go.

The forecast turned out to be somewhat erroneous; about 45 minutes into the flight, there was a solid-looking wall of ominous dark clouds ahead. I turned west, thinking that perhaps I could do an end run, but there was no way out. So I decided to backtrack to the nearest airport in Homestead.

(Side note: the folks at Homestead were GREAT. When I landed, I was a sweaty, nervous semi-wreck. Weather diversions/delays like this were new to me, and I was worried about getting home. As soon as I walked in the door, the lady practically threw a bottle of water at me. Later, they cooked us hot dogs while we waited out the storm.)

Two and a half hours later, the storms had rolled through and everything looked peachy the rest of the way home. At this point, I was feeling significant (self-imposed) pressure to get us home. It didn't help that I wasn't night current.

In retrospect, I was setting up for a classic case of get-there-itis.

The next factor came in the form of fuel. I figured I might as well get gas while I was on the ground, but the line guy filled the tanks to the top instead of just to the tabs as I requested. That put us slightly overweight, but also opened the possibility of maybe making it home without another fuel stop. The pressure tinged my judgment, and I took off with full fuel.

Now came another problem; even though the storms were gone, significant cloud cover remained. At first, I stayed under the clouds...a safer option, but it was hot and bumpy down there. For a while, I climbed above the clouds into smoother air, but eventually I started getting nervous about getting stuck on top with no way down, so somewhere around the GA border I went back down under.

Then, another dumb mistake: Since I still was holding on to the possibility of making it to PDK on the fuel on board, I started eyeballing the fuel gauges. Rationally, I knew that counting on those probably wasn't smart, but in the moment, I convinced myself I could find a way to do it. Eventually, I formed a plan to make my go/no-go decision on a fuel stop: I'd leave one tank about a quarter full (by the gauge), then fly on the other until it ran dry. If I was "close" to home, I'd proceed, otherwise, I'd have to stop. In the meantime, I'd keep a close track on nearby airports with gas available.

(A particular bit of self-criticism: "Close" does not cut it for a decision point. Looking back, I was basically giving myself an excuse to press on if I wanted to, rather than having to make a hard and fast decision.)

Somewhere in the vicinity of Milledgeville, GA, it happened. I thought I detected a bit of roughness in the engine, but thinking only of milking every last drop out of that left tank, I didn't switch. Maybe a minute or so later, I abruptly lost power. OK, time to switch! This was when things went horribly awry, and I got an object lesson in how a mostly tolerable situation can become extremely intolerable by the addition of one small, additional factor.

For those who haven't flown Archers, the fuel selector is down by your left shin, so you have to lean forward to reach down and switch. Well, when I went for the selector to switch to the good tank, my shoulder harness decided it would be a great time to lock. I backed off and tried leaning again. Still locked. In that moment, every shred of rationality departed my brain. It would have been simple to reach to my waist and unhook the shoulder harness, but all I did was keep trying to lean forward, continually banging against the harness.

Out the front of the plane, we'd of course pitched down with the power loss. There was mostly a faceful of ground, which didn't help my calmness at all. I was still banging against the harness repeatedly when I saw my friend's arm snake across in front of me and turn the selector. He'd been paying attention to me switching tanks, for reasons he can't quite explain.

Whatever his reasons, they quite likely saved us from an emergency landing. We were at maybe 1500' AGL when the power loss happened. It's possible that, after a bit, I would have stopped panicking, unhooked the harness, and switched the tank, but that's nothing but conjecture. If I hadn't calmed down, it probably wouldn't have boded well for my ability to land the plan off-airport.

I turned towards the airport at Milledgeville. There, on the ramp, I got one final, sobering shock. The left tank was of course pretty much dry, but the right tank, in which I'd supposedly been saving a good fuel reserve, there were maybe 2-3 gallons.

The rest of the flight was uneventful; we made it back to PDK just after sunset. It was great to be home. It was also great to have landed on pavement instead of grass.

I suspect that most of these stories are similar. We all get taught about the dangers of making decision under stress, the dangers of get-there-itis and so forth. Yet some of still fall victim to that very phenomenon. It's, of course, easy to sit at home and proudly say "I'd never make a decision like that!" I'm sure I did that during my training, but a year later, there I was, within 20 minutes of gliding a rented plane into a grass field somewhere.

Under that pressure, I convinced myself that I was still using (mostly) sound judgment. I knew I was taking additional risks, but in the moment each decision seemed like only a small amount of increased risk. Taken as a whole, they came really, really close to biting me.

In fact, it took a non-pilot passenger to save my bacon when the chips were down. That in itself is a humbling admission.
__________________
Philip
-8 fuselage in progress (remember when I thought the wing kit had a lot of parts? HAHAHAHAHA)
http://rv.squawk1200.net
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 10-25-2012, 01:11 PM
IFlySlow IFlySlow is offline
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Reading, PA
Posts: 59
Default

Wow...takes guts to talk about something like that, even though I know it's happened to lots of pilots and we've all heard the stories (many of which had less desirable outcomes than this one), it always sobering to read something like this. Thanks for sharing the experience and glad the story ended with a lesson learned instead of something tragic.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 10-25-2012, 01:15 PM
pmccoy's Avatar
pmccoy pmccoy is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Orange County CA
Posts: 646
Default

Thanks for having the courage to give us a recap of your decision process. Reading about real world experiences are a great way for us to keep our eyes open and be honest about the decision processes we all make in the cockpit.

One day I was turning cross wing and started getting a low oil pressure alarm. I was in the pattern at altitude. The runway was just off to my left in easy glide distance. The engine was running fine, so I continued to fly a normal pattern, but was very very distracted by the oil pressure alarm. It was an ugly pattern, and a bit of a fast and hard landing. One alarm was going off and my focus changed. Turns out is was a bad sensor on a rental plane. The flying club manager knew of the problem but forgot to mention it to me before take off (Not sure I would have gone flying if he had told me). Things change fast. Be prepared. Practice. I choose to read the stories of those who have lived to tell them, and be honest with myself about learning from those experiences. Thanks.
__________________
_____________
Peter McCoy
RV9A N35PM S/N:91335
First Flight: April 2013
Hobbs: 400 hours after Oshkosh 2017
www.myrv9.com
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 10-25-2012, 01:17 PM
r0cknry r0cknry is offline
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Michigan
Posts: 15
Default

Thanks for having the courage to share your story! Reading things like this reminds me of my "personal fuel minimums"... You can NEVER have too much fuel!
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 10-25-2012, 01:26 PM
rleffler's Avatar
rleffler rleffler is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Delaware, OH (KDLZ)
Posts: 4,286
Default

That is the precise reason I installed these low fuel sensors in my tanks. I get alerted when each tank gets down to about five gallons. Not necessarily idiot proof, but one more thing to help me from becoming one.

bob
__________________
Bob Leffler
N410BL - RV10 Flying
http://mykitlog.com/rleffler
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 10-25-2012, 02:17 PM
Don's Avatar
Don Don is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 696
Default

Thanks for sharing. I've worked to keep my get-home-itis under control more than a few times over the years. It's good to have a reminder to have a solid plan and stick to your limits. The trick for me has been staying flexible, which is necessary, and not using that as an excuse to ignore a limit. I'm glad you could learn from your experience...and so can we.
__________________
Don Alexander
Virginia
RV-9A 257SW Purchase Flying - O-320, Dynon D100
RV-9A 702DA (reserved) Finish Kit IOX-340
www.propjock.com
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 10-25-2012, 04:22 PM
Buggsy2's Avatar
Buggsy2 Buggsy2 is offline
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NorCal
Posts: 565
Default

A lot of these stories have, I've concluded, one overall solution: you have to be something of a jerk to be PIC with passengers. You have to be able to say, "we're not getting home tonight. You're going to be late for work tomorrow." You gotta be able to make the safe decision regardless what it does to your or your passengers' schedules.

But it helps a lot to make this decision weeks in advance of the trip. Explain to your pax the delays that can happen. Explain that you might have to help them find a bus to get home. Tell them not to plan their schedule so the Big Meeting they have to get to is the next day after the planned arrival.

All of this can be done with a smile and calm attitude so you don't have to be a real-time jerk. But everybody should understand you won't fly in unsafe conditions beyond your or the plane's capabilities.
__________________
Ralph Finch
RV-9A QB-SA
Davis, CA
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 10-25-2012, 04:38 PM
Bavafa Bavafa is offline
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Sacramento, CA
Posts: 3,639
Default

Thanks for sharing, I suspect this will be a reminder for many of us and help in our decision making progress. And if only one learns it in such way to avoid this type of decision making, then it is ALL worth it to share.

Cheers
Mehrdad
__________________
Mehrdad
N825SM RV7A - IO360M1B - SOLD
N825MS RV14A - IO390 - SOLD
N258SM RV14A - IO390EXP119 - in progress
Dues paid
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 10-25-2012, 04:45 PM
airguy's Avatar
airguy airguy is offline
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Garden City, Tx
Posts: 5,591
Default

I learned my fuel lesson early on, during the last part of my student training. I was returning from a night cross-country and had to deviate for weather and go low for about an hour. My instructor had always told me to run full rich below 4000' so of course I was pouring the fuel through it but my brain was still thinking 8 gph. I landed OK and then pumped 32 gallons into an airplane with 34 gallons total capacity, and got pretty wigged out about that. Ever since then I've had a hard floor of 1 hour reserve on landing or divert for fuel, and I haven't busted that one yet.
__________________
Greg Niehues - SEL, IFR, Repairman Cert.
Garden City, TX VAF 2021 dues paid
N16GN flying 900 hrs and counting; IO360, SDS, WWRV200, Dynon HDX, IFD440, G5
Built an off-plan RV9A with too much fuel and too much HP. Should drop dead any minute now.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 10-25-2012, 04:51 PM
N546RV's Avatar
N546RV N546RV is offline
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Brookshire, TX
Posts: 1,160
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Buggsy2 View Post
A lot of these stories have, I've concluded, one overall solution: you have to be something of a jerk to be PIC with passengers. You have to be able to say, "we're not getting home tonight. You're going to be late for work tomorrow." You gotta be able to make the safe decision regardless what it does to your or your passengers' schedules.

But it helps a lot to make this decision weeks in advance of the trip. Explain to your pax the delays that can happen. Explain that you might have to help them find a bus to get home. Tell them not to plan their schedule so the Big Meeting they have to get to is the next day after the planned arrival.

All of this can be done with a smile and calm attitude so you don't have to be a real-time jerk. But everybody should understand you won't fly in unsafe conditions beyond your or the plane's capabilities.
In this case, I was clear about all these things with my friends from the moment we started talking about flying. And to their credit, neither of them tried to influence my decisions at all.

All the pressure that broke my decision-making came from within myself. In retrospect, this isn't that surprising, as I tend to be my own worst critic; in this case, whatever the reason, I decided early on (not necessarily consciously) that getting home on Sunday was a very important goal. To a certain extent, the die was already cast the moment I made that decision.
__________________
Philip
-8 fuselage in progress (remember when I thought the wing kit had a lot of parts? HAHAHAHAHA)
http://rv.squawk1200.net
Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 01:38 PM.


The VAFForums come to you courtesy Delta Romeo, LLC. By viewing and participating in them you agree to build your plane using standardized methods and practices and to fly it safely and in accordance with the laws governing the country you are located in.