Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Close Call - Fuel Management

During my 3rd flight, I experienced a lesson, that NO ONE, should have to ACTUALLY go through. It's enough that it deserves it's own seperate blog.

Fuel Management:

That title already has any pilot's eyes opening widely. My unexpected lesson in this area hit the point I almost changed my call-sign to ever remind me.

It started out innocently enough, we were going to be doing spins in the DA-20 and thus weight had to be in the "utility" category. By my calculations we had to be right at half a tank (10gal) of fuel. The DA-20 burns around 5.8gal/hr, so that left enough VFR day reserve fuel as well.

We do our preflight, and find the fuel is JUST past 1/4 tank! At this point I break out the stick, and measure the fuel by hand...right at 6gal. That's JUST enough to last an hour (a little less with T/O and landings). My immediate instinct is to get the fuel truck to add another 4 gallons. "Shall we call the fuel truck?" My instructor said, no, we'll just have to make this a shorter flight than we planned. "Charlie Mike" was his expression. I didn't feel comfortable with it, but I had faith my instructor would NOT put me in harms way.

As you may have read in my "3rd Flight" blog, I had an excellent time. In fact I was enjoying myself so much, that I wasn't really keeping track of time. "Ok, we better head back now." My watch shows we've been out 45minutes...15 minutes past the time we should've begun heading back. Still, I was hiped up, and wasn't worried. I didn't notice the fuel needle damn near "E."

On our way back, he has me climb higher than we normally do heading back. Then he teaches me all about mixture, and asks me to put it back to 75% and maintain altitude. His dimeaner had changed and was suddenly very serious looking.

We reach the airport and cross mid-field...which isn't unusual, but doing so at 2500' IS. WHY does he have me so high? Then instead of tear-droping around to enter downwind, he has me begin a left bank descent. Ah ok, cool, another new thing to learn...the circle to loose altitude manuever! All the while the end of runway 26 is very close and in site. He literally has me continue the descent until 500' and we go in on final.

Moments later we're on terra firma, and NOT 1s after, *SHHHHHWUKK* the prop immediately stops! What the? I look over to see if it's my instructor doing an eng failure on me, but he's not. As I'm immediatly shocked, trying to hold the centerline, "Did you do that?". A quick "No, we're schochie on gas!" WHAT! We actively reset and restart the cranks up at first...YAY...seconds later *SHHHHHWUKK*... NO! Now we're really slow, still on the runway, and my rudder is barely effective. I manage to clear the runway, while the instructor works on getting the engine going again. We manage to make it to the FBO.

I sit back, and the harsh reality of what JUST happened sinks in. I was scared, I was furious...more so at myself than my instructor. WHY didn't I INSIST on adding more FUEL! The whole reason he had my work the mixture, and maintain a higher altitude because he KNEW we were near the edge. After exiting I measured .5gal usable left. Much to close to comfort for me... "Fumes" we were on mere fumes.

The lesson for the day...ALWAYS maintain the VFR fuel reserve minimums, watch your time carefully. We experienced an actual engine failure, thankfully right after we landed. A minute sooner, and we could've been doing a real FORCED LANDING!

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