Point Of Diversion 4 — Landing Diversion

Common sense and calculations were missing when two pilots ran out of fuel in flight and experience off-airport landings. Did you see where the pilots went wrong in last week’s POD examples?

The first pilot had many opportunities to avoid this accident. The NTSB stated the obvious in their statement of probable cause: The pilot’s misjudgment of the airplane’s fuel supply during preflight inspection, and his subsequent failure to monitor in-flight fuel consumption […] led to the engine power loss due to fuel exhaustion. Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s decision not to refuel the airplane prior to the flight, and his lack of total flight experience. The accident report also mentioned that this was an “unsupervised” solo flight.

Critical Point: This pilot did not have a close call, but an actual accident. The airplane was destroyed but the student pilot was unhurt.

POD: The student’s point of diversion took place before takeoff when he thought there was enough fuel, when in fact there was not. I don’t know all the circumstances that surrounded this flight: did the student pilot own the airplane and he was just taking his airplane out without the instructor’s knowledge? Did someone at a flight school dispatch the airplane to a student when they should not have? Didn’t the student understand the limitations of the student pilot certificate?

Strategy: Follow the rules and people stay safe. I don’t know the whole story, but you can bet that had this been a properly supervised student solo flight an accident would not have taken place. Student pilots should realize that your ability to fly an airplane solo (even an airplane that you own) is restricted by approval from your personal flight. An instructor cannot approve a flight that they do not know about.

The second pilot also ran out of fuel after having many chances to get more fuel during the flight. Probable Cause: Improper planning/decision making by the pilot, which resulted in fuel exhaustion and loss of engine power, due to an inadequate supply of fuel.

Critical Point: The pilot of this Grumman AA-1C suffered no injury in the crash, but jeopardized himself and others on the ground (residential area) because he did not recognize when his situation awareness was lost. This pilot performed a takeoff, a low pass and a touch and go on five gallons of fuel.

POD: This was another point of diversion that took place on the ground before the flight began. In flight, the pilot appeared to behave in a manner oblivious to the “five gallons of fuel” onboard at departure.

Strategy: There are certain physical laws that are always true; you would be wise to pay them mind and obey them whenever they apply. A close look at the operating handbook for the aircraft would likely have shown this pilot that most of his fuel would have been gone after just one takeoff.

Both pilots had one thing in common: they were using the fuel gauges to determine quantity. This is a bad idea. Fuel gauges are universally unreliable. Fuel remaining should always be calculated using elapsed times not the fuel gauge indication. The only time a fuel gauge is required by law to be accurate is when the tanks are empty. That’s not an aviation myth, it’s an actual regulation. The rule means that any amount of fuel in the tanks may be misrepresented on the fuel indicator and the aircraft will still be legal to fly. This is why using a fuel consumption chart and a clock is the only reliable way to know you have enough fuel for the flight.

Inside Information: The reg was originally written into the Civil Air Regulations (CAR) in the 1950s. Many more regulations have been written since the 50’s but unless a regulation is specifically superseded it remains in force and that is the situation with CAR 3.672. The CAR (not FAR) rule 3.672 states that, “Fuel quantity gauges shall be calibrated to read zero during level flight when the quantity of fuel remaining in the tank is equal to the unusable fuel supply…“. (Clearly this would be an interesting test “flight?“).

Now read this accident report and see if it will help plan your next extended range flight-

NTSB Report number: ATL98LA110

According to the pilot, he was 2.5 hours into a 4-hour flight when he felt an urgent need to relieve himself. The pilot stated he decided to land on a road in a cultivated field. The pilot stated that after landing, he noticed a post on the left side of the road and maneuvered to miss the post. During this maneuver, the airplane became airborne, and when it touched down a second time, the landing gear collapsed. According to the FAA inspector, the pilot stated he had to relieve himself, so he decided to land on an access road because he didn’t see an airport. The pilot then stated that he didn’t have enough clearance on the road, and decided to land in the field. The FAA inspector also stated the field was approximately 1 to 2 miles south of the Thomasville Airport in Thomasville, Georgia. According to the FAA, the airplane touched down on the edge of the field, crossed the access road, and came to rest in another field. When crossing the road, the right main landing gear was sheared off. As the airplane continued to roll, the lower third of the rudder and the fuselage were bent.

Not knowing where the nearest airport is located, can be a real problem. Can you see several general areas where this pilot’s thought process went wrong?

Next week we explore this and more reasons to maintain situation awareness.