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Bits and Pieces Reader Helps Editor After Unscheduled Fuel Stop

By Jack Dueck

The engine sputters and loses RPM!  Instinctively, I change from the right to the left fuel tank.  Instant power!  What was that all about? 

Greg MacGillivray and I are on our inter Chapter fly-out flight to Disley Saskatchewan and we had fueled up in Medicine Hat.  That was about an hour ago, the Luscombe could not have possibly burned through 15 gallons (US) of fuel already?  Anyway, the engine is purring and we continue on. 

Suddenly silence!  Isn’t it amazing how quiet things get at 5500 ft. ASL when the engine in an aircraft shuts down!

I try the right tank again and get a faint pop, and then only silence.  Priming doesn’t help, and I say to Greg; “guess we’re going down!”

Below us is a good looking gravel road, and with a few turns I line up into a very mild breeze and the next thing I know we are on the road.  The landing is not over as a big high traffic sign is coming up on the right hand side of the road.  Carefully I ease over to the left and when my left wheel enters the sloped part adjacent to the ditch, the right wing comes up and over the sign.  Now with a good bit of right brake I get MNW back onto the road, and roll to a stop.

WOW!  After a couple of deep breaths, we climb out and take a look around.  There’s an abandoned farm yard about 200 yards ahead, which will allow us to get the aircraft off the road and out of the way of any traffic.  We each grab a strut and start walking; and none too soon.  Up ahead a large semi is turning onto the road heading in our direction.  The driver is courteous and waits until we reach the driveway and turn MNW into the yard way, waving as he drives by.

With the quick-drain of the gascolator, and the gas cocks to both fuel tanks open, it’s pretty plain to see that we are out of fuel.  How is this possible?  I check the fuel gauges and they are both showing empty.  The tanks each hold 15 gallons (US), and with a fuel burn of somewhat less than 5 gallons per hour, our endurance range has got to be at least 6 hours.  We have been in the air less than two hours with full tanks.

The culprit!  Blue coloured streaks can be seen behind each fuel cap; and next I see that both caps have been replaced in reverse position.  That is, the vent tubes are pointing to the back, allowing the fuel to be siphoned off.  So there we were, blissfully flying along while our precious fuel cargo was draining overboard.

Fuel Stop

Debrief:

  • No reason to be sanguine!  This is a stupid error on the part of both: First the FBO who filled up our aircraft, and second, just as stupid on my part, the pilot responsible for the safety of the flight.
  • This is a failure in design, where Murphy can readily jump into the act.  Why does the design of the fuel cap not make it impossible to place a fuel cap in this wrong position?
  • How could I become so careless in a routine pre-flight check, to miss this potential flight hazzard?
  • Why don’t I keep a closer check on my fuel gauges?

We now know the reason for the emergency, and in that there is a sense of gratitude.  The cause is clearly defined.  No ambiguity!  Up ahead, about a quarter of a mile we see a large farm operation, and we feel certain that we will be able to obtain some fuel.  As we walk up the driveway, a gentleman comes out of the farmhouse, sticks out his hand and said, “Well, if it isn’t Jack Dueck!  I know you from ‘Bits & Pieces’.” 

We explain our situation, and Michael Schuetz (EAA #794688) says; “Sure I’ve got some Avgas here, but first come look at my Avid Flyer.”  This airplane world is certainly a small and friendly one!

Fuel Stop

Seventy litres later, and with Mike and his father ensuring the road ahead was free of traffic, Greg and I are again in the air continuing our flight to Disley.  For Greg, this is his first cross- country flight in a small aircraft, and his remark after our experience is; “If I was apprehensive before our flight, I no longer am.  Seeing how this problem was so easily resolved has given me much more comfort in learning to fly.”  Not exactly the image of flying that I would want to portray, but thankful in the result.

 
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