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Lessons Learned

Smoke tanks do not make good auxiliary fuel tanks


By Gary DeBaun, IAC 4145

(Editor's Note: The following story is a teaser for an article appearing in the May issue of Sport Aerobatics magazine.)

Last year I bought a Pitts S-1C for the 2012 contest season. As an A&P and aircraft builder for the last 45 years, I pretty well knew what to look for during the pre-purchase inspection. I did a 20-minute run-up after the inspection, and all was well.

I wanted to make it home in one shot, no stops, so we topped off the center wing tank with fuel from the seller's personal fuel storage tank. I noted it did have a filter, so I did not take any fuel samples. I drained about a gallon of fuel from the one and only fuel tank sump. I noted no contaminants and was satisfied.

After a brief run-up I took off and flew east, leveling off at 2,000 feet AGL. The engine was running like a fine Swiss watch. I did a few rolls and flew inverted for about 30 seconds. I was happy...it would be a good contest season.

Twenty minutes into the flight I opened the fuel valve for the top wing tank to let it drain into the main tank. (This was the standard procedure for my Acroduster Too for many years.) I was using my iPad and ForeFlight to navigate; however, as a precaution I decided to go IFR (I Follow Roads). Approximately 5 minutes after opening the wing tank fuel valve, the engine surged and quit.

At 2,000 feet AGL you do not have much time. I closed the wing tank fuel valve, checked the magneto switch, played with the throttle a bit - then decided to concentrate on landing. The narrow country road in front of me was void of traffic, so I set up my dead-stick approach and drove the Pitts onto the road (wheel landing). I made a perfect landing and bled off the airspeed, but when the tail wheel came down I lost complete sight of the road... (Read the rest in the May 2013 issue of Sport Aerobatics magazine.)

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