Fuel Matters, Part I

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A short time ago, I happened to be checking the numbers in the navigation log of a student who was hoping to go on a solo cross country. From the start I could see that the student had put some time and effort into carefully planning this flight.

The navigation log was neat and tidy, and everything appeared to be filled in with care and meticulous calculation. Here was a post PPL student who was still dedicated to filling out a nav log with the discipline and attention to detail worthy of a flight test. To say the least, I was impressed. How many of us start to get a bit “lazy” after getting our ticket?

Not this student! No GPS direct for them! 

After looking over the numbers, I asked the student a few of the standard questions. “What are your times, your headings, and your distances?” Everything looked in order. “What about the circuits at the airports that you are going to? What are the runway conditions, and what about your radio work, and all that airspace?”

The answers here all seemed to be pretty good as well!

However, when I came to questioning the student about their fuel, things started to take an interesting turn.

“So,” I started questioning, “how much fuel do you need?”

“19.5 gallons!” Was the student’s reply.

“And how much do you plan on taking?” I asked.

“Well, I only need the 19.5 gallons, including the reserve, so I should be okay with just a bit more than that!” The student replied.

It was at this point we took a careful look at the weight and balance. It was soon apparent that the solo student could easily take full fuel and still have the weight and room to spare for more! In fact, the student would be able to take full fuel and then breakfast, lunch, and even dinner with them! Quite possibly there was so much weight to spare that even the plates and cutlery to dine withcould have been taken along!

As we did this, something started to take root in this student’s mind. With further questioning, I could see that these roots were going to go deeper.

“So why would you only want to take the minimum fuel in this case?” I asked the student.

“Wouldn’t you want to put some extra time in your tanks, even if you don’t think that you’ll need it?”

Fuel starvation is a common mistake in the aviation world. Pilots consistently insist on turning their airplanes into gliders. What is more, they seem to be doing this at an alarming rate! It is such a problem that AOPA has created a series of amusing and satirical—but yet soberingvideos based on this fact.

So, before you begin reading too much more I would like you are encouraged to check out these great videos done by AOPA:



Pretty amusing stuff, isn’t it? Amusing, that is, until your engine is the one that becomes silent. Basically, AOPA just wants to get those of us who do piloting stuff to think more carefully about the fuel that is in our tanks. After all, how many of us just fuel and go—with little thought to the blue liquid that keeps us airborne?

After watching these videos, and after encouraging the student to take on some more fuel, I thought that maybe I should give it some more thought as well. And so I did. The few remaining brain cells that I have started to think hard. Very, very hard! (So much so that smoke started to come out of them!) As the questions and thoughts came to my mind, I jotted them down.

It wasn’t long before I had a lengthy list of reasons and questions that we can use to think about our fuel more critically. In fact, so many things came to mind that we are now tempted to rewrite the entire section called “Fuel” on PilotTraning.ca!

So, next time—two weeks from now—I am going to share these thoughts and questions that I’ve come up with. In the meantime, I would like to encourage you to come up with your own list as to things that we should consider when thinking about fuel… how are you going to ensure that you avoid running out?

This way, you can talk with your instructors, and get some ideas. Then, we can compare lists.

Now, if any of you do run out in the next two weeks, let it be known that I told you to think carefully before you took off…

So, to be continued!

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