It was my second cross-country in the RV-6 since getting my private license and tailwheel endorsement. I had about 100 hours total time and about 25 in the RV.
I picked up a friend at a nearby airport, where I also filled the tanks. On takeoff, I was surprised and a little concerned with the reduction in climb rate caused by full fuel tanks and a 180-pound passenger. Fortunately I had been warned about it, which is why I didnt fly out of the 2,700-foot grass strip with 50-foot trees on both ends where the RV makes its home.
The 1:40 trip went smoothly to Montpelier, Vt. Flying VFR with a GPS for navigation took most of the guesswork out of the flight. I even remembered to switch fuel tanks while I was right over an airport. Good for me.
After lunch and a visit with our friend, I preflighted the RV for the trip home. I checked the fuel and considered topping off the tanks, but then I looked at the nearby mountains and recalled the poor climb performance on the trip up. I calculated fuel consumption and figured I had 20 gallons left – plenty for the return trip.
On the way back the visibility declined and it became harder to spot traffic, so I contacted the Albany tower and secured flight following. After all, Im a safe and conservative pilot. I switched tanks over Schenectady, with the right tank indicating full, that meant 13 gallons, according to the placard. The left tank now read just over , which meant I had 9 or 10 gallons on that side. I should have noticed the math problem at this point, but I took the fuel gauges and calibration placard as fact and was blissfully content that no fuel stop was needed.
As I passed over a large lake about 40 minutes away from home, I noted that both fuel tanks read about , which meant I had plenty of fuel. I dropped fuel awareness from my mental flight tasks.
I came into the pattern mid-field after a steep decent. I flew a good pattern and went through my prelanding checklist. I added power back to 2,000 rpm, checked my mixture rich and carb heat on, and recalled that Id already taken care of my fuel. I reduced power a bit and lifted the nose a little.
I added flaps and noted I was a bit high, so I reduced the engine to idle.With full flaps and no power, the RV began to sink pretty fast, so I decided to add a little power. The engine sputtered and chugged to a stop. I was at about 200 to 300 feet and about 800 to 1,000 feet out. There was nothing left to do but fly.
I could see I was below my normal glide path. I pitched for best glide and watched as the trees rose up to meet us. The temptation was to pull back the stick to avoid them, but I watched my airspeed and stayed on the best glide. Just prior to striking the trees I raised the nose slightly to flatten out the descent and bleed off airspeed before impact.
I was surprised at how far I floated in that level attitude in 1-2 seconds. The RV started to sink fast and I flared. I heard the wheel fairings strike the tops of the last trees, but we were still flying. I dropped the nose hard toward the field and flared again. We landed in a 3-point attitude with a small bounce and rolled to a stop in about 100 feet.
I got out and drained a fuel sample from the left tank and poured it back in. The right tank also had fuel. I tried to start the engine and it fired up in two revolutions of the prop. I switched back to the left tank and the engine continued to run smoothly.
In draining the tanks the next day, I discovered less than a quart of fuel in the left tank and about 7 gallons in the right. Apparently, the tank calibration was wrong. I recalibrated the tanks in a level flight attitude and found that full means 6 gallons, not 9 or 10. Obviously, in level attitude the remaining fuel was usable, but when I pitched for final, a quart of fuel wasnt enough.
Regardless, I should have noticed the inconsistency in the math before and I certainly should have checked the gauges prior to landing.
Looking back at it, I cant decide which word describes my decisions best: 1) Foolish, 2) Dumb, 3) Stupid. Last night I woke up three times dreaming the last few seconds of that flight.
I stopped at the airport yesterday and thanked my tailwheel instructor for all those engine-out practice landings. Im sure they saved our lives.
New Tool a Crucial One
I was making my first flight in my Baron 58TC since installing a Garmin GNS 430 and an Argus 5000CE with ADF and Stormscope overlay. The aircraft was already equipped with color weather radar. I am a fairly low time multiengine pilot and had just gotten an instrument rating a few months earlier.
I was flying from central Texas to Las Vegas, with a fuel stop in Albuquerque. Flight Service was reporting a tropical flow up from Mexico and forecast scattered thunderstorms, possibly severe. Sure enough, as I neared my destination my weather radar was painting a severe storm dead ahead, which was confirmed by numerous strikes on the Stormscope.
A commuter plane was ahead of me and following my intended route, which I determined would pass through the worst part of the weather, which was about 15 miles wide and about 30 miles long. I concluded that I wanted no part of what my eyes and instruments saw there, so I asked for a deviation to the south, which was granted.
Within a few minutes, I saw that the weather I was now facing was even worse than what I left, so I asked for a turn to the north. I was able to skirt the weather just outside a restricted area, and five minutes later I was able to execute a normal approach and landing.
The commuter plane followed me in shortly thereafter.
My situational awareness was so enhanced by the 430 that I was able to remain oriented through the numerous turns with descents and climbs. Having a Stormscope and radar greatly reduced my risk of flying into dangerous weather, but I cannot praise the 430 enough in terms of enhancing the safety of the flight through better situational awareness.
Special Request Goes Sour
We had planned a weekend trip to Las Vegas from our home base on the California coast. The June gloom had settled in early but Flight Service predicted it would lift shortly. By around 11 a.m. the ceiling lifted to about 900 feet and the sky 15 miles to the east was completely clear. From there, it was severe clear all the way to Vegas.
I was a new pilot and had not had any experiences with special clearances. With some prompting from two experienced pilots at the field that day I phoned the tower and asked for a special VFR clearance. The field frequently has low ceilings and the request was not unusual.
I preflighted the Cessna 172 and reminded Ground of my SVFR request. They said it would be ready for me when I got to the runway. When I was ready to go, Tower gave me a heading, altitude, time to turn to another heading, and a Departure frequency. I noted them and was told readback correct, cleared for takeoff.
I was uncomfortable about the clearance because I thought the assigned altitude would put me into the clouds. I figured they knew something I didnt, because Im new at this, after all. Maybe the ceiling had gone up a little more in the time since my last weather report. I shrugged it off as first-time jitters.
I accepted the clearance and took off. I asked my passenger to keep his eyes on the outside as I focused my attention on the instrument panel, wanting to hit all the numbers right. At 900 feet I entered the clouds and had to make a turn to my assigned heading. I couldnt see a thing. I rechecked the notes of my clearance and saw that I was doing what Id been told, when Tower called and asked if I was IFR.
The question confused me. I replied, Yes Im IFR. I cant see a damn thing. Then I tried to call them back to clarify that I was a VFR pilot but that I was trapped in IMC. The tower replied that I was about to enter Class D airspace, gave me a new frequency, and told me to call them.
I normally have good communications skills, and every CFI Id flown with had praised my radio work. But this time I couldnt say a thing. As I reached for the radio to tune the new frequency, I saw the DG spinning. When I stopped that, I was disoriented. None of the numbers made any sense. I couldnt tell where I was or what direction I was headed. All I could think of was that I was entering an area with multiple airports, instrument approaches and mountains. The only safe place I could think of was up.
I jammed the throttle in and started a climbing left turn at a 30 degree bank. I held it there until I broke out above the clouds and into the beautiful blue.
I caught my breath, stabilized the plane, and called Approach. They said they were happy to hear from us but that I should call the tower when I landed. I found out that Id been given a clearance for IFR to VFR on top rather than special VFR.
Through the whole ordeal I couldnt believe that I could not feel when the plane was in a spiral. I actually thought the DG was broken until I cross-checked it with the other instruments.
This whole exciting and dangerous experience would have been avoided if I had used my common sense and refused the clearance given to me. I had the weather report. It was wrong to assume that others could not have made a mistake. They did, and I wonder about the price I could have paid for it.