Fuel Enough


Two months after gaining my private ticket, my friend asked if I could take him and his son from Michigan to New Hampshire, where he would leave his son to visit his grandparents for two weeks. No problem, I said, looking forward to my first long cross-country. I reserved a Cessna 172 from my flight school and, as the day approached, I kept track of weather conditions and filed VFR.

When I take someone up, I usually ask if they have any questions about what’s involved in being a pilot. Some say yes, some no. My friend was interested in many aspects of aviation, so we talked about it during the long flight. My route map was in my lap, and I pointed out the checkpoints as they came up. I explained the instruments and all the safety built into the system of being a pilot. He asked good questions and the flight proceeded without incident, although my instrument scan was probably not up to par, due to the interesting conversation.

As we flew over New York, on-course at 9500 feet, some few miles west and north of Schenectady, I was shocked to notice both fuel gauges hovering about above empty! The fuel selector was on “Both.” I halted all conversation as I checked my chart for the Schenectady frequency and requested a landing. I was thinking about leaking fuel, but could smell nothing out of the ordinary.

aircraft fuel gauge

It was a smooth landing, and I taxied to the FBO and shut down. As I sat there, thinking about “What now?” I found the trouble. I can’t believe I forgot to lean the mixture for the whole trip!

Needless to say, cockpit chatter declined a bit and the flight continued without incident after I did a complete review of the checklists. My friend was unexpectedly forgiving and respectful of each and every checklist in the book.

We both learned a bit more about flight safety than either of us expected. All my subsequent flights have proceeded with all pertinent checklists resting in my lap and respectfully touched from time to time. And, cockpit conversation is held to a respectable minimum.


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