In Detention


I am a moderately experienced pilot, having amassed approximately 3500 hours over 30 years of flying. This occurrence is one Im not particularly proud of, but is instructive nonetheless.

I was flying a PA-32-301T Saratoga to our home in Missoula, Mont. Fortunately I


was alone; my wife might have decided right then and there to not fly with me in the future if she had been a passenger on this flight.

I was over the valley, north of Bozeman. After reading a recent article in Aviation Safety discussing the pros and cons of the operation, I decided to run all the fuel from the right tank before switching to the left.

As the last drops flowed from the right side, the engine coughed. I reached down and slammed the fuel selector to the left tank, hit the fuel pump and the engine died! I went through the emergence procedure by memory.

Highway 90 was below me, I established best glide speed and put the engine controls full forward, all to no avail. I was at 12,000 feet, so I had time. I got out the manual and read the emergency procedures; I had done them all. So lets start over! Look at the fuel selector, which as I said I slammed into the left tank position….

There is a small detent to the left of the left tank position between it and off position. Rectify that, the power returned instantly and I am on my way. The lessons I learned?

1. Immediately undo the last thing that you did: When your engine stops or anything else results in unforeseen consequences, change tanks when the engine quits.

2. It is a good policy, if possible, to change tanks over friendly terrain, near a suitable airport, a flat area, etc. Just in case.

3. Know your aircraft: If you are going to run a tank dry in a Saratoga, do the left one. That way, the urgent switch to the right tank is opposite from the “off” position.

4. Its probably not a good idea to practice new techniques like this in mountainous areas.

5. The detent between “left” and “off” is not “idiot-proof.”


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