Learning Experiences: 06/06

Tanks For The Memories


It was an August afternoon in 1980 and I had my wife and two business associates in the back of our Cessna 182. We had just spent a successful yet exhausting week at Chicagos McCormick Place for an annual trade show.

We were on our way back to Eugene, Ore., and I had a raging head cold. My wonderful wife had been flying the leg from Iowa to Wyoming, but she elbowed me as we approached Billings, Mon. She said it was IFR ahead and that I needed to take over.

I was sound asleep but rallied to her call. I filed with Salt Lake Center and entered the clouds near Billings.

Understand that we had been in the air for five hours and had emptied our bladders into the onboard containers. In the past, I never worried about fuel exhaustion because we never remained airborne more than four hours-the airplanes endurance exceeded our own.

This day, we were bent on getting home.

The IFR work was not hard, but it was raining heavily with a light chop. In my mind, I had McCall, Idaho, or Baker, Ore., planned as the next stop, if one was necessary. In hindsight, I really wasnt thinking about stopping.

As we approached Bozeman, my wife said she was tired and wanted to quit for the day. Reluctantly, I asked Salt Lake Center for clearance for the ILS into Bozeman. They agreed and I set up the approach.

After breaking out at about 1500 feet agl, my ears were bursting in pain because of my congestion. I asked my wife to take the plane and land. She then flipped into pilot mode and took the controls.

As she took the controls, she mentioned via the intercom that both fuel tanks registered empty. For the first time all day, I looked at them and there was no margin on the E. They appeared empty.

I took back the controls and completed the visual approach to a landing.

As she and the other couple migrated to the FBO for a potty stop, I took on fuel. Oh, yeah, did I take on fuel. The FBO pumped into the Skylane 0.3 gallons more than the book says is usable fuel for my aircraft. There was only a mere 1.5 gallons of unusable fuel on board. So, that is how business folks who work all week and then play pilot to get home wind up getting killed.

We had been on fumes, with barely enough fuel for a go around. If we had passed by Bozeman, we would have glided to our death in the Montana mountains between Bozeman and Dillon, Montana. I have never forgotten this humbling experience.

Today, I fly a Bellanca Turbo Super Viking and I always land with lots of fuel.


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