Tanks For The Memory


The day’s mission was to get me and my A36 Bonanza from Virginia to Wichita, Kansas, with a stop in Columbus, Ohio, to pick up some fuel and a pilot-rated passenger going to the same multi-day meeting I was attending. The first leg was solo and uneventful, and soon my passenger and I were winging our way west, crossing Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. We flew over the St. Louis Class B airspace, so the Tracon there couldn’t mess with us, and soon had crossed into Kansas and were letting down for what everyone expected to be an uneventful arrival.

Along the way, my passenger and I got reacquainted and traded war stories about flying as well as the industry in which we were involved, plus its various personalities. The weather was benign, and I had little to do except monitor the autopilot, respond to ATC, change frequencies and keep up my end of the conversation.

As we neared the Wichita terminal area, I picked up the ATIS and confirmed our good weather would stay with us and planned for a visual approach. In my experience with the Wichita airport, the GA flights typically used the east runway while the heavy iron used the west one. That practice was in place on this day, too, as ATC vectored me onto a left base for Runway 19L. I called the airport in sight and was cleared for the visual. Despite the easy flight out and good conversation, I was ready to end our flying for the day and looked forward to a decent meal and an adult beverage or three.

After I punched off the autopilot and rolled out on about a three-mile final for 19L, I dropped the landing gear and began to add flaps. I typically wait until passing through 500 feet agl before doing a final GUMP check, and we hadn’t descended that low yet. That’s when the engine quit.

“What the #@%!” I yelled out. I immediately shoved all the power controls forward and switched tanks. I even raised the gear to eliminate its drag and hit the electric fuel boost pump. The engine roared back to life. I reset the power, dropped the gear again and performed the GUMP check I had delayed. Everything was back to normal, except the right wing was a bit heavy.

What happened?

The first thing that had happened is we flew from Columbus to Wichita on the left fuel tank, which was nearly empty. Second, turning from left base to final unported what fuel remained in the left tank and allowed only air to reach the engine. Switching to the right tank and hitting the boost pump quickly fixed that. From there, all that remained was only a quick GUMP check and an easy landing.

I learned three things: First, no matter how enjoyable the flight, maybe switch tanks at least every hour? Second, top of the descent is a better place to switch tanks than short final. Third, do a GUMP check on turning final and then another one at 500 feet.

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