Saturday, December 31, 2016

How To Fly And Survive

Over the past five to six years, I have been writing about some of my flight experiences of the past 40 or so years.  I have used this blog as the recording medium. The goal of this writing is to share these flight experiences in an effort to help fellow pilots avoid senseless and possibly fatal flight accidents.

Let me offer an example of how not to do it.  Going back to 1967 in Syracuse, NY, where I was attending medical school, I needed to go to Boston for a quick visit.  To accomplish this I rented a Cherokee 180, marginally IFR equipped for the trip.  Three fellow students joined me.  Weather forecast was VFR, with some possible IFR.  This latter point is key.

My flight experience at the time, about 400 hours of VFR flying with some IFR instruction.  We left Syracuse under beautiful VFR conditions.  Some scattered clouds and a west (tail) wind of 20 to 30 knots.  This is important.  Flight distance about 260 miles, which meant a flight time of just under 2  hours at an airspeed of 120 mph (107 knots).  Landing was planned for Hanscom Field, about 20 miles west of Boston. 

After takeoff we climbed to 7500 feet, with a cruise speed of 150 mph (133 knots), thanks to the tail wind.  Sounds good, but wait. After passing Albany, it started getting cloudy, scattered to broken clouds.  This caused concern, especially as flight service advised possible marginal VFR for Boston at our ETA. So we continued until just west of Worcester.  Flight Service advised that Worcester was going IFR as was Boston. So, what to do? As I was not a fully trained or certified IFR pilot, I need VFR conditions to fly legally and safely. I decided to do a 180 degree turn and head back to Albany and Syracuse.  Fuel gauges showed somewhat more than ½ on both sides. That should be plenty except for the strong west wind!  Ground speed was now of the order of 80 mph per hour (70 knots).  Oh my.  Do we have enough fuel to get to Albany or Syracuse?  Well, in the interim, Albany was now IFR, also. That left Syracuse as our final alternate/destination as it had stayed VFR.  But, would we have enough fuel to make it? 

Since I am alive to write about it, you know we made it. Yes, but barely. As we approached Syracuse, the fuel gauges were hovering around E.  After taxiing in and shutting down, I looked in the fuel tanks and didn’t see any gas.  OUCH! 

The moral of this story.  Always have enough fuel aboard to fly another hour after landing as a safety measure. 



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