Flying Low on Fuel - Does your instructor allow it?

Why risk your life and fly low on Fuel?

I've studied many accidents where experienced pilots have crashed within a couple of miles of their airport of intended landing OUT OF FUEL!! I have heard stories countless times by students coming from other schools where their instructors let them fly dangerously low on fuel stating that maybe the next auto would be for real. Often they ask me if this is normal, and they speak of instructors who made light of the situation or even laughed and joked about it. I have even heard stories of practice forced landings or autorotations that suddenly became the real thing. Many students feel that this among other unsafe factors are the price they must pay, or the risk they must take to achieve their goal. This may be true from a convenience standpoint alone, but the truth is, you do have other options.

The NTSB database is full of accidents which were the result of fuel exhaustion. The vast majority of these accidents are fatal; why then, do so many people push this event? An actual emergency is created when the aircraft is low on fuel; not out of fuel, but low on fuel. This has to be the most stupid occurrence in helicopter aviation since a helicopter can be landed virtually anywhere.

Some of the common causes:

  • Foolhardy instructors and pilots not taking aviation and flight training serious ultimately risking their own life and YOUR LIFE! This ultimately passes on the same attitude to others.
  • Poor planning
  • Trying to save costs of fueling
  • Get-home-itis - wanting to fuel at home base.
  • Just plain not paying attention
  • Pilots willing to use the safety reserve as a "get home, or get to the airport reserve".

It's not worth dying for! How can you as a student eliminate this situation? First and foremost, take your own life more seriously and don't let some other moron risk it. Complain to the school where this occurred and get something done about it. If that don't work go to a different school; it is your life at risk, can you put a price on that? If nothing else works, make a formal complaint with the FAA about the situation and the pilot/flight instructor doing it.

Some rules of thumb for flying with a safe reserve.

  • Know the burn rate of the aircraft you are flying and know how much fuel you left with.
  • Do not blindly trust a fuel gage that you have not personally verified as accurate.
  • Inquire as to the last verification of the fuel indicator accuracy as well as the unusable fuel quantity.
  • Never, never, never view the "required reserve" as an optional use quantity to get you back to base, home, or an airport. The required reserve is that which you are required to plan to land with for refueling. Anything less is negligence.
  • Know the fuel system of the aircraft you are flying in detail.
  • Obtain a piece of clean doweling from a hardware store to use as your actual measuring device to verify for yourself the accuracy of the fuel indicators on the aircraft you will be flying.
  • Know how many gallons the required reserve equates to in the aircraft you are flying, and know what level this is in the tank and on the guage. This is how much fuel you must land with if you have met planning requirements. This is a safety reserve, not a get-home reserve.
  • Be aware that different aircraft of the same make and model may indicate differently or have slighlty different unusable quantities.

Do your part to help weed out the bad instructors who don't take safety and aviation as a whole serious and who are consequently risking the lives of others by practicing and teaching poor technique and bad habits. END Jump to Top