Submitted by a reader:
After a day of flying jumpers in my 1959 C-182 at a drop zone that was 1.5 hours flight time away from my home base, it was time to head back home about 30 minutes before sunset. I always like to start any ferry flight with full tanks, but they had just run out of 100LL and when I stuck my tanks it looked like I had 32 gallons total remaining. From previous trips to this DZ I knew I would burn 18-20 gallons. The plane was equipped with an ECI fuel totalizer that was pretty accurate. Rather than making a short hop to a nearby airport to top off, I decided to get in the air and monitor the fuel burn, knowing that I would be below night VFR minimums and pushing the limits of total usable fuel by making the entire trip without adding fuel. This 182 had fiberglass fuel tanks and I had always considered 5 gallons per side as unusable.
I decided to stay at 11,500 feet because I knew I was pushing the fuel limits and I wanted a lot of altitude for gliding should I run out of fuel. My final check point was 30 minutes prior to reaching my destination. I told myself if I had at least 16 gallons on the ECI I would continue. If it was less than 16 I would land at an airport I was passing over exactly 30 minutes prior. Sure enough, I was at exactly 16 gallons so I pressed on. Just after I cancelled flight following on a high, straight in final approach to the destination the engine got real quiet. I was probably 3 miles away and had been descending in a way that I would always be high enough to make the runway. It’s as if I knew I had set myself up to run out of fuel and I was expecting it! I pitched up to 65 mph and wagged the wings as I continued towards the runway. No luck. Once I was sure I had the runway made, I pushed the nose over to increase the airspeed and the engine fired back up. After I touched down, the engine stayed running for the taxi to the hangar and I shut down uneventfully. When I measured the tanks I had 2 gallons in the right wing and 5 gallons in the left.
So, I knew I was pushing it, but decided to go without stopping to add fuel. I was very familiar with the issues of 182s and minimum fuel, but stubbornly pushed ahead past my personal comfort level. It was a stupid decision, but I was at least smart enough to stay high and keep the runway well within gliding range which saved my stupid ass! I have always made it a point to fly power off landings, so I am very familiar with the gliding sight picture for landings with no power from 1,000 feet all the way to touch down.
Lesson learned, and regardless of the inconvenience or how close it is to the calculated limits, from that point on I have never pushed the fuel limits for cross country flights or regular jump ops. It was a dumb decision and I knew it when I made it. Looking back on it now, it is hard to believe I still let myself make such an idiotic decision.
I want to highlight and stress again the fuel issue. During day operations we are to have 30 minutes reserve ALWAYS. The writer said they considered 10 gallons as unusable as they should have. However, at the 30 minutes out point they had 16 gallons. 16-10=6. Normal cruise on a 182 is about 12 gallons per hour. 30 minutes reserve is 6. So, with exactly 30 minutes to go this writer ONLY had reserve fuel on board. What if he had arrived at the destination and the runway was blocked due to some other incident? Reserve is not to get you to your destination. It’s for AFTER you get to your destination and something goes wrong extending your flying time.
I want to thank the writer for the humble submission. This is the type of institutional knowledge we need to be passed on to new Diver Drivers.
Blue skies and safe loads.