During my initial experience learning how to fly skydivers the discussion of fueling the 182 came up. I was handed a wooden stick that had several notches cut into it. I was told that I would “stick” the tanks when fueling or when verifying the fuel load during preflight to assure how much fuel I had onboard. Then with a serious face, my instructor said “Those notches do not mean anything.” Um what? “Those notches do not mean anything. No one ever told me what the notches meant and I assumed they meant five gallons each. They don’t. Someone just cut notches in a stick and threw it in the plane. I didn’t know this and assumed I had 10 gallons onboard. I got to altitude, dropped the load, then promptly ran out of gas as the pitch angle down made the fuel remaining unusable. I dead sticked it to the runway and had enough momentum left to roll into the fueling area. Don’t do what I did. Never, EVER assume that something made up and handed to you has any meaning. Never, EVER accept the phrase “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” You will get burned and it could mean your life.”

It was a cold, sobering discussion on how you can be led down the wrong path when you do not verify what you are being told. Sticking tanks (dipping a stick or tube in a fuel tank to see where the fuel level makes the stick wet to determine how much fuel is on) is a very good way to make sure you have the proper amount of fuel on board before departure, as light single engine aircraft fuel gauges are notoriously inaccurate once in flight. Just make sure that anything that looks “home made” is exactly what you think it is. Question everything then verify what you’ve been told. It could mean your life. Or others’.