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A really pointless fuel exhaustion accident - in a King Air


He had a fuel totaliser too, but didn’t use it.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I don’t read it like that. It sounds to me like he was using the fuel totaliser, but it was wrong, probably due to cumulative errors entering top ups. Shame he didn’t cross check with the gauges.

As you say unnecessary, as King Air fuel gauges are in my limited experience very good.

Darley Moor, Gamston (UK)

Yes, that’s true; he may have been looking at the totaliser data, but had no way of knowing it had ever been correctly initialised.

A big potential problem in any shared aircraft. Come to think of it, when I used to rent out the TB20, I had one renter (an instructor, with a fake ATPL just to make life more interesting) fiddle with the totaliser FOB value, to get a lower fuel invoice. I used to rent out “dry” so the incentive was there to do that. I caught him by downloading the EDM700 engine data…

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

… but it was wrong, probably due to cumulative errors entering top ups. Shame he didn’t cross check with the gauges.

I learned my lesson regarding fuel totalisers in a similar way long ago, luckily with a happier outcome. We operated a Cessna 421 commercially that was mostly flown by myself and one other pilot. It had a very reliable and precise totaliser and the (not too bad) C421 fuel gages, that were accurate to 50…100 lb out of a total of 1400 pounds. But we had grown so much confidence and routine operating by the totaliser that we did almost all of our fuel planning based on that alone. Topping the tanks for resetting the totaliser to a know value was rarely an option as a commercial operated piston twin is one big permanent weight-and-balance nightmare.

So one day we flew to the Hannover trade fair early in the morning with two pilots and six male passengers on board which meant that only the absolute minimum legal fuel quantity required for that flight could be carried. Even less to be honest. I had the airplane refueled to that calculated value based upon our trusted totaliser indication as usual. Arriving at Hannover, we got in the middle of heavy trade-fair inbound traffic and were sent to the hold right away. Before even arriving over the holding fix, both “low fuel” indicators came on which means 15 minutes of fuel left in a 421. From our postion to the runway we estimated something like 10 minutes so we found ourselves in a pretty awful mess from one moment to the next. No way could we accept even one turn in the hold. The weather was IMC of course, not too bad, but not good enough for an emergency landing on one of the VFR fields in the vicinity. I was about to depress the microphone button to call Mayday when the controller called us instand: “delta india romeo, disregard the hold, turn left for vectors to the ILS 27 left”. What a relief! After landing I was taxiing in very slowly as I expected the engines to quit any moment due to the remaining puddle of fuel sloshing around the tanks in a turn…

Of course, I wanted to know what had gone wrong and investigated. The fuel calculation was OK, trip fuel + 10% contingency fuel + alternate fuel + some holding fuel (not the required 45 minutes for piston aircraft but sufficient fuel for a couple of turns). No extra fuel or final reserve. The wind was pretty much as calculated so we should have arrived with enough fuel remaining including some holds and a diversion to the alternate. After some phone calls I found the “culprit”: Several days before the flight, we had done two or three checkrides on the aeroplane. Our examiner got bored at some point and started playing with the buttons on his side of the panel. As there are not many of those on the RHS of the C421 he inevitably had to fiddle with the totaliser. Unfortunately he only changed the reading by a couple of hundred pounds (the 30 minutes of flight time that later would be missing) so that the error was not obvious enough to get caught.

So this is my “I learned about flying from that” story for today: Never trust a fuel totaliser that can be touched by fingers other than yours – even if they belong to a senior examiner AND: Mr. Cessna installed two fuel quantity indicators on your panel for a reason

Last Edited by what_next at 15 Aug 11:38
EDDS - Stuttgart

Good post!

Mainz (EDFZ) & Egelsbach (EDFE), Germany

I don’t know what these people do …

One of the upgrades to the Warrior I really love, besied the S-TEC 30/GPSS autopilot is the FS-450 Fuel flow, the whole thing cost like € 1800. After I calibrated it (it was installed maybe 8 years ago) until today it never had a larger error on a full tank than 1-2 liters. It shows total, fuel, FF, fuel at next waypoint and fuel at desutination – and whatever the wind is it is really impossible to run out of fuel … If the remining fuel reaches 1 hour of fuel left (and icalculate with 40 liters, not the more realistic 32) i land and refuel it.

What’s so hard to learn about that?

In the Cirrus all that is installed as part of the “EMax package” and since i’m the owner and obly pilot of the plane the information of the totalizer is always sport on correct, max. 1-2 liters off aswell. All you have to do is press “Full Fuel” or turn a knob if if “add fuel”. Other than the FS-430 there’s nothing to learn here: Turn knob and press Enter.

Last Edited by Flyer59 at 17 Nov 15:07

That’s a whole different story altogether. I understand that in a constant professional operation under the pressure you described and with all those A&B issues things like that can happen.

What I do NOT understand is how a private pilot runs out of fuel. I told the story before – we had a ATP instructor who once ran out of fuel in a TB10 five (!) miles after takeoff …

Maybe I am just too cautious but I stuggle to see why pilots run fuel to the limits.

With few exceptions unless you are departing with very low fuel loads some form of visual check is possible (I know the DA42) and why wouldnt you. For most of us this isnt commercial ops so frankly who cares if you have more fuel than you need sloshing around? The only exception I make is if it is a journey that is close to the total fuel load, and then frankly I would expect to go full and make sure the tanks really are full. Again without a totaliser I might add an extra stop and or land with more than strictly necessary but just the once I was caught in bad weather and a long divert worrying about whether I had enough fuel – I vowed that would never happen again.

Personally it is the one area when I would support the CAA or whoever it taking the most rigorous action unless there were truly the most exceptional of circumstances. There just isnt any reason to run out of fuel, and if you are going to blame the totaliser in which you have placed your total trust then I think this is a serious misjudgement. Totaliser are invalueable but not a complete solution in themselves.

Edited to add – and having read the report he was last reported at 6,000 feet or something like that and something like 12 minutes later at 4 miles couldnt make the runway. Presumably he had no idea he had run out of fuel unitl the engines started surging. Presumably there was nothing in the Aux. I appreciate you cant (shouldnt) put fuel in the aux. unless the mains are full and I am guessing he set off with nothing there either. Then he manages to stall the aircraft – I know, I know but having run out of fuel unless this happened at very low level you might have hoped he would have avoided pulling the nose up and successfully stallung the thing.

Last Edited by Fuji_Abound at 17 Nov 15:33

I am not aware of anybody in light GA going down with empty tanks if they have a totaliser fitted.

But I can see it can happen: a large % of the pilots who have one don’t use it.

This little anecdote might explain why:

In 2000-2002 Socata sold some 100-200 planes with the fuel totaliser mounted in the wrong place in the fuel system. The result, due to flow turbulence, was a 20-30% error.

Those owners who noticed this got their dealer to bodge the K-factor on the indicating instrument to make the best of it, but the error itself was pretty variable so this was a poor solution.

There is an STC (Shadin) which can be applied to move the flow transducer to the right place.

It can be done only on N-regs. The process for a Euro-reg is probably a Part 21 company job. Or you do it off the books.

I asked all over the place, including the Socata owners’ group, whether any Euro-reg TB20/21 owner did this mod and what paperwork route they followed. Obviously, they would probably have preferred to tell me privately…

Guess how many I heard from, over the following 12 years?


Of course there could be multiple explanations for that, but I bet most of them simply don’t use the system, or don’t use it for anything serious. Of those I know well, most don’t use it at all, and stick to short trips.

I went N-reg after 3 years and did it then. But the company (a well known UK outfit, EASA 145 & 21, FAA 145, etc) bodged it with unshielded cable and left it with a ~7% error which didn’t get fixed until I had a chance to re-wire it properly 3 years later. That company did five jobs for me and all were bodged.

So I think a lot of people just give up…


Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

With few exceptions unless you are departing with very low fuel loads some form of visual check is possible

That isn’t necessarily so. On the Cessnas with the long range tanks, it can be almost impossible to judge the quantity you have, as these tanks are very long and shallow. That also means that you have to be careful when topping off. ‘Full’ and ‘full’ can mean to pretty different things. I nearly got caught out by that once (and learned my lesson!).

Other than that, I agree (and have said so repeatedly), there really isn’t a reason to run out of fuel in private ops, barring of course things like a venting fuel cap on a Cessna.

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