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Western Canada Wing
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Fuel Management Technique

Eustace Bowhay, Blind River, BC
[Another fine posting by Eustace to the RV List—Webmaster.]


Over the years I have found aircraft fuel gauges leave a lot to be desired, and have long since used them only as a general reference.  I have no experience whatsoever with the new electronic stuff so I won’t comment on them.  I think all will agree that fuel management is one of the most important parts of flying.  At the risk of being a bit long-winded, this is how I have handled it with light, single-engine aircraft—including the RV.

On opening the hangar door and before moving the aircraft, with a clear sight tester, check both tank drains and gascolator for water and any sign of foreign material.  (I have my gascolator mounted in the gap between wing and fuselage so that it will drain without the boost pump.)  The reason for not moving is that any water will have accumulated at these low spots, and you don’t want to disturb it.  If you are wondering how any foreign material could get in with fuel from our modern filtered fuelling facilities, I made the big mistake of sloshing my tanks when I built them and about a year later it started coming loose—but that is another story.

If my previous flight or flights add up to over two hours, I will refuel to full tanks.  I prefer to refuel before hangering to cut down on condensation.  If flying without refuelling, I visually check the fuel levels.  When refuelling I visually check the fuel level and, by seeing how much fuel each tank takes, you soon get used to judging how much fuel is remaining.  Leave the fuel down a half inch below the filler for expansion.  I take off on the left tank and change tanks every half hour to equalize weight.  I try to keep my flights to a maximum of around three hours.  There are a couple of reasons for this, the most pressing is the range of my bladder at my age, and the other is that I like to have around an hour of fuel remaining on arrival for safety.

Why switch every half hour?  This effectively eliminates the need for a wing leveller and means that at the end of every hour you have about the same amount of fuel in each tank.  At the end of three hours you have a good solid hour’s fuel left and it would not matter which tank you are on for landing but the fuel selector will automatically be on the right tank for that occasional side slip.
You may say that the hour’s reserve is overkill, but how many times have you tried to stretch it a bit and wound up maybe close to dark, or with the weather not so swift, and wishing you had that hour’s fuel?  Besides, after three hours it is time to stretch, climb out, and kind of grin to yourself and say, “I am 600 miles farther down the road since I took off.”

Following this procedure one could do away with the fuel gauges, but the final inspector would probably get upset.  Also we still have to remember to change tanks.  This is all based on power settings in the 65-70% range.  I am not saying this the way to do it but it works for me and blowing a tank is never on my mind.


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