In case the link disappears from the web, that’s a story about the legendary airshow pilot Bob Hoover. He is, arguably, the best stick-and-rudder pilot to have ever flown an airplane. He could do things with a plane that no one else could and none have done since. He only died recently and I got to met him. A friend made a nice documentary about him. If you want to know about a great pilot, watch the film.
The important parts of the story are this: Bob climbed in his twin engine plane in San Diego after his usual pre-flight checks. He took off and at 300 feet both engines stopped turning. Being Bob Hoover, he glided to a spot that allowed him to put the plane back on solid ground. Like I said, he was an amazing pilot. He went back and smelled the gas in the tanks and realized that they had put JetA fuel in a plane that burns 110LL. The reason the story is famous is that Bob went back to the kid who had fueled the plane and said, “Mistakes happen. I’m pretty sure you’ll never make that particular mistake again. I want you to be the one fueling my plane tomorrow.” He was a nice guy, even through all the fame and adulation.
I’m not Bob Hoover.
I flew Dexter up to Oakland on Wednesday and landed in the rain. In order to avoid the parking fee I needed to buy twenty gallons of fuel. My plan was to have them put the minimum fuel in at their high price (six bucks a gallon) and then I’d taxi over to the cheaper fuel on Saturday when I was flying out. (Almost half the price per gallon, but their overnight parking fees are crazy.) So I told them as I was leaving that I’d need ten gallons in each side, but I didn’t really expect them to do that right then, since I told them I was leaving Saturday and it was pouring rain.
I had an excellent time at SICB 2018. If you have any interest in science you should get yourself to one of these meetings.
On Saturday morning I returned to the airport and was at the counter getting to pay my bill for fuel and parking. I might have been a little antennae-up about the fuel since my usual rule is to make sure I see the correct fuel truck pull up to the plane (a rule Mr. Hoover probably started using soon after San Diego). As they were gathering my paperwork I saw folded into the desk report a fuel card. Those are made out by the line personnel as they fuel the craft. They are often color coded. This one was pale yellow and sad “AvGas” in faded grey letters on the background. So even before she started to ring me up I said, “That looks like they fueled the plane wrong and they will have to drain the tanks.”
So I am on a Spirit Airlines Airbus A319 down to LAX, and I am sure there are a lot of people that would have been angry, might have yelled at people, or tried to find the kid that fueled the plane. But here are some things I know: my usual thorough pre-flight would not have discovered this issue. I would have done that before starting the engines. There were still at least four gallons of JetA on each side and the jet fuel is heavier than the 110LL AvGas fuel. So although the AvGas has a distinctive blue tint, I would not have seen it. Four gallons is almost an hour of the engines running at cruise power, so I would not have known before I took off. My plan was to fuel the plane at another location on the field, so I’m not sure when the bad fuel would have found its way to the engines. Maybe over Santa Barbara?
Both engines would have stopped at the same time. I train a little for that and I even did some of that training with my CFII back in October. But with a twin you focus more on “what if one engine stops…” because it’s very unusual to lose both engines.
I like to think my training would have kicked in, that with the engines stopped and the electronics dying (I have half an hour with the screens on), I would have set up a glide to Santa Barbara’s airport or Oxnard’s, and I would have been able to extend the gear manually (without the electrical system running my little switch doesn’t lower them), and I would have glided safely to the ground.
But I’m not Bob Hoover. So I am pretty happy to have two twenty-year old whippersnappers piloting this bus down to Los Angeles with me on board. Back in Oakland there’s a mechanic working on someone else’s dime to get my fuel tanks all cleaned out. I will return in a couple weeks to fly it home after I’ve gone to see the winter storm effects on the East Coast.