Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Setting The Selector

In some aircraft, you have to be a contortionist to see where the fuel-tank selector is pointing

If you've flown a variety of aircraft, you know that some designers decided to make it awfully difficult to see for sure which fuel tank or tanks you've selected. In some models, the fuel selector on the left sidewall may be easy to see while you're climbing over the right front seat on your way in. Once you're comfortable in the left seat, however, it may be impossible to see surface markings or even the selector handle itself without squirming around and leaning at an awkward angle. Aircraft with fuel selectors at floor level between or below seats may require minor in-flight gymnastics in order for you to be absolutely sure they're correctly positioned. There were two accidents in Florida that the NTSB recently finished investigating, which serve as reminders of how important it is to know something as basic as the direction the fuel selector is pointing.

Beech C23
At about 9:25 a.m. on February 25, 2010, at Gilbert Airport (GIF) in Winter Haven, Fla., the sky was clear, visibility was 10 miles, and the wind was from 330 degrees at 13 knots. A private pilot and passenger were planning to fly to Lakeland, Fla. The Beech C23 Sundowner they would be using was operated by a flight school located at the airport. The operator told investigators that the pilot was allowed to fly the airplane and only had to reimburse them for the fuel used.

A number of witnesses saw the pilot and passenger at the flight school before takeoff. The passenger was seen coming into the building and asking to borrow a fuel sampler. Another witness watched as the pilot checked the right fuel tank. The airplane was observed taxiing to runway 29. A witness reported that after its takeoff roll, the airplane lifted off normally. A witness who was outside near the departure end of the runway said the airplane had reached about 150 feet AGL in a normal-wings level climb attitude. Approximately five seconds later, after the airplane had reached about 200 to 300 feet AGL, the engine stopped. This witness, who was a pilot, stated that it was as if someone had pulled the mixture control back. The witness said the airplane pitched down about five degrees, as if someone were trying to build airspeed. It then banked to the right about 30 degrees.

The witness didn't think the nose was low enough to maintain airspeed. He knew the airplane was too low to turn and make it back. He said it appeared as if the airplane was flying slowly. He lost sight of it, and then heard the sounds of impact. He reported there was no sputtering and no smoke before the engine suddenly quit. Had it sputtered, he would have been able to hear that. He also said that he didn't see any parts separate from the airplane. After hearing the crash, he drove to the scene. When he arrived, sheriff's office personnel were already tending to the occupants.

Another pilot-rated witness, this one located at the flight school, had slightly different observations. He reported looking through a window and seeing the airplane nose-high, in a right bank estimated to be between 60 and 70 degrees. The witness then reported that the airplane began "dropping fast" to the right. He kept watching, but the airplane disappeared behind trees.

The airplane sustained substantial damage, and the certificated private pilot and the passenger were killed.


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