Fuel Planning Fail

If this guy’s fuel planning skills were as good as his water landing skills, the plane might have come through. A pilot was delivering a plane, a twin engine Cessna 310G, from Monterey, California to Hilo, Hawaii, when he ran out of gas:

Thanks to the wonders of these modern internets, you can see that a few days ago, he tried the same flight and had to turn around. Here is the track of the actual flight. He almost made it, crashing into the water just short of Hilo.

Specs suggest a Cessna 310G shouldn’t be able to fly to Hawaii. I’m guessing there must be some kind of spare fuel system you can rig up to essentially turn the thing into a flying gas tank. I guess it’s cheaper to fly the plane than to ship it, but I’m also guessing that particular fact wasn’t countered with the high probability of having to ditch the plane in the drink if, despite all your modifications, you’re still really tight on fuel and maybe had a bit more headwind than you accounted for starting out.

10 thoughts on “Fuel Planning Fail”

  1. I think you misspoke in your opening sentence.

    “If this guys fueling skills were as good as his landing skills the plane might have come through.”

    I assume you meant that if he fueled as well as he landed (which was amazing given the fact it was open ocean with a little chop) then he would have landed safely on dry land.

    Your statement as it stands now makes it sound like his landing skills were inferior to those of his fueling skills.

  2. Yep… I reversed it. I have fixed that.

    5000ft isn’t unreasonable for a normally aspirated piston engine plane. You might be able to get greater fuel efficiency at higher altitudes, but you can’t get much higher before you’re dealing with the effects of altitude. A 310 doesn’t have a pressurized cabin. It also takes energy to get the plane up to those altitudes, so 5000ft could be ideal.

  3. That’s a loooong flight! If he flew higher-up in the jet stream he’s be flying into a stiff head-wind. The return flight from Hawaii is always faster than going out.

  4. My cursory searching says that ferrying is the preferred way to get small aircraft to HI, using ferry tanks in place of seats (which are shipped FedEx).

    Otherwise, the plane is shipped, after having the wings and empennage removed and re-attached (and at much greater expense).

    Sounds to me like the pilot didn’t know what he was doing, or did and didn’t do it.

    And 5000′ cruise altitude sounds low to me as well. Altitude is one of those things you want when it turns pear-shaped, and if I had a craft with a ceiling of 21,000′, I’d use all I could.

  5. Of course he had extended fuel tankage: Normal range on a C310 is in the 800-1000nm ballpark. Run the engines at 45% power and you might get 1200 nm, with normal internal fuel.

    5,000 in a normally aspirated (no turbocharger) airplane isn’t that bad….

    The pilot needs to calculate a trade-off between winds aloft (the forecast of which are notoriously bad) and range vs. cruising altitude and fuel burn. Small planes make the trip all the time, successfully, and also splash occasionally. A terrible way for an airplane to end….

  6. And if I had a craft with a ceiling of 21,000′, I’d use all I could.

    I would if it had a pressurized cabin, otherwise you better bring a lot of oxygen bottles too, which aren’t exactly light. FAA requires oxygen use above 12,500MSL if I recall.

    At the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is 13k, I felt pretty high from the oxygen deprivation… not having had any time to acclimate… similar to a plane.

    I think 5,000 was likely prudent for the type of plane.

  7. Looks like on the first attempt he turned back twice about half way, had he not he would have made it surely with a few ounces to spare. Unless the flight track is incorrect.

  8. There are o2 generators which weigh a lot less than compressed o2 bottles. Don’t know which ones are FAA approved, but anyone with a sick relative on o2 will be familiar with ’em. The (medical) bottles are mainly for mobility, but the in-house units concentrate o2 from abient air.

    So equipped, the next technique is to slowly climb as fuel is burned, up to an altitude where the GPS “speed over ground” shows a loss in effective headway differential, as compared to indicated airspeed. That would be the altitude where the jetstream (or merely winds aloft at lower altitudes), manifest as unfavorable headwinds.

    Then, drop a thousand feet, and continue at the remaining highest, efficient altitude, and the best possible speed over ground. Even in the event of total fuel exhaustion, it’s better to start one’s glide from 15k ft. than 5k ft. altitude.

    Might have gained a few precious miles that way. But, would it have been enough to make landfall and an airfield? That, I do not know.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

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