Thursday, June 05, 2008

Checklist Saves Airplane

Here's a story from Australia (on p.7 of the PDF) about how one pilot's attention to checklist procedures saved the airplane, but not in the way you might think. I know not everyone reads PDFs so I'll copy the story here. I'd summarize, but I'm fascinated by the quaint English. I'll have to ask my Australian readers whether that is just the tone of this publication, or if Australia has simply preserved some usages that are more familiar to me from 19th century novels.

The aircraft was in good order and had only flown approximately 10 hours since a very thorough 100-hourly service and the aircraft was to be used for charter. The magnetos and carburettor required an overhaul, which was completed during the 100 hourly.

The aircraft had not been used for about four days when I intended to fly some practice landings. The day was hot with a 10 knot breeze blowing from about 150 degrees M. which was at a right angle to the parked plane and roughly straight down runway 15. As is my habit, part of the shutdown from the previous flight, I had turned the fuel selector to off. I conducted an unhurried exterior pre-flight inspection in detail and found nothing of concern.

I then entered the aircraft, and being a hot day, I opened the passenger side door to allow the breeze to blow through and cool the interior. I saw a heavy rain scud approaching from the southeast but this would not affect my plans. I placed my maps etc. in the respective places for them and closed and locked the passenger door.

I began the pre-start check in line with a checklist, which is straight from the Pilot's Operating Handbook for the aircraft. I selected "both" on the fuel selector. I then decided to read straight from the checklist, but I could not locate it. I knew it had been on the passenger seat a moment before and I suspected that it might have fallen out without being noticed. I leaned over and opened the passenger door and looked to the ground to locate the list.

I then saw a large pool of fluid on the ground around the front of the aircraft. As I knew that the fluid had not been there a couple of minutes earlier, I alighted to investigate. As I shut the door I saw a heavy stream of fuel falling from the cowl flap over the exhaust stub, and over the nosewheel onto the ground. I estimate that there would have been at least twenty litres on the ground already.

I immediately re-entered the aircraft and switched the fuel selector to off. I then investigated and found the fuel appeared to be coming from the carburettor. The fuel tender was nearby and the operator and I were about to place some absorbent material on the spill, At this time the very heavy but short rain scud arrived and completely washed the area clean of fuel.

My pre-flight external inspection has now been altered to placing the fuel selector in the 'both' position before the inspection in order to prevent a repeat event. The breeze, blowing at right angles to the aircraft, carried the smell of the fuel spill away from the aircraft, Had I not lost that checklist and hit the starter, I believe that it would have resulted in the destruction of an otherwise perfectly good aeroplane.

The carburettor problem was rectified by its removal and return to the overhaul shop. The checklist averted a disaster (for me) in a very unusual and roundabout way.

Some of the details make me laugh. Before reporting the incident he seems to have gone through with a fine-toothed comb, looking for anything the regulatory authorities might pounce on as an error. Careful preflight? Check! Checklist according to the POH? Check! Weather not a threat to operations? Check! I laughed at the detail of the convenient rainstorm explaining why he didn't clean up the spill.

I've actually had a very similar carburettor malfunction. (Now after typing all that I have to try not to fall into the same style of writing!) I may have been saved by my paint job. I was ferrying a little single-engine airplane from a repair station back to its home airport, and had ordered minimum fuel because fuel was more expensive at that airport than where I was going.

Much of the flight was in the dark, over some rugged terrain, but it was uneventful. I landed, parked in front of the correct tie down space and got out to push the airplane back into its spot. (You can't reverse an airplane like that, so if you want it parked tail-to-the-fence between two other airplanes, you have to push it backwards after shutdown). But as I shone my flashlight to check that the nosewheel was aligned with the white line, I saw fuel gushing out of the cowling and running down over the nosewheel. I shrieked, actually.

How did I not run out of fuel during my flight? Two reasons. The main one was that the defect in the carburettor was such that it leaked when the mixture was in idle cutoff. With the mixture rich the fuel found its way to the cylinders to be burned. And when the fueller was pumping gas into my tanks he was distracted talking to me about the unusual paint, and accidentally put in too much fuel.


Dogbait said...

That's just bad grammer and not what is taught in Australian schools.

Anonymous said...

It's very easy in a 172 to have this "fuel leak" from under the cowl if the gascolator valve is not closed correctly after checking the fuel during pre flight. I also put the fuel selector on BOTH before performing my walkaround. This allow me to sump the fuel as I get to that area without having to double back to set the fuel selector. It also would have uncovered a fuel leak like the ones mentioned here. It's not in the checklist officially but I make it part of my routine.

Where it's funny is when you set the selector, go pull the plunger and nothing comes out. You end up with a puzzled student scratching his head and checking the tanks for fuel AGAIN. Only in Canada I guess where it's due to water being frozen in the pipe!

Anonymous said...

"alight" seems to be a word used a lot in Australia (when I was there).

Especially on the trains. "Please alight the train from the north doors".

Here, in Canada, they use "de-train".

Hamish said...

As for the grammar, the extract reads a little stilted and odd to me (like something written by a conscientious high-schooler), and it's probably not the way I'd have written it (as someone edumacated in Australialand and who speaks with a basically Australian(ish) accent).

But, without especially wanting to start more culture wars, as both a Briton and an Australian, American English (and Canadian, which to our ears is just a subspecies of American :-)) often sounds archaic to me. Lots of words and phrases that disappeared some time ago in Anglo-English still surface in everyday usage here in the US...

Anonymous said...

Hamish: We North Americans save the good words. And we spell them more easily too! ::grin::

Anonymous said...

No, that's not regular Australian usage. As you said, it seems to be a very carefully written and sanitized version of events to satisfy the investigators. The only other Aussies I have heard use language like that are the police (for some reason) when they are talking to the media. Perhaps it's meant to sound authoritative?

I have never used the word "alight" except to describe something that's on fire :-)

(Aussie farmer and wannabe pilot)

Anonymous said...

@blake: "Here, in Canada, they use "de-train"."

Strewth. So do they also de-boat, de-car, de-bus and de-plane?

What's wrong with "leave". Or even "exit"?

Aviatrix said...

I deplane for sure, but I don't take the train enough to know if I detrain. I get off the bus or a big boat, get out of a car or a little bout, and get off a bike or a horse.

dpierce said...

"Deplane" is what Hervé Villechaize says when he sees a seaplane. We prefer "disembark", "egress", or "vamoose".

Anonymous said...

When I went to USAF Fire Rescue School, the operant phrases were "egress", "book-out", and
(Yes, I used spellcheck). (;)>>>

And that language is fluent "Officialese".

Anonymous said...

Umm, I see nothing archaic or odd about that excerpt.

My regular speech is quite a lot like that, especially when describing an event at work.

It is exactly how I would write up a similar event

TheNewsBlogger said...

Nice story! I tend to agree that the writing did not strike me as particularly unusual. Perhaps the effort to sound "proper" was a bit too strong, but otherwise it read precisely and reasonably well.

I'm curious where the others are seeing "bad grammer[sic]"?

Chris said...

More to the point - why are you reading the Crash Comic from 2001?

Aviatrix said...

I believe it came up during a Google search for a part number.