Unintentional Gliding – Hangar Flying | Aviation


By Robert N. Rossier, EAA 472091

This piece originally ran in Robert’s Stick and Rudder column in the June 2023 issue of EAA Sport Aviationmagazine.

One of the first things we learn in our initial pilot training is to check the fuel quantity as part of our aircraft preflight inspection. We remove the fuel caps and visually check the level. If less than full, we typically use a “stick” calibrated to the specific aircraft to determine the quantity of fuel. We do this while the aircraft is on level ground to ensure a correct reading. While we may check the indications of the fuel gauges, we are often warned not to rely on them entirely — unless they read zero.

Later on, as our training progresses, we learn to determine the quantity of fuel needed for a flight. We can calculate the fuel needed for climb and for cruise based on power settings and proper leaning of the mixture. We use the forecast winds aloft and route of flight to determine how long it will take us to reach our destination. We add a contingency to ensure we have adequate fuel reserves, as required by regulation. On top of that, we might add some additional fuel quantity to account for the vagaries and unknowns of flight, not to mention Murphy’s law.

Even with all the training, knowledge, and warnings, pilots still occasionally find themselves running out of fuel while airborne. Despite our inherent fear of engine failure, for which we train incessantly, its most common cause is fuel exhaustion.

So, how exactly is it that pilots find themselves in the unenviable situation of piloting a glider when they intended to fly to their destination under power? While by no means a thorough examination of the malady, a quick review of NTSB reports of recent fuel exhaustion accidents helps us identify what goes wrong and serves as further warnings and reminders for us all.

An Important Lesson — Learned the Hard Way

A student and instructor were planning a night training flight in a Cessna…

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