Misfueling Discussion

Misfueling Discussion

“It really doesn’t matter if you are the smartest pilot in the world, or have the most endorsements in your logbook, at the end of the day, it still comes down to diligently checking every box.”

want to thank our readers who reached out to me following my December editor’s briefing, “In Honor of Dr. Dan.” I was moved to hear the various ways Dr. Dan’s story struck a chord with you. (If you missed it, my friend and newer T&T contributor Dan Greenwald tragically lost his life last October in an accident caused by misfueling – you can find the full article on our website). 

I feel it is important for us to share in both the highs and lows that come with aviation and it was comforting to hear directly from others. One reader, in particular, shared with me their own close call with misfueling and how the experience subsequently affected his fueling and pre-flight diligence. Immediately upon reading, I knew his story (and his bold reminder for other pilots) needed to be shared as a continuation of the conversation. 

 I just read the December copy of T&T and noted your editorial about Dr. Dan. I couldn’t help but to respond immediately. Many years ago, I had an incident in reverse – being fueled with 100LL instead of Jet A. The consequences would not have been as dire, but the message is the same. My story follows:

I am also a surgeon (retired ophthalmologist) who has just finished a 36-year career as a private pilot (similar schedule to David Miller – I sold my last (fourth) airplane six weeks ago in November (a 2014 Citation M2)). Almost 25 years ago, we had an incident with fueling that was brought to mind as I read the story of Dr. Dan. And in spite of whatever the FAA, FBO’s, etc. do with training and color-coding, I want to say NOTHING can replace the diligence and attention to detail that is needed by the pilot himself with regards to proper fueling. This is in no way a criticism of Dr. Dan, but a real alert to every other pilot out there.

In 1995, I purchased a 1984 Cheyenne II XL, my first foray into the turbine field after flying single-engine pistons for 10 years (Saratoga SP, Malibu 310). We flew the Cheyenne for the next 20 years until we purchased a new Cessna Citation M2 in 2014.

We took a lot of time to get very familiar with the Cheyenne since it was a big transition from single pistons. I hired a local flight instructor who was trained in Cheyenne’s and many other aircraft to spend a lot of time teaching and flying right seat with me until I was totally comfortable with the aircraft. One day we were meeting at the local FBO to do some air work, and I called my friend/instructor to tell him I was running a little late getting out of the office and would be about 10 minutes late. He said, “No problem, I’ll get the airplane pulled out and put the fuel order in.” Great.

Shortly thereafter, as I pulled up to the FBO, I noticed the Cheyenne sitting on the ramp with the 100LL fuel truck in front of it and the line crew pulling the hose out of the truck. I immediately honked my horn, flashed my lights and yelled to get their attention. One of them caught my waving and hesitated. I told them to stop and look at the truck. They did and suddenly realized why I was alarmed. The hose was retracted and a Jet A truck was brought out. It is conceivable that the crew was so used to fueling me with 100LL for the prior 10 years that it just didn’t register that this was a different aircraft for me now. The consequences of using 100LL in a turbine engine are not as severe as the reverse that occurred for Dr. Dan.

I asked where instructor Ben was as he was nowhere to be seen on the ramp. They said he was inside the FBO. I went in to look for him and sure enough, he was leaning against the reception desk with a cup of coffee, relaxed and chatting. He looked at me and asked why I looked so disturbed. Once I told him what just happened on the ramp, he was also disturbed and very apologetic as well. He agreed never to let that happen again.

For the next 25 years, and until I just ended my flying career in November 2019, I never forgot that incident. And as a result, I made a point of ALWAYS being present as my aircraft was being fueled, at least until I saw the truck and confirmed it was Jet A. Even at our local FBO where the 1995 incident occurred, I would not call a fuel order in ahead of my arrival and trust that the correct fuel source was used. We allowed time to fuel with ourselves being present before our departure. Over those years, there was one other incident where the incorrect truck was brought up initially and we caught it. This was at an out-of-town FBO.

My point in this story is that it really doesn’t matter if you are the smartest pilot in the world, or have the most endorsements in your logbook, at the end of the day, it still comes down to diligently checking every box. And it starts with pre-flight planning, pre-flight inspection (including fueling) and checklists. It’s a responsibility the pilot has to him/herself and passengers. If relaying this one incident I experienced would save one life in the future, it would make it worthwhile to have waited to send my first letter-to-the-editor at the end of my 35-plus year flying career. I hope you find value in this story. In honor of Dr. Dan and his legacy.

Barry D. Stamm, MD

Barry’s story perfectly accentuates my goal, and what I believe Dr. Dan’s goal would be, following this tragedy: shine a light on the real possibility of misfueling to prevent future accidents. The FAA and National Air Transportation Association (NATA) have taken various steps to confront the problem, but have you?

Thank you again to Barry and others for acting on their impulse to write to me. Sharing aviation stories and learning from one another is precisely the mission behind T&T.


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