A contaminant found in the fuel of Gus McLeod’s Firefly appears to be sabotage, the Maryland pilot said on Nov. 18. The mysterious incident has forced further postponement of McLeod’s planned pole-to-pole solo flight around the world.
“After an analysis of the contamination, and cutting the tanks open for inspection, the verdict is inescapable,” he said. “The fuel was contaminated with a solvent that caused the fuel tanks to dissolve. This substance clogged fuel lines and injectors, ruined control units, stuck engine valves and created a mess that will take me most of the winter to sort out. I never would have believed it, but it turned out to be true. Someone deliberately put a solvent into my fuel tank.”
An investigation is underway, but details were not available at press time.
McLeod’s Korean-built Firefly is mostly fiberglass, including its fuel tanks. Acetone and other solvents dissolve fiberglass, leaving the gummy mess that entered the fuel lines, injection pump and engine of McLeod’s airplane.
The chemical found in the tanks apparently was paint thinner that had been used to clean the airplane. The partially-filled can had been left nearby when the cleaning job was finished, McLeod said. “To me, this seems like a crime of opportunity or a mischievous prank,” he said. “If it was a prank it was truly a sick one. It could have caused death or serious injury. If it was something else, your imagination is as good as mine.”
After cleaning and reassembling the engine, McLeod moved the airplane to “an undisclosed location” during the Nov. 19-20 weekend. “The test flight went well,” he said, adding he plans to make additional test flights, including one to the West Coast, and to attempt an altitude record.
McLeod vowed that he will make the pole-to-pole flight in the spring. “This will not stop me,” he stated emphatically. “Fortunately, the poles are not going anywhere and they will be there this spring. The adventure and fun continue. Stay with me and ride the ups, the downs, the twists and the turns of an aviation odyssey. It’s not always what I want it to be, but I can assure you, it won’t be boring.”
McLeod is well known for his flight to the North Pole in a Stearman, in 2000, and participation with his daughter in television’s “Amazing Race.” The North Pole flight was chronicled in a National Geographic Explorer television special and “Solo to the Top of the World” from Smithsonian Books, written by McLeod.