Piper runs out of fuel

Aircraft: Piper Comanche. Injuries: None. Location: Blacksburg, Va. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The  accident happened during the approach to land. The pilot had the left fuel selector set to the left main tank and the right fuel selector was set to the right main tank. The engine began to lose power during the approach.

The pilot applied carburetor heat and switched the right fuel selector to the right tip tank position in effort to restore power, but was not successful. He realized he could not make it to the runway and made a forced landing in the airport parking lot. The airplane went through a perimeter fence.

The post-accident investigation revealed that neither of the main fuel tanks contained usable fuel. The right tip tank contained about 7.5 gallons of fuel, however, the fuel selector was placarded with a note stating that the tip tanks were for use in level flight only. With the left main tank selected and no fuel in that tank, air would have been introduced into the fuel system, resulting in fuel starvation.

The preflight planning indicated an en route time of 2 hours, 32 minutes. However, when the loss of power occurred, the flight had been airborne for about 3 hours, 39 minutes. The pilot reported that he was not sure if the airplane’s fuel gauges were accurate, so he relied on fuel burn rate calculations during the flight.

Probable cause: The pilot’s inadequate preflight planning and improper in-flight fuel management, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation.

NTSB Identification: ERA12LA486

This July 2012 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.


  1. Sarah A says

    The report does not indicate time in type but I would say this guy either had very little or was not very motivated to understand his aircrafts systems and how to manage them. It would seem that tip tanks, normally being used as auxillary tanks, should have been emptied early in the flight (i.e. at altitude) rather then left to the end of the flight as a backup. That also has some benefit from the standpoint of stress on the wing structure and improved control response as you get rid of the weight concentration at the end of the wing.

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