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speedracer1407
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"useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Mon Sep 18, 2006 6:41 pm

After reading this forum for a couple years, I've heard many General Aviation gauges referred to as innacurate and even useless. While it is, of course, a good idea to check fuel levels in any plane (via dipstick or whatever), I wonder why small cessna and the like don't install accurate fuel gauges thus leaving the preflight check as the only reliable means of staying on top of fuel burn. Perhaps there's an obvious answer, as there often is for my questions, but here are a few thoughts to facilitate any responses:

My car, and pretty much every other car i've driven, has had a reliable fuel gauge. Sure they're all a bit pessimistic to prevent bold drivers from running out of gas in an attempt to peg the needle at the bottom, but they deliver a consistent reading no matter how bumpy or inclined the road is.

General Aviators are surely the ones who need reliable, idiot-proof gauge readings the most: not because they're stupid, of course, but because the inexperienced and casual fliers among them are simply more likely to skip procedures, botch calculations, or get flustered with unexpected situations, like adverse winds.

Even the most basic cessna, when new, costs six figures. Surely a good gas gauge is in order.

As a non-pilot, perhaps I'm not aware of some fundamental truths about Gen Av flying, but I'm still curious. thanks for any replies.

O
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Buzz
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Mon Sep 18, 2006 6:56 pm

Hi Speedracer1407, Buzz here. I forget where it's written in the FAR's that the gauge need only be accurate at "empty".
When I fly old yellow taildraggers, there's a cork and wire gas gauge out of the gas cap. As long as it bobs up and down you're OK for the next 15 minutes. (not very reassuring, eh?)
Mostly, I dipstick the tank, fill it, then plan on 3 hours of tach time. By then my rump is tired anyway. My "chicken limit" is 1/4 tank - if i'm passing a place with gas, then I stop and get some. Somehow there always some delay when you're low on fuel, and full on bladder. (grin)

As an A+P, the system is fairly simple, and you get used to one airplane's quirks. It can be fooled by high resistance in old wiring. Ever notice how old most GA airplanes are? My favorite yellow airplanes are 1946 vintage.

g'day
 
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Jetlagged
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Mon Sep 18, 2006 11:25 pm

The problem is not usually the accuracy of the measurement transducer but the odd shape of the fuel tanks. So a linear transducer will give you a highly non-linear gauge indication. Accurate contents indication then becomes an expensive business. You need multiple transducers and accurate calibration to compensate for tank shape. The average Cessna driver will not want to pay for such complexity, nor for it's maintenance.

Better to rely on simple basic rules as set out by Buzz above. Either simply fill the tanks, or add sufficient fuel for your trip plus reserves.

A fuel used integrator would certainly be useful and be quite cost effective indication of fuel remaining, assuming you know how much you started with.

By the way, most cars have fuel gauges just as inaccurate as GA aircraft. Same problems apply, irregular tank shapes and low cost target. All you really need in a car is a low fuel level warning and a nearby gas station to fill up at.
The glass isn't half empty, or half full, it's twice as big as it needs to be.
 
futurecaptain
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Mon Sep 18, 2006 11:36 pm

Filling the tank full when it hasn't run anywhere near dry over time causes the gauges to begin to become faulty. They will still read empty when the tank is empty as required, but anywhere in between on the gauge is fair game.
The practice of filling the tank before each and every flight is done by alot of GA pilots and many don't know the concequences. Even though, it is a stupid thing to do, you do not need all 56 gallons in your C-172 for pattern work.

That is one reason why phsically checking the fuel levels is the only reliable means of knowing how much fuel you have. Especially on older planes which have gone through more of these burn 2 gallons and fill the tank processes.
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2H4
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 12:09 am




Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 3):
Filling the tank full when it hasn't run anywhere near dry over time causes the gauges to begin to become faulty.

Are you suggesting that filling the tank(s) full before it's nearly empty subjects fuel gauge components to wear and/or problems above and beyond normal use? If so, what specific components are worn and why?

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 3):
The practice of filling the tank before each and every flight is done by alot of GA pilots and many don't know the concequences. Even though, it is a stupid thing to do, you do not need all 56 gallons in your C-172 for pattern work.

Flying with full (or nearly full) tanks during pattern work is not inherently stupid.

In addition, I can think of one notable advantage to keeping the tanks topped off that has nothing to do with endurance or running out of fuel. Care to guess what it is?




2H4


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474218
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 12:28 am

The Luscombe 8A had a fool proof fuel gage. The tank sat in the fuselage just aft of the cabin. Built in to the cabin bulkhead right between the seat was a glass sight gage, you always knew it was reading right.
 
Pope
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 12:49 am

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 4):
Care to guess what it is?

Prevents condensation within the tanks leading to water accumulation.
Hypocrisy. It's the new black for liberals.
 
411A
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 12:57 am

The twin Cessna I own has superbly accurate fuel gauges.
These are the old float transducer type, and are accurate to within 3 gallons, in a 50 gallon tank...and I have four of those.
Little if any maintenance is required, and the airplane is nearly 40 years old.
It can be done.
 
2H4
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:03 am




Quoting Pope (Reply 6):
Prevents condensation within the tanks leading to water accumulation.

 checkmark 


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cancidas
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:18 am

the plane that i took my checkride in actually had an INOP sticker over the fuel gagues, that's how far off from calibration they were...
"...cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home."
 
grandtheftaero
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:26 am

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 3):
Filling the tank full when it hasn't run anywhere near dry over time causes the gauges to begin to become faulty.

Sounds like you're talking about recharging Nickel-Cadmium batteries before they lose their charge.  duck 
 
futurecaptain
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:31 am

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 4):
Are you suggesting that filling the tank(s) full before it's nearly empty subjects fuel gauge components to wear and/or problems above and beyond normal use? If so, what specific components are worn and why?



Quoting 411A (Reply 7):
These are the old float transducer type, and are accurate to within 3 gallons, in a 50 gallon tank...and I have four of those.

I have heard from A&P's as well as aircraft fuellers that always having the tank full can screw with the float type fuel indicators. It happens over time, but when you do fly a longer flight the fuel gauge won't read correctly because it is not used to falling so low.
Now, that's just what I heard.


I have heard people order fuel for their 172 when it already has 30-40 gallons in the tanks. When asked where they are going the pilot just says he is going to do his 3 landings to stay current. Now, he really doesn't need full tanks for such a short flight, if it takes more than 3-4 hours to fly the pattern 3 times you got problems. Filling up right before you go doesn't prevent water in the tank, filling up right before storing the aircraft of an extended period does. So sump your tanks and you should have no problems.
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2H4
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:35 am




Quoting GrandTheftAero (Reply 10):
Sounds like you're talking about recharging Nickel-Cadmium batteries before they lose their charge.

The exact same thing crossed my mind.  biggrin 




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zotan
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:46 am

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 3):
The practice of filling the tank before each and every flight is done by alot of GA pilots and many don't know the concequences. Even though, it is a stupid thing to do, you do not need all 56 gallons in your C-172 for pattern work.

It's done by the majority of GA pilots because it's a good practice. Not filling the tanks allows condensation to form which can lead to water accumulation in the fuel. Not a good thing ...
 
2H4
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:55 am




Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 11):
Now, he really doesn't need full tanks for such a short flight

As far as we know, he could have added the fuel to prepare for a longer subsequent flight...

I agree with ZOTAN....it's a good practice. So long as weight isn't a factor, when it comes to GA, I'd rather have the fuel and not need it than the other way around. Fuel = options, and having options...whether it's to head out to the practice area for an additional hour, head over to a neighboring airport, or simply do a bit of sightseeing...is a decidedly good thing...particularly when it comes to training or flying for pleasure.




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futurecaptain
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 2:12 am

Quoting ZOTAN (Reply 13):
Not filling the tanks allows condensation to form which can lead to water accumulation in the fuel. Not a good thing ...



Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 11):
Filling up right before you go doesn't prevent water in the tank, filling up right before storing the aircraft of an extended period does.

Right?


Anyway, I am just quoting what I have heard. I will try to have an A&P explain it in better detail to me today or tomorrow and I will give you all his explanation.
Now, I don't claim to be a mechanic, but if any Cessna mechanics are reading this your opinion is appriciated.
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N231YE
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 3:10 am

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 15):

That is right. The "key" is to fill the tanks before storing the aircraft. Also, Avgas (100LL) has a tendency to attract water, so by filling the tanks, you get rid of any water-vapor laden air from the fuel tanks.
 
SlamClick
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 3:21 am

There are many fine general aviation fuel gauges available in a wide range of prices from Casio at about $5 to Rolex at several thousand dollars. These two examples function in the same manner, the Casio is slightly more accurate but the Rolex is more attractive. There are hundreds in between to choose from. They all strap comfortably on the wrist in plain sight during most maneuvers.

They are operated in the same manner.

1. Know the starting fuel level. Round down.

2. Know the rate of consumption. Round up.

3. Watch how long you fly. Round up.

4. Do NOT push it. Be conservative in all judgements.


Any deviation from these four rules is both pointless and dangerous.

Note: I Also used the fuel gauges above* to good effect on Airbus, Boeing, Cessna, Douglas, Embraer, and other fine aircraft both fast and slow. They are very versatile.

* My personal choice was a Seiko Navigator Timer with one 12-hour and one 24-hour hand and a bezel which could be rotated for time-zone differential from GMT.
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2H4
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 3:58 am




Quoting SlamClick (Reply 17):
1. Know the starting fuel level. Round down.

2. Know the rate of consumption. Round up.

3. Watch how long you fly. Round up.

4. Do NOT push it. Be conservative in all judgements.

Right....so that begs the question, why require gauges at all? Especially if they are only required to read accurately at zero quantity. I mean, if a pilot needs a gauge to deduce that the tanks are empty, I'd say he or she has even greater issues than insufficient flight planning...

Effectively, the sole purpose of existing fuel gauges in many GA aircraft is to indicate that the tanks are empty. I've never been able to understand the logic behind that requirement.




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Tod
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 4:34 am

Quoting 2H4 (Reply 18):
Effectively, the sole purpose of existing fuel gauges in many GA aircraft is to indicate that the tanks are empty

Won't the motor provide the same information?

 duck Tod  Wink
 
2H4
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 4:40 am




Quoting Tod (Reply 19):
Won't the motor provide the same information?

Precisely my point!  yes 




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futurecaptain
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 6:23 am

Quoting Tod (Reply 19):
Won't the motor provide the same information?

Exactly. We in aviation are all about having back-ups and secondary systems. The unreliable fuel gauges back up the engine quitting so we all feel a little safer having that back-up.  Smile
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411A
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 8:22 am

>>Also, Avgas (100LL) has a tendency to attract water....<<

Really?
Who told you this?
 
N231YE
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 8:28 am

Quoting 411A (Reply 22):
>>Also, Avgas (100LL) has a tendency to attract water....<<

Really?
Who told you this?

I believe you were trying to quote me. Anyways, an old flight instructor told me this.
 
411A
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 10:39 am

Sadly, N231YE, he was mistaken.
Jet fuel has an affinity for water, but not so with avgas.

Try it yourself with a clear glass container half filled with avgas.
Pour in some water.
It very quickly will migrate to the bottom, leaving the avgas firmly on top.

So, drain your avgas sumps properly, and any difficulty with any water in the tank(s) will be eliminated.

Jet fuel, on the other hand, is quite different.
Jet aircraft tanks are sumped just like on a piston powered airplane, but there always is a bit of water in solution with the fuel.
The jet engine doesn't especially care, except that the water can freeze in fuel filters at higher altitudes, so fuel heaters are used (on many models) to prevent this.
Aircraft without fuel heaters (or fuel/oil heat exchangers) use an additive when refueling.
 
N231YE
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 11:32 am

Quoting 411A (Reply 24):

Thanks for the info, maybe he confused Jet A with 100LL(?). I know about the water trick. I have one of those Airtrans fuel testers with the float inside; the float sits on top of water and Jet A but sinks to the bottom in pure Avgas.
 
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jetmech
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 12:37 pm

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 3):
Filling the tank full when it hasn't run anywhere near dry over time causes the gauges to begin to become faulty. They will still read empty when the tank is empty as required, but anywhere in between on the gauge is fair game.



Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 15):
I will try to have an A&P explain it in better detail to me today or tomorrow and I will give you all his explanation.

Hmmm.... sounds interesting; I'm curious to hear the reason behind why that happens  scratchchin .

Quoting 411A (Reply 24):
Jet fuel has an affinity for water, but not so with avgas



We do weekly checks on A330/A340 which includes a water drain task. It is indeed fascinating how much water can accumulate in a week. Sometimes we remove as much as 3 or 4 litres from the indoard tanks. This is not much in terms of the total tank capacity, but it is a fairly rapid rate of accumulation for a week.
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BOE773
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 12:49 pm

A JPI fuel analyzer is a wise investment in your aircraft.
I like mine.

http://www.jpitech.com/1body_fuel_flow.php4
 
L-188
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:09 pm

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 3):
The practice of filling the tank before each and every flight is done by alot of GA pilots and many don't know the concequences

I have to agree that this is best practice.

Quoting 474218 (Reply 5):
The tank sat in the fuselage just aft of the cabin. Built in to the cabin bulkhead right between the seat was a glass sight gage, you always knew it was reading right.

Hard to go wrong with a sight gauge, Which is why that is what I wll use for fuel guages if I every build my Supercub.

Quoting 411A (Reply 24):
Sadly, N231YE, he was mistaken.
Jet fuel has an affinity for water, but not so with avgas.

All fuels do, just some more then others. And yes, avgas will float on water, but most fuel pumps don't suck from the top of the tank.

Quoting JetMech (Reply 26):
We do weekly checks on A330/A340 which includes a water drain task. It is indeed fascinating how much water can accumulate in a week

It is also amazing what can grow in an aircraft fuel tank.

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 3):
Filling the tank full when it hasn't run anywhere near dry over time causes the gauges to begin to become faulty

Lets see if I remember anything from my A&P classes.

There are 3 general types of fuel guages (Apparently sight gauges don't count)

Mechanical. These consist of a float that is inside the tank and then mechanically connected to the guage.

Electrical. These have a float in the tank that is connected to a electric sender that sends a signal to a guage. That guage indicates the level of the fuel.

Electronic. These use capacetence(I know spl?) to measure the level in the tank. These are also the only guages that can measure a valid fuel level in an oddball shaped tanks, since you can combine several different sensors in key locations in the tank to give a total reading.

About the only way I can see a guage failing because of full fuel is if the float in some way is damaged.
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futurecaptain
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:25 pm

Quoting JetMech (Reply 26):
I'm curious to hear the reason behind why that happens

The way I heard it today, from an A&P, is it is possible to have some corrosion form on the float type fuel indicators if they are in the full position or close to it all the time. This can cause mis-readings of the gauges all the way down to the empty level. He also said it is fairly easy to check for this by simply draining the fuel and making sure the fuel gauge reads correctly and doesn't fall to empty before the tank really is empty.
I was also told this is fairly common in cars.... I know, these arn't airplanes and are considered "the dark side" to many of you, but alot do have float type fuel indicators. For instance, if you like to keep your tank full, or mostly full, let it run closer to dry next time. Your fuel gauge will indicate empty while you still have several miles of fuel left. In alot of cases it will indicate E before your gas light (signifying 2 gallons in most vehicles) is illuminated. Now, 2 gallons isn't alot but in a car could easily be another 50-60 miles. To have a fuel gauge indicate E with this much milage left could be caused by corrosion, similar to that that can be found in an aircraft.

Disclaimer: I am not by any means an aircraft mechanic, but all this was explained to me today by one and I am just repeating words from memory. Although I do have a few hundred hours flying Cessna 152's and 172R/S/SP's and so I try to understand the systems and problems in them as best as I can.
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rendezvous
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 5:50 pm

When I did my twin flying in the Piper Seneca we had the fuel gauges and an electronic system that deduced how much had been used from the starting amount you entered. It was interesting how different they were at the end of the flight.

Proper flight planning goes a long way, but fuel gauges are useful for noting problems like fuel leaks etc. No amount of planning helps with leaks.. (ok, ok, working out where nearby airports along your route are does, but ya know what I mean!)
 
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jetmech
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 6:55 pm

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 29):
The way I heard it today, from an A&P, is it is possible to have some corrosion form on the float type fuel indicators if they are in the full position or close to it all the time.

Thanks for the explanation Futurecaptain, it certainly makes sense   . It sounds like this corrosion must form on the parts of the float sensor that are always immersed in fuel  Confused .

[Edited 2006-09-19 12:00:57]
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Buzz
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 9:12 pm

Hi FutureCaptain, Buzz here. I've seen some shiny spots on DC-3 fuel quantity transmitters... some parts get the corrosion scrubbed off the resistance wire. For once, aircraft vibration is my friend.

Mostly I've found more resistance in wires (connections) than expected. There a lot of A+P's and IA's on this forum, and I seem to recall a heavy layer of half-truth in some pilot lounges. Sometimes, the facts are right.

Full fuel on a C-172? maybe he wanted to fly a "heavy" ? (grin) Caution, wake turbulence ! (more grin)
g'day and good flying.
 
2H4
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Tue Sep 19, 2006 11:13 pm




Quoting Rendezvous (Reply 30):
an electronic system that deduced how much had been used from the starting amount you entered.

Sounds like a fuel flow totalizer. The ones I used in Mooneys were pretty accurate.




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jarheadk5
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Wed Sep 20, 2006 8:45 am

Quoting Futurecaptain (Reply 29):
I was also told this is fairly common in cars.... I know, these arn't airplanes and are considered "the dark side" to many of you, but alot do have float type fuel indicators. For instance, if you like to keep your tank full, or mostly full, let it run closer to dry next time. Your fuel gauge will indicate empty while you still have several miles of fuel left. In alot of cases it will indicate E before your gas light (signifying 2 gallons in most vehicles) is illuminated. Now, 2 gallons isn't alot but in a car could easily be another 50-60 miles. To have a fuel gauge indicate E with this much milage left could be caused by corrosion, similar to that that can be found in an aircraft.

It's more a case of the manufacturer designing a "cushion" into the gauge indication. If automotive gas gauges hit the "E" when the tank was empty, there'd probably be a lot more people on the side of the road, pouring gas into their cars from red jugs...
-Boom stowed, leaving position.
 
AirWillie6475
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Wed Sep 20, 2006 9:18 am

In all my hours of flying, I have probably never looked at the fuel gauge much. Sometimes it doesn't work and it just stays on empty during flight. It's really useless you should know how much fuel you have.
 
411A
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Wed Sep 20, 2006 10:26 am

Sadly, AirWillie6475, if you fly an airplane with an inoperative fuel gauge(s), on a design that has them installed as part of the type certificate, and they are included on the equipment list (IE: most newer GA types within the last 20 years or so), you are operating contrary to applicable regulations, and are thus...quite illegal.
The fuel gauge on these types is 'required equipment' and as such, must be serviceable, unless the aircraft is operating on a ferry permit, to permit flight where repairs can be completed.
In other words, it cannot just be ignored.

Should you disagree, ask an FAA inspector.
 
joness0154
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Wed Sep 20, 2006 11:02 am

Quoting 411A (Reply 36):
Sadly, AirWillie6475, if you fly an airplane with an inoperative fuel gauge(s), on a design that has them installed as part of the type certificate, and they are included on the equipment list (IE: most newer GA types within the last 20 years or so), you are operating contrary to applicable regulations, and are thus...quite illegal.
The fuel gauge on these types is 'required equipment' and as such, must be serviceable, unless the aircraft is operating on a ferry permit, to permit flight where repairs can be completed.
In other words, it cannot just be ignored.

Should you disagree, ask an FAA inspector.

Yup, that is true.

Although on my instrument checkride, the fuel gauge on my left tank kept bouncing up and down from full to empty. Told my DE that technically the plane would be illegal to fly, but he asked me if I visually checked that tank and off we went  Smile
I don't have an attitude problem. You have a perception problem
 
futurecaptain
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Wed Sep 20, 2006 12:53 pm

Quoting JetMech (Reply 31):
it certainly makes sense

Glad to hear someone say this, thanks.

Quoting Buzz (Reply 32):
Hi FutureCaptain, Buzz here.

Hi Buzz, futurecaptain here

Quoting 411A (Reply 36):
The fuel gauge on these types is 'required equipment'

Yep, daytime VFR required instrument.
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HAWK21M
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Wed Sep 20, 2006 10:20 pm

Quoting Cancidas (Reply 9):
the plane that i took my checkride in actually had an INOP sticker over the fuel gagues, that's how far off from calibration they were

Whats the MEL on this Craft in terms of number of INOP Fuel Qty Gauges.
regds
MEL
I may not win often, but I damn well never lose!!! ;)
 
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HAWK21M
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RE: "useless" Gen Av Fuel Gauges

Wed Sep 20, 2006 10:22 pm

Quoting Cancidas (Reply 9):
the plane that i took my checkride in actually had an INOP sticker over the fuel gagues, that's how far off from calibration they were

Whats the MEL on this Craft in terms of number of INOP Fuel Qty Gauges.
regds
MEL
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