It seems like just weeks ago I wrote Bay Area Plane Lands on Highway. And today I awoke to find that we've had yet another episode of poor judgement on behalf of a local pilot.

According to the Merc:

A pilot and two passengers in a small plane emerged unscathed Sunday after an emergency landing near Reid-Hillview Airport.

Ack. Reid-Hillview is not an airport where you want to come up short. On final approach when landing to the north, you fly over a good sized field (okay to land on if you're careful), then a mall (one pilot landed on the roof there a few years back), Tully Road (very hard to land on), and then the airport fence (ouch!). See for yourself.

The plane, a Beechcraft, ran out of gas, forcing the pilot to land on Tully Road several hundred feet short of Reid-Hillview's runway, according to Bruce Nelson, an official with the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane, which missed some cars, wound up in a field near Tully, officials said.

That leads me to believe that he ran out of gas on his downwind leg (see Airfield Traffic Pattern), turned base abeam Tully, and then decided to ditch on the road after he lost too much altitude.

landing pattern

Hmm. Did anyone get hurt?

The pilot and two passengers were not injured, but the plane was severely damaged in the incident, which occurred shortly before 3 p.m. The pilot ran out of gas because he did not properly switch gas tanks, officials said.

Okay, there are two things I can conclude from that accident cause:

  1. Planes that require tank switching are more dangerous. The last accident was also the result of a pilot having sufficient fuel but not switching tanks. Why don't more planes have fuel cross-feed systems?
  2. If the passengers weren't hurt but the plane was severely damaged, he probably ran off the road and plowed into a fence at fairly high speed (depending on the exact model Beechcraft, it likely had a reasonably high landing speed). If that's not the case, he may have clipped the wings on the utility poles on either side of the road.

On Saturday I performed seven landings on the runway this pilot missed. The difference is that my instructors teach us to fly a pattern close enough to the airport that you can make the runway even if your engine dies. I'm not sure why everyone doesn't learn that method. Coming from the background of flying gliders, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Posted by jzawodn at February 13, 2006 07:28 AM

Reader Comments
# Ryan said:

At least that guy landed on a road. On Sunday, another pilot in Roseville wasn't so lucky:

on February 13, 2006 09:38 AM
# Nick Arnett said:

I'm not certain that the track record for light planes that require tank switching is any worse than for those that don't. What does surprise me is that this guy didn't manage to switch tanks fast enough to prevent the "unscheduled premature landing." I haven't flown Beechcrafts as much as Pipers, but IIRC, when the engine fails, the first things I was doing after getting the right airspeed and figuring out where I'm landing were turning on the fuel pump and then switching tanks.

Given that he presumably was already at an appropriate airspeed and had a landing spot in mind, I would have imagined that it would only be seconds before he was switching tanks. But then there's restarting the engine if it died completely.

He's very lucky there was no fire.

Something I didn't learning about tank switching as a student, but later, from a friend who is a USAir pilot now: when on a trip where you'll depend on both tanks, switch tanks as soon as you're in cruise. That way, if there's a problem with the second tank, you find out early, rather than when you're down to minimal fuel in the first tank.

I learn something almost every time I fly with an experienced pilot and that was one of the better ones.

on February 13, 2006 10:10 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Ryan, if the article is accurate, that's just plain stupid and illegal:

"The pilot appeared to be coming down low for some kind of maneuver that brought him to within 500 feet of the rooftops," she said. "And then he appeared to lose control and crashed into one of the houses."

I'm surprised that the article doesn't mention that areobatics are expressly forbidden over populated areas.

on February 13, 2006 10:19 AM
# Ryan said:

FAA still lists the cause as "unknown circumstances".


on February 13, 2006 12:24 PM
# rr said:

Can't put a Both on the fuel selector since the fuel's being pumped uphill and with an empty tank the pump just sucks air. Actual cross-feed is probably too complicated since you usually need pumps to do it.

I totally agree about keeping the pattern tight (pretty hard to do when it's busy), but even with a tight pattern, there's still a bunch where you're not going to make the runway. As I recall, the BE23 has pretty high wing loading, so not a great glider.

In any case, if it was just a missed tank switch, clearly missed the G in GUMP.

on February 13, 2006 12:52 PM
# Shivering Timbers said:

Flying a tight pattern so you can make the runway if the engine fails is a good idea, but when you start moving to higher performance airplanes it starts to become impractical. One the one hand, a faster plane needs to fly a wider pattern in order to maintain spacing from the plane ahead and keep a reasonable (non-aerobatic) bank angle in the turns. On the other hand, high performance planes tend to have worse glide performance than slower planes.

So the Bonanza driver gets hit with a double-whammy as compared to the guy in the Piper Cub, who can probably make the numbers from anywhere in the pattern.

Also, instrument approaches aren't designed with power-out glides in mind, and I don't know of any offhand which are steep enough to fly power-out in any reasonable instrument plane. So once you start instrument training, they pretty much abandon the whole always-be-able-to-make-the-runway idea.

Is that a good thing? I don't know, but it is certianly true that the pilot is the least reliable component of most aircraft.

on February 13, 2006 01:12 PM
# Paul Pencikowski said:

Ref: " instructors teach us to fly a pattern close enough to the airport that you can make the runway even if your engine dies."

It used to be that way for the FAA check-ride, c.1964. By the 1970's, for pattern-standardization, the partial-throttle (same-size pattern for nearly-everybody) became the norm.

The glide-in pattern becomes really impractical for guys (like me) flying a Piper Colt; To make the end of the runway from 800' altitude, you have to (literally) view the touchdown point directly in front (and very slightly outside) of the left main wheel (i.e. looking down ~70 degrees). Then make a steep-glide U-turn to (very short) final (forget "base leg").

The problem is exacerbated by high-performance airplanes in the mix (light twins, Lancair etc) and IFR traffic on straight-in approaches.

So, "trade-off's" in the pattern shape/size issue.

PS>> Cessna's (almost) all have "Both" as the normal fuel feed (pilot can select either Left or Right if desired). To the guy who said add a Low Fuel Warning Light *right on* great idea.

PPS>> An engine that runs out of fuel will *not* stop unless the speed is reduced (and held) to near stall-speed for maybe 15 seconds. "Dead stick" used to be common training in the 1960's (C-150 usually).

on February 14, 2006 05:52 PM
# Lockjawal said:

Another factor preventing tighter patterns is the recent build up of real estate around airports and the subsequent introduction of "noise abatement" procedures. Usually these procedures require a wider pattern so the people below aren't "disturbed" by "those little planes" flying above their homes. I put these people in the same category as those who decide to build houses in a wildlife habitat area and then want to initiate a wildlife culling program because the deer are eating their precious rose bushes.

on July 28, 2006 12:18 AM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.