While our flying trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons was great, we had a few problems along the way. Like they say, bad things often come in groups of three. This was our third one. (The other two involved a hiding cat and a blown tail wheel on the airplane).

Yellowstone Trip Day 1

On our way home Saturday, we flew from Jackson, Wyoming (JAC) to Burley, Idaho (BYI) to get a bit of fuel, grab a snack, and take a restroom break. A few minutes in the air after leaving Burley, Kathleen looked back at the left wing and saw fuel streaming back. And it didn't seem to stop. Uh oh!

She shot this video.

We were closer to Twin Falls (TWF) at this point, so I called up the tower and began our descent down from 9,000 feet to land and check it out. We fully expected the fuel cap to be completely missing. Unlike the fuel caps on a Cessna, there is no chain that keeps it connected to the fuel tank. So if the cap comes off in flight (or was never put back on), you've lost it.

The tower cleared us for a straight-in on runway 25 and we landed shortly after a Turbo Ag Cat came in on the opposite runway.

We landed, taxied over to the full service fuel and FBO, and parked. I borrowed a a bucket (no ladder handy) from the guy who came over, climbed up, and was astonished to find the fuel cap was there and it felt tight!

There are two flanges on the fuel cap that serve to lock it to the neck of the fuel tank. Normally both of them are fitted tightly below the rim. But the guy who fueled it in Burley manage to put the cap on in such a way that only one of the two flanges was engaged below the rim.

When I pulled up on the back of the fuel cap, there was enough play to allow fuel to escape in flight when there's a substantial vacuum created by the airflow.

New lesson learned: Always pull up on the fuel cap to make sure it's on tight. Simply making sure that it won't turn anymore is not sufficient.

But that's not all!

With the situation apparently resolved, I got back in, started up the plane, and called up the ground controller. We were told to Taxi to runway 07 for a southbound departure. As we made our way over, I told Kathleen that I was expecting half the fuel we took on at Burley to be gone. But that was okay, since were could land and fuel up in Elko, Nevada (EKO) which was along our route of flight.

We got our takeoff clearance, took off, and departed the area to the south. About five miles from the airport, I glanced up at the fuel gauges and was shocked to see that the left tank was reading close to 1/4 and the right was reading 1/2. Normally I trust the right tank to be very accurate and doubt the left. But I haven't had enough time flying with it since the right tank was repaired, so I didn't really know how much fuel we had.

It didn't take more than a minute to decide that we had to land back at Twin Falls again and top off the tanks before continuing home.

Lesson #2 learned: Always check the fuel level after spewing gas in flight. It comes out a lot faster than you think (as confirmed by our mechanic later that evening).

In better news, we have a ton a great photos and video from our trip. Those should be coming on-line before too long.

Posted by jzawodn at July 27, 2009 07:52 AM

Reader Comments
# Kent Brewster said:

Holy crap. Glad you're both safe!

on July 27, 2009 08:04 AM
# Scott said:

Yikes! I assume you weren't in any immediate danger of running out of fuel, but that is not the sort of thing I'd like to see when flying.

on July 27, 2009 08:08 AM
# C. Enrique Ortiz said:

Glad all turned out OK.

Yes, you have 2 NEW(?) items to be added to your pre-flight checklist:

* Pull up on the fuel cap to make sure it's on tight.

* Check the fuel level before takeoff (regardless of spewing gas in flight or not).

Thanks for sharing.


on July 27, 2009 01:19 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


on July 27, 2009 02:06 PM
# BWJones said:

You've only got around 35 gal... right? I'd estimate from that video that you were losing around .5gal/minute.

Glad everything turned out OK.

on July 27, 2009 10:45 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Yes, we have about 35 gallons usable.

on July 28, 2009 06:47 AM
# Phil Windley said:

Nice vid and great stories. These are the stories that make flying interesting--as long as you live to tell them! :-) Thanks for sharing.

on August 2, 2009 08:48 PM
# Private jet said:

Thank god you both are safe and secure. I hope in future you will be careful.

on December 21, 2009 02:52 AM
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