To The Letter



A simple mistake…

Rotary valve

There is no ON position
on this valve; only BOTH, RIGHT,
OFF, and LEFT.

While working towards my private pilot’s license, I was sitting in the left seat of a Cessna 172, shortly after “graduating” from the Cessna 152. I was very excited for my first flight in this new type, but it had been six months since my last flight, and I caught myself trying to remember all of the important safety steps. I began to go through the checklist and asked my instructor if the fuel valve was in the ON position. After a quick glance and an “ok” from him we completed the rest of our checks and taxied down the runway for the pre-takeoff run-up checks. I took another quick glance at the fuel valve and all was looking good to go.

Once lined up and cleared for takeoff, I applied full power and we rolled down the runway. So many things were running through my head: temperatures and pressures in the green, airspeed live, no fire, etc. Everything looked great as we lifted off the ground. Then, without any warning, the engine started to sputter and cough. Before I knew what was happening, my instructor said, “I have control”, and he carried out an immediate landing. After a few nerve-wracking seconds we managed to land safely and taxi off the active runway. Once we came to a complete stop, my instructor began to examine the cockpit and quickly determined that the fuel valve was indeed in the OFF position.

The fuel valve on that C172 was different than the fuel valve I was used to in the C152. The rotary type of valve on the C172 could be selected to left tank only, right tank only, both tanks, or off. The C152 fuel valve I was accustomed to had only two options: on or off.

When I asked my instructor whether I had indeed switched the valve to ON, he likely misheard my question and probably didn’t think that somebody could make a mistake with such a simple system. I found out later that many others made that same mistake. Better communication may have prevented the occurrence. I should have asked how to operate the fuel system, which in turn would have given our full attention to that critical check, rather than a quick nod. Assumptions on the level of knowledge can also create dangerous situations.

In closing, students should not be afraid to ask for clarification or for a detailed answer on any system they are unfamiliar with. Instructors, in turn, need to remain vigilant and be on the lookout for students’ mistakes, even for the simplest tasks. Finally, watch out for insidious routine checklist items which can be inadvertently skipped, missed or improperly done.

Frederic Floyd
Sydney, Australia

Thank you, Mr. Floyd. A related story was featured in the DEBRIEF section of ASL 3/2006, involving the fuel selector of a Cessna 185, which is worth a second read! Circumstances were slightly different in that earlier event, but the main lesson out of the several you taught us is never to take our fuel system for granted, no matter how simple it appears to be. —Ed.

Cabin Safety: Passenger-provided Seat Belt Extensions

Operators are reminded that the use of passenger-provided seat belt extensions shall not be permitted as these devices may not comply with current standards for design, strength, compatibility of fittings to existing seat belts, or inspection requirements. Since operators are already required by regulations to only use safety equipment that meets existing standards, it is therefore their responsibility to plan accordingly by always having an adequate supply of approved seat belt extensions for each aircraft type they operate, for use by passengers who may require them.

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