Water in Tank Emergency/Question

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by AU_James, Aug 26, 2019.

  1. AU_James

    AU_James Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Bottom line up front: I had an emergency and discovered a large amount of water in the tank post-flight. I'm happy to be here telling you this and asking the POA mind about this event...

    Went to go fly Saturday for the first time in a few weeks. The plane is currently sitting on a ramp as I wait for my hangar to be ready to move into (in a couple weeks). When I got to the plane I did my normal pre-flight, including sumping the tanks, checking for water/contamination, and finding nothing but Avgas, pouring the sample back into the tank while also visually checking the tanks were indeed topped off.

    Taxied, did my run-up, took off, worked with ATC to get on FF and transit a Bravo, and got to my cruise altitude of 6,500' before switching tanks for the first time. A minute or two later, I lost engine power. I was with ATC, got vectors to the nearest field, went through my checklist, gained power again at mid-RPM, pointed the nose to a large towered field, stayed high enough until I had the landing made, dropped flaps/slipped it in and landed uneventfully. The trucks greeted me, the engine was shut down, had the plane towed to a maintenance hangar. We open the fuel drain, and nothing but water came out for what seemed like 10 minutes (was probably 10 seconds, but that's when I realized how glad I was to be here today).

    I can go into more details about the emergency if people are curious, but I wanted to share a couple thoughts and ask a couple questions.

    Background/Pre-Flight:
    *B1: I've never had water in my tanks in the 2 years I've owned the plane. After the last annual there was some expected residue due to fuel lines being replaced, but I sumped it out until nothing but Avgas was being caught.
    *B2: Last flew a few weeks ago, plane is on ramp outside and had been rained on plenty. Some of it very heavy rain.
    *B3: This past week I had both wing fuel drains replaced since the last few flights the gas was slow to drain, and I assumed the o-rings were dry or something was starting to clog the drains. It's cheap and easy and fixed the issue since the gas poured out of the drains during pre-flight.
    *B4: During pre-flight, everything looked normal when sumping. I had the blue tint, the smell, no signs of water or contamination.
    *B5: Also during pre-flight I did not notice that a cap was loose after it had been refueled.

    Flight:
    *F1: No issues during run-up or the first 20 minutes of flight.
    *F2: Got to cruise altitude and swapped tanks, and still no issue for a couple minutes before power loss.
    *F3: Throttle felt "loose" as if it were a mechanical failure of a linkage.
    *F4: Got power again mid-RPM and I used that to get to a preferred larger airfield/runway.

    Post-Flight:
    *P1: Engine died/shut down after taxi off the runway at idle power (I did not shut the engine down myself).
    *P2: When we sumped the engine drain, it was just water. Scariest thing I've ever seen.
    *P3: Mechanic today is going to drain everything, check the carburetor/anywhere else water could have gotten in or settled.

    Thoughts:
    *T1: I was remarkably calm during these events. I had always wondered how I would react, but I just knew I had to fly the plane. It's what you train for. I was on FF already and that communication helped reassure/remind me to just fly the plane.
    *T2: I ALMOST ran the entire emergency checklist. I failed to swap BACK to the original tank. I'm still kicking myself for this 48 hours later because how did I miss this step, especially when it would have sent pure gas back to the engine and I would have landed, probably with full power/control and a better understanding of what was happening in flight.
    *T3: I am going to spend several flights walking through emergency checklists in my future. I usually practice these things, but not often enough. I'm sure many of us fall into that category.
    *T4: I'm going to say the steps of the checklist out loud and run the list at least a second time (if time allows) so that I don't miss a step that could save my life.
    *T5: I'm always going to take my time after sumping to not just glance at it and pour it back in. I feel like I always make sure it's gas, but now I'm questioning if I really (no, really) look and smell to make sure.

    Questions:
    *Q1: Could water have gotten into the tank during maintenance when the drains were replaced? If so, could it have gotten trapped and not fallen to the bottom?
    *Q2: If the tank cap/gasket was allowing rain water in, could any of it have gotten trapped and not fallen to the bottom of the tank?
    *Q3: If the plane sits outside and gets rained on regularly right now, but no water had ever been found in the tank, could a cap/gasket suddenly go bad or would it have started to allow a little bit of water in?
    *Q4: If the cap had not been fully closed after the last refuel (which was done by the FBO after my last flight), would I have noticed during pre-flight that it didn't "feel" right or "unlock" when I opened the cap?
    *Q5: Could I have missed it if I sumped ONLY water from a wing tank? I'm sure if I caught water AND fuel and saw the separation it would have been impossible to miss. But what about nothing but water and I thought it was blue and missed the lack of a fuel smell?
    *Q6: If I missed it during pre-flight (didn't miss the step, but missed that it was pure water), how do I never do that again??


    So these are the possibilities I can think of. Either water was stuck and didn't drain when I did my pre-flight (how?) OR it did drain when I did my pre-flight and I somehow missed it (how?).

    Please let me know your thoughts. I want to make sure I'm not missing something and I have my head around this situation. Asked another way, how do I confidently assure my wife that this will never happen again?

    EDIT
    Forgot to add the aircraft type: P28A-181. 1976 Piper Archer II.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019
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  2. Weekend Warrior

    Weekend Warrior Pre-takeoff checklist

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    First off, good job!

    Any idea if the ATC recordings are out there? I'd like to hear it.

    I hangar my plane, yet I have water in my tank EVERY TIME I FLY. Not a lot, mind you, but always a few drops to a thimble full or so. Since I hangar I'm thinking either condensation, or the fact that I mostly fly IFR in the clouds.

    As far as the amount of water you describe, that sounds like way more than even a leaking tank vent would allow. Is it possible someone is messing with your plane? Or the fuel cap was removed during a rain, then put back on? I can't fathom how you would get that much under "normal" circumstances. And I've heard of planes having so much water in the tanks that sumping makes it seem like you have none, since it is all water, so I suppose that's possible what happened to you.
     
  3. Matthew

    Matthew Touchdown! Greaser!

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    What's the airplane?
     
  4. Ryanb

    Ryanb Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    If there was that much water discovered afterwards, I’m just curious how none of it was recognized during the initial pre-flight sump.
     
  5. PaulS

    PaulS Final Approach

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    I'm wondering if when you checked the sump you didn't notice the cup was full of water not gas? I look for water, make sure the gas is blue and give it a quick sniff. The planes I fly now never have water, the planes I used to fly would get water on the first sump of just about every day. We would just sump and dump until it was clean.
     
  6. EdFred

    EdFred Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Water probably in the line between sump and engine. Never would have caught it in preflight unless it backed up all the way to the sump drain.

    But you left off airplane type.
     
  7. benyflyguy

    benyflyguy Pattern Altitude

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    If there’s any question whether not you have fuel or water. You could always add just a couple drops of water and see if it separates. If it doesn’t separate then you know you have a water.
    Would be curious to see what plane you’re flying as well
     
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  8. Clip4

    Clip4 En-Route

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    There are several way water can get into a tank - condensation, leak, or my favorite - some one pumped the tank full of water during fueling. I the last item and suspect you pulled a 100% water sample, saw a clean sample and did not recognize it as water. Most our sampling cups are stained blue from dye in the fuel.
     
  9. CharlieD3

    CharlieD3 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Wow, glad it all ended so well...!! I'm following this thread to learn what POA gurus come up with... What plane type would be important to learn, too.
     
  10. AU_James

    AU_James Pre-takeoff checklist

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    P28A-181. 1976 Piper Archer II. Added to first post.

    Thank you. I think I've been too caught up in "wtf" and "how to never do it again" that I haven't thought about the fact that I got down safely. As for the recordings, I haven't looked yet. I was on with Tampa Approach (west), would have been between about 1130 and 1145am Eastern on Saturday, 24 August.

    Exactly. Which is why I'm wondering, as a couple others have mentioned, if the entire thing was full of water after sumping but perhaps my jar is slightly dyed blue at this point and if I missed the sniff test (winds, airport kinda smells like fuel already, just sumped the other wing and the engine before getting to the left tank)? I'll never miss it again, that's for damn sure. Already ordered a new GATS jar.

    How would I catch this, then? Sump the engine multiple times? Make sure I run the engine on both tanks for some amount of time prior to take off?
     
  11. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    There are aircraft that are really good at hiding water in the tanks. The "which aircraft" posts are quite prescient. I don't think the OP should beat himself up too much about the switching tanks thing. We're all human.
     
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  12. wanttaja

    wanttaja En-Route

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    About 35 years ago, I took my 150 to a nearby field during my lunch break. The gas pump seemed to be working slowly, not pumping very fast.

    After I finally got done, I sumped the fuel. There were bubbles in it. Neither rising or falling, just hanging in suspension.

    This was curious...I'd never seen it before. I took the sample into the FBO. Everyone shrugged. Manager said it couldn't be water, they have a sensor in the tank that shuts it down when water was detected. My CFI didn't know what it was either.

    I took another sample. No change.

    It had been ten minutes, so I taxied out and took off. Climbed and started heading back to home. About three miles out, the engine stuttered. I firewalled the throttle to gain as much altitude as I could before the engine died. Engine stopped completely on about a half-mile final, but had bags of altitude to play with. To this day, I remember the sound of cars passing below the silent airplane as I glided in with a stopped prop.

    Touched down normally, coasted off at the center turnoff, and pulled the plane that last ~100 feet to the gas pumps. Pulled out my fuel sampler. 100% water. Took another sample. Still 100% water.

    I pelted to the office to grab a phone and warn the FBO that I'd bought the fuel from. Then back out to the airplane. Using the little sampler was too slow. Took an old oil can to drain the tanks into. Still water. It took about two hours to make me confident enough that all the water was gone; I guess that I had two gallons of water in each of my 13-gallon tanks.

    After my call, they checked their records for previous planes that had filled up that morning. Two planes had filled. The first one had left and visited a variety of airports. No issues. The second was a Bonanza, fortunately based on the field and had parked after filling. They took about five gallons of water out of him.

    What happened? We'd had a lot of rain, lately, (Seattle, duhh). The fill points for the FBO's underground fuel tanks were in a recessed area with a cover. Water had filled that recessed area, and a bad cap seal let it into the tank. The water-detector on the fuel system only partially worked...that was why the flow rate had been so slow.

    The bubbles, I think, were from water in suspension. The transfer pump on the fuel tank had mixed it up pretty thoroughly. Five minutes of slight vibration (e.g., my engine running) was enough to get it to precipitate out.

    I flew back that afternoon to get a tankful of free replacement gas. They'd already raised a sloping berm around the recessed fill point, to help keep ground water out.

    In case this sounds vaguely familiar... USENETers might remember me telling the story, back in 1984. I also sold it to Flying magazine, as an "I learned about flying from that." It was my first writing sale.... :)

    Ron Wanttaja
     
  13. EdFred

    EdFred Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Sump at the gascolator and not just the tanks, and yeah switch takes on the ground before run up. Maybe run at 1500RPM for 60-90 seconds on each tank.
     
  14. AlleyCat67

    AlleyCat67 Pre-Flight

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    I once had water in the fuel system. I sumped the tanks but suspect there was some residual water inaccessible to the sump. When I did steep turns & stalls with an instructor, it may have liberated & suddenly the engine started to sputter at 4000'. My instructor was a smart guy though... as a last resort he started pumping the primer like crazy, which bypasses the carb. The water worked its way through and the engine got started again. That technique isn't in the POH but I've always remembered that trick.
     
  15. CharlieD3

    CharlieD3 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Wow! Any chance what was "in suspension" was gas.. floating in water?
     
  16. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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  17. Juliet Hotel

    Juliet Hotel Cleared for Takeoff PoA Supporter

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    Was that on the tank you switched to in cruise?
     
  18. AU_James

    AU_James Pre-takeoff checklist

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    To be more clear, I was saying that the fuel cap did not appear/feel loose during pre-flight. So both caps felt like they were seated correctly when I opened them during pre-flight.
     
  19. EdFred

    EdFred Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Cherokee/Warrior caps are not known for their waterproofness. My dad bought some covers that go over his caps to keep the water out since his gets parked outside often.
     
  20. dtuuri

    dtuuri En-Route

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    When they changed the drains did they defuel into an old fuel bowser then refuel your plane from it?
     
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  21. Bill Jennings

    Bill Jennings Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Mooney has flush gas caps, meaning the sealing area is below the wing surface. We replace the gas cap o-rings and seals every year at annual, but even so I'm extra careful if the plane has been sitting out in the rain. And like @EdFred says above, pull a sample from the gascolator as well.
     
  22. sourdough44

    sourdough44 Pattern Altitude

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    I would wiggle the winds, sump, repeat a few times before feeling comfortable. Some extended ground runs too.

    If forced to park outside awhile, yeah, some covers for the cap area maybe.
     
  23. AU_James

    AU_James Pre-takeoff checklist

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    This is a good question that I will ask! I'm not familiar with the process to change the drains so I had no idea if/how water could have been introduced during the process. Thank you.
     
  24. WannFly

    WannFly En-Route

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    first of all KUDOS on staying calm and landing without any hitch. second... gawd... i am going up later today for a post MX flights, the tanks were removed for SB inspection and now back on with zero fuel, i am going to put the fuel in myself and i will think about this thread for a long time, before and during the flights.

    i think we have come up with some great suggestion. my usual preflight is
    sump left tank
    sump the engine
    sump the right tank
    switch to right tank and then sump again at the engine

    after engine start, run on whatever tank i am on and taxi. during preflight switch tank first and then do the run up

    i think i am going to start doing longer run up and switch to both tanks to see if it stumbles . good learning
     
  25. AU_James

    AU_James Pre-takeoff checklist

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    So you actually go back into the plane and switch tanks, then sump again at the engine? Without the engine running, would the fuel you get be any different than the first time you sump at the engine?

    My process is usually counter-clockwise if you're looking straight down at the plane as this just fits my flow. I sump the right wing tank, then sump the engine, then the left tank during my usual pre-flight flow around the aircraft.

    Also, after I did my run up I remember looking at the tank selector and (internally) telling myself nope, don't take off on a tank you didn't do the run up on. No idea what prompted me to even look at the thing, let alone tell myself that, but I'm sure the day would have resulted in a different outcome had I swapped tanks AFTER my run up and without doing another run up on that tank. Another reminder to follow the checklists...

    With that said, I perhaps would never have taken off at all had I done the run up on that tank to begin with or if, like you mention, I had swapped tanks from my start/taxi tank to the other tank just for the run up/take off. I think I'll modify my pre-flight checklist to ensure I swap tanks on the ground prior to run up.
     
  26. cowman

    cowman En-Route PoA Supporter

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    Not sure how the water was missed on pre-flight but one can imagine a number of reasons. What I'd be looking at is how the water got in, maybe some others can chime in here but I'd say the most likely point of ingress would be the fuel caps- those rubber seals under the fuel caps can be replaced and I don't think they're expensive. That would be my first place to look. From there it would go to where the tanks are actually sealed along the seams.

    I flew an Archer II for many years, it was mostly hangared but it did get a few nights out in rain including heavy rain and I never got water in the tanks. Not once on any pre-flight did I ever find water nor did I ever have an in-flight power loss. My thoughts are that something isn't keeping water out like it ought to. I don't think water getting in there at all should be considered normal or acceptable.
     
  27. Matthew

    Matthew Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Not sure exactly where the Archer sumps are in relation to the rest of the tank. I know they should be at the low spots. I have seen various wing "angles" based on how far the nose strut is extended or compressed. Maybe it was in a condition that allowed water to settle below the drains? I dunno, just guessing.
     
  28. Dan Thomas

    Dan Thomas Final Approach

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    The sumps in the tanks are at the lowest spot in the tank, but if the airplane is sitting at some cockeyed attitude they might not be. A flat nose oleo, or parking on a significant slope so the airplane is angled left or right or nose-down, and the water won't get out when you sump. It will accumulate in the tank over time until it reaches the tank outlet and the engine gets a mouthful of it and chokes on it.

    Bad fuel caps are the most common entry point. They get tired. Condensation is a much smaller issue, relatively.

    A decent FBO will have water-stop filters on their fuel pump, right where the hose connects to it. The filter media in those things absorb water even if they're wet with fuel, and they won't release it. Once the entire element is full of water, all flow stops. They should be periodically changed, and if there is any swelling of the media, the entire tank and system should be checked for water. The tank itself should be getting checked at least monthly anyway.
     
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  29. WannFly

    WannFly En-Route

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    I have a 12 oz gatz jar, when dumping through the engine sump, I always pull at 10oz or so, but honestly I don’t know if that’s enough to clear the fuel lines after the switch. I do go back to the plane and switch tanks and at the same time will turn the master on to check the stall horn and pitot heat. But yes, I always switch right before run up, my taxi times are usually long and I am hoping any water will be discovered during the taxi on the what tank it is on, and then when I switch tanks and do the run up , it should catch any water there as well. I hangar, so not concerned about rain/sitting on the ramp. In all honesty I have not sumped and taken off right after refueling at some airport that I went for a hop, but my taxi on left tank, switch to right and run up before take off happens in every take off i do. It has become a flow now and if I don’t do it, something feels wrong.

    Edit: I fly a 1979 archer II as well
     
  30. danhagan

    danhagan Pattern Altitude

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    I like to refuel after flights, reduce condensation and allow water to hit the low points in the system which could take 30-60 minutes. There's a video of the image below somewhere that I saw 10 years ago regarding a C-152 and how much water could go undetected, it was HUGE becuse it wasn't over the sump ports, but could get to the engine after a few maneuvers in the air.

     
  31. Juliet Hotel

    Juliet Hotel Cleared for Takeoff PoA Supporter

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    When I've had tank sumps changed, the mechanics I've used wouldn't defuel at all. They'd just get the old one loose with a wrench and then thread it out with one hand while holding the new one in their other hand. The old one comes out, the new one goes in a second later and no more than a sump cup or two worth of fuel gets lost.
     
  32. wanttaja

    wanttaja En-Route

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    It's possible, but the bubbles weren't rising or falling. Would think a gas bubble would be less likely to stay stationary.

    Ron Wanttaja
     
  33. Timbeck2

    Timbeck2 Final Approach

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    Probably the best way since that would allow any trash in the tank to flow out as well. When I replaced my fuel senders in my Cherokee I drained and removed the tanks. It was amazing how much stuff was in my tanks that wasn't fuel. Every time I've had a blue spot on my wheel pants from a leaky sump was caused by a tiny piece of trash in the sump.
     
  34. PaulS

    PaulS Final Approach

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    You have an expectation when preflighting that everything is ok, it's hard to not think that way but it can cause you to look right at something and miss it. I fight the tendency for it to become repetitive and cursory. Part of the reason I sniff the sample is to see if it smells like 100ll and not jet A. I suspect water would only have a faint smell.
     
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  35. wsuffa

    wsuffa Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Replace the gaskets on the fuel fillers periodically - they do get dried out and somewhat porous. Fillers not sealed can cause some issues, too.

    Don't recall where the sumps are on a Piper - on the Commander, there were 4 (plus the gascolator) - one in each tank at the low spot, and one in each wheel well in the fuel line. Sometimes you'd get water from one or the other.

    Condensation can happen, but in my experience this isn't much of a problem. Rain is. Especially if the line folks fill the plane in the rain. I contemplated a heavy rubber mat to go over the fillers when it rained, but had so little problem that it wasn't necessary. Keeping the plane indoors and replacing the gaskets helped a lot.
     
  36. Bill Jennings

    Bill Jennings Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Sniff test is good, but my old rusty crusty primary CFI insisted in pouring a little fuel across his fingers. 100LL dries quickly and leaves a dry white residue on your fingers. 100LL contaminated with kerosene will dry slower, and leave an oily residue on your fingers.

    And besides, that white residue is finger lickin’ good!
     
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  37. Sinistar

    Sinistar Pattern Altitude

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    I actually do this fairly often. I usually have a water squirt bottle on the work bench. I sump both tanks. Smell it and then hold it up in front of the white paint on the tail to check for color and water. Then will squirt in some water to demo for people (who ask) what I am looking for. Then I drink it. Kidding!

    Kinda sounds like you pulled a whole sump full of water.

    I always pull both sumps and then look. I figure if I see water we ain't flying and there's plenty of time to isolate which tank. However if one pulls only water and the other doesn't it will be more obvious than looking at one that might be all water.

    Did you let the FBO know right away in case they pumped in the water?
     
  38. WannFly

    WannFly En-Route

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    Priyo
    Speaking of fuel stuff, I went to the shop to calibrate senders and put 2 gallons at a time. I had about 10 gal in the tanks when I had landed there, my A&P drained it and put it in a tank that’s mounted on a truck bed. Only my fuel was there ( or so I was told). I poured 1 gal in a container, half of that was GREEN. I have no idea how, he didn’t know either. Rest 9 gallons were blue. I believe 130 octane is green but no one knows how .5 gallon from that tank turned green. Needless to say, first gallon didn’t go back in the fuel tank
    IMG_0651.JPG IMG_0652.JPG

    Go figure
     
  39. chemgeek

    chemgeek Cleared for Takeoff

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    chemgeek
    First, good job handling the emergency. Not every pilot does this well. You must have had good training that stuck. Kudos. Most likely water leaked in, but you should rule out maintenance or fueling mishaps.

    I'm not sure about reading checklists in a low altitude emergency. No time. My emergency workflow for power loss or failure is simple: change everything that has to do with fuel supply or ignition. That means carb heat (FIRST, while you still have heat), change tanks, turn on fuel pump, full rich mixture, and try different mag settings. As quickly as possible while setting up for emergency landing. That's what I did when my engine failed during an IPC flight. My instructor and I were on the same page, reaching for the same knobs and switches. I believe it was the carb heat that did the trick, but it could have been ice crystals blocking the fuel inlet. I'll never know, but ONE of those actions restored power. No time to wait between actions at 1500 agl. No water was ever found, but it may have just passed through the engine, or it was carb icing.

    Fortunately, AA5 fuel caps don't leak unless the scupper hoses are plugged or rotted. The caps are inverted cups over the fuel filler neck and the scupper drains through a hose through the wing, although unfortunately through a hose in the fuel tank.
     
  40. chemgeek

    chemgeek Cleared for Takeoff

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    chemgeek
    Well, when our fueler sent a tank truck full of 100 LL without flushing the diesel out of the pumps and hoses, we got "green" 100 LL out. Not good. That was an expensive lesson for our fuel distributor, and shut us down for a few days.