Aviation occurrence briefs

Fuel starvation and forced landing involving a Miles M3A Falcon, near Hamilton Airport, Vic., on 17 April 2020

Number:
AB-2020-014
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Brief

Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.

What happened

On 17 April 2020, a Miles M3A Falcon single-engine piston aircraft was operating a ferry flight from Lilydale to Nelson, Victoria. There was one pilot and one passenger on board.

During cruise, after flying for about 2 hours and 20 minutes, the pilot decided to conduct a diversion to Hamilton for the day due to approaching weather and lighting conditions. Approximately 9 km south-east of Hamilton at 2,000 ft AGL, the engine failed. The pilot attempted to restart the engine by changing the fuel selector from the ‘both’ selection to the left tank but was unsuccessful. The pilot then changed the fuel selector to the right tank and the engine restarted momentarily, before cutting out again.

The pilot identified a large paddock nearby to conduct a forced landing. The aircraft was unable to reach the desired paddock and the pilot subsequently conducted the forced landing in a smaller paddock.

After touchdown, the right wing struck a fence post and the aircraft swung sideways. The aircraft then struck a second wire fence, and the wire pulled the aircraft to a stop. The right landing gear collapsed, the propeller struck the ground and the wing’s leading edge sustained damage. The pilot and passenger were uninjured.

Engineering inspection

The engineering inspection revealed that as the aircraft had not been operated for several years, debris accumulated in the fuel lines resulting in a blockage during flight and the engine failure. The inspection further revealed that there was 60 litres of fuel remaining in the left tank, and no fuel remained in the right tank.

Figure 1: Fuel line blockage and debris

Figure 1: Fuel line blockage and debris.
Source: Pilot

Source: Pilot

Figure 2: Fuel line blockage and debris

Figure 2: Fuel line blockage and debris.
Source: Pilot

Source: Pilot

Pilot comments

The pilot advised that normally, a low-wing aircraft would only have left and right fuel selector positions. This aircraft, which he had recently purchased, is fitted with a fuel selector that has a ‘both’ position and he assumed that fuel was drawing equally from both wing tanks. He therefore believed having the fuel selector set to this position was the best option for the flight. The pilot further commented that it would have been beneficial to have conducted a check of the fuel supply from the left wing tank 1.5 hours into the flight to ensure there was enough fuel flow for the cruise consumption of 32 litres per hour and to check that fuel was drawing from both wing tanks.

Safety message

This accident highlights the importance of ensuring all aircraft systems and components are operating as per the aircraft manual.

It also serves as a reminder that keeping fuel supplied to the engine during flight relies on the pilot’s knowledge of the aircraft’s fuel supply system and being familiar and proficient in its use.

More information on fuel management can be found in the ATSB research report, Starved and Exhausted: Fuel management aviation accidents (AR-2011-112).

About this report

Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.

General details
Date: 17 April 2020   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1730 EST    
Location   (show map): 9 km SE of Hamilton Airport    
State: Victoria    
Release Date: 22 May 2020   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft model Miles M3A Falcon  
Type of operation Private  
Sector Piston  
Damage to aircraft Substantial  
Departure point Lilydale, Victoria  
Destination Nelson, Victoria  
Last update 22 May 2020