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Fuel Drain Check Found Broken Fuel Line
7/23/2003 12:51 AM
I hate to vocalize my shortcomings, but if this story saves a life, or at least causes at least one pilot to think about the consequences, it is well worth it.
I generally perform my pre-flight in a counter-clockwise direction as viewed from the top of the airplane, starting from the pilot door area. Nearly the last thing I do is reach in the passenger door to turn on the Fuel Shutoff valve in front of the passenger seat on my '67 185. I then reach under the belly to the forward fuel drain, and draw a inch or so to check for water and contaminants. Since I have yet to find any there, this is done rather hastily. A quick glance into the front cowling to check for birds and "loose stuff" then it is time to "saddle up" and commit some aviating.
Yesterday I was checking in the rental car at a Denver FBO and my pilot wife did the pre-flight. She turned on the fuel and was not as quick to fill the test tube and get on with it. Within a minute, she noticed a pool of fuel growing drop by drop beneath the cowling. The drips would stop when the Fuel Shutoff valve was closed. When I returned she pointed this out. Further investigation revealed that the 5 year old, braided steel fuel vapor line from the mechanical fuel pump to the header tank had developed a leak just about mid-line. When the fuel valve was opened, just the head pressure of the wing tanks would cause this to weep fuel down the firewall and well hidden from just a cursory look. It was only after some time had elapsed that drips and puddling could be seen.
Of course this delayed our departure until the next day as the next morning was spent getting to and replacing the line. Luckily we had the use of a A&P friend's hangar and tools. The new line is firesleeved whereas the original was not (and was the only "naked" line for forgotten reasons). Firesleeving would have made the problem slower to present itself and more difficult find. But it is much safer in case of fire.
I have no idea when or how this rupture occurred. I am just very thankful that a) it was discovered on the ground and before start-up, and b) I was not the one doing the preflight. Although I spend a good amount of time with the "usual" sources of mechanical problems, until this day I had never considered that part of a good pre-flight should be to turn on the fuel FIRST, and check for fuel system leaks as you approach the noise generating end of the airplane much later. It is a simple change in your routine. Please use my experience to give yourself some added insurance next time you fly!
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