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Aircraft Systems: Fuel Contamination

Fuel contamination is a preventable event. Today, we’ll take a look at what the new edition of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge has to say about it.

Accidents attributed to powerplant failure from fuel contamination have often been traced to:

  • Inadequate preflight inspection by the pilot
  • Servicing aircraft with improperly filtered fuel from small tanks or drums
  • Storing aircraft with partially filled fuel tanks
  • Lack of proper maintenance

Fuel should be drained from the fuel strainer quick drain and from each fuel tank sump into a transparent container and then checked for dirt and water. When the fuel strainer is being drained, water in the tank may not appear until all the fuel has been drained from the lines leading to the tank. This indicates that water remains in the tank and is not forcing the fuel out of the fuel lines leading to the fuel strainer. Therefore, drain enough fuel from the fuel strainer to be certain that fuel is being drained from the tank. The amount depends on the length of fuel line from the tank to the drain. If water or other contaminants are found in the first sample, drain further samples until no trace appears.

fuel

Water may also remain in the fuel tanks after the drainage from the fuel strainer has ceased to show any trace of water. This residual water can be removed only by draining the fuel tank sump drains.

Water is the principal fuel contaminant. Suspended water droplets in the fuel can be identified by a cloudy appearance of the fuel, or by the clear separation of water from the colored fuel, which occurs after the water has settled to the bottom of the tank. As a safety measure, the fuel sumps should be drained before every flight during the preflight inspection.

Fuel tanks should be filled after each flight or after the last flight of the day to prevent moisture condensation within the tank. To prevent fuel contamination, avoid refueling from cans and drums.

In remote areas or in emergency situations, there may be no alternative to refueling from sources with inadequate anticontamination systems. While a chamois skin and funnel may be the only possible means of filtering fuel, using them is hazardous. Remember, the use of a chamois does not always ensure decontaminated fuel. Worn-out chamois do not filter water; neither will a new, clean chamois that is already water-wet or damp. Most imitation chamois skins do not filter water.

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