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"Refueling"

Author Unknown – original source – The Australian Bureau of Accident and Safety Investigation (BASI)

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A Hiller 12E pilot landed near a homestead for refueling after about one and a half hours of cattle mustering.  He intended carrying out refuelling with a 24 volt portable electric fuel pump which had a fitting enabling it to be screwed into the bung on top of a 200 litre (44 US gallons) drum of 130 octane AVGAS.

Because the electric pump did not have a standpipe, the drum had to be placed on its side to enable fuel to reach the bung hole in to which the electric pump had been installed. 

To power the electric pump, the pilot disconnected the main leads from the aircraft battery and connected the long wire leads from the pump to the battery terminals with alligator clips.

As the pilot was about to put the fuel nozzle into the helicopter's tank, the delivery hose slipped off the electric pump, and fuel started to pump out all over him.  (The pilot later commented that while the delivery hose fitted tightly onto the pump, it was not clamped.)

In order to stop the pump from running and thus stop the fuel from pouring out, the pilot grabbed the pump electric leads and pulled them off the battery. 

However, it seems that, as the alligator clips came off the battery terminals, they touched, and caused electrical arcing (sparks). The fuel then ignited.

Inside the homestead, the property owner heard a loud `whoomph' and then a scream.  He ran outside and saw that both the pilot and the helicopter were on fire.  He managed to grab hold of the pilot and extinguish the fire in his clothing by rolling him on the ground.

The pilot, who had been wearing long trousers and a long-sleeve shirt, sustained burns to about 20 per cent of his body, primarily to his hands and from the waist down.  The helicopter was destroyed.

 

Refueling from drums is almost invariably done as an `in-the-field' operation.  Many of those who use drums do so often and as a matter of routine; thus, the practice of completing the refueling quickly and cutting corners tends to arise.

In fact, there are a number of regulations, orders and time-proven procedures applicable to drum refueling.  Like most standard procedures these are intended or have been developed, not to make life difficult for those to whom they apply, but rather to serve safety and preserve your life and property. 

Before reading the rest of this article, it may be a worthwhile exercise to review the accident described above and make a note of the number of deficiencies in refueling technique which you can identify; the two basic areas you should consider are fuel quality control and fire prevention.  Having done that, compare your knowledge to the following information.

 Fuel quality control – consider this system:

 

  Before commencing to refuel, the drum to be used should be checked to ensure that:

      (a)         its markings and the contents are consistent, and appropriate for the use intended;

      (b)         it is not aged;

      (c)         there has been no obvious contamination during storage

      (d)         it contains no free water. A positive method, such as water detecting paste/ paper or drain bottle, is a necessity.

 

  Before pumping, the drum should be stood on its end and tilted by placing a piece of wood 50mm thick under one side, so that the large “bung” is on the high side.

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Mount the filter/separator or fuel monitor on the side of drum, and bond correctly.

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Open the large bung and insert the pump suction stand pipe to the bottom of the drum.

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Bond the discharge nozzle to the aircraft before opening the fuel tank. (I use a single car jumper lead for this purpose)

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The fuelling nozzle or hose should be inserted as far as possible into the aircraft fuel tank to minimize splash filling.

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Commence delivery

  Fuelling from jerry cans and other notes

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If a ground earthing point available, the refueling equipment and the aircraft should be earthed.

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The aircraft should be positioned so that it can be quickly moved to safety in an emergency.

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The area in which refueling operations are being conducted is a `No Smoking' area.            

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Persons operating fuelling equipment should not carry matches, cigarette lighters or objects which could constitute an ignition hazard and no person should smoke or use a naked flame within 15metres of the aircraft and the ground fuelling equipment.

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Fire extinguishers should be positioned in the vicinity of the aircraft and the fuelling equipment.

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Particular attention should be given to possible sources of ignition such as arcing between metallic parts of electrical circuits and components.

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Fuelling plant (i.e. the fuelling system) must be fitted with an isolation switch between the battery and electrical services.

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Exposed electrical terminals should be protected by insulating boots or covers.

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All batteries should be suitably covered to prevent accidental shorting of the cells and should be provided with adequate means of natural ventilation.

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All connections should be secured with spring or lock washers to prevent accidental loosening of connections while in use.

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The fuel should be filtered through a mesh strainer, aviation-type, water trap funnel.

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If refueling with a pump fitted with a filter, check the filter before and after refueling for signs of water and other contaminants.

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Also note that, if possible, drums should be taken to the aircraft on the tray of a vehicle, not rolled along the ground.  If it is necessary to roll the drums, they must be given the longest settling period possible before refueling is commenced.

 Fire prevention

   Getting the correct grade of clean fuel into your aircraft's tanks is half the battle - the other half consists of doing it safely:

The aircraft and the fuelling equipment should not be closer than:

5 metres to any sealed building;

6 metres to any other stationary aircraft

15 metres to any exposed public area

9 metres to any unsealed building for an aircraft with a MTOW not exceeding 5700 kg

 Static leads should be connected to ensure bonding between the drum, the pump and the identified aircraft earth point.

  When switching to a fresh drum

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Remove nozzle from aircraft fuel tank.

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Cap aircraft fuel tank.

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Remove bonding and nozzle from aircraft vicinity.

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Remove pump from empty drum.

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Reseal empty drum.

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Remove filter/separator or fuel monitor.

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Remove bonding.

 Conclusion

All of those individuals involved in drum refueling are urged to familiarize themselves thoroughly with the advice contained here and, for safety's sake, to put it into practice.

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