Is Your Fuel Gauge Lying to You?

Welcome back to the Student Pilot Digest! This week, we will be looking at fuel and how to easily plan your flights, while following federal regulations and making sure you keep yourself safe.

We’ve all been in a situation where you are planning for a longer flight and have to decide just how much fuel you need to arrive at your destination. If you are wondering if you should ever trust your fuel gauges just like you trust the one in your car, the answer is no. If you can tap your fuel gauge and the indicator bar moves up or down, that should be an obvious sign for you.

Your fuel gauge in the airplane is something you should use as a secondary reference to fuel planning. Here is what you SHOULD do:

  • Visually check the tanks and see just how full they are.
  • Check the POH and aircraft Weight & Balance to see what the aircraft has noted for fuel tank capacity and, most importantly, what the usable fuel quantity is.
  • Make sure you can take on the minimum required fuel amounts based on your flight type.
    • IFR — required fuel + fuel to first alternate + 45 minutes reserve
    • VFR day — required fuel + 30 minutes reserve
    • VFR night — required fuel + 45 minutes reserve
  • Determine the winds aloft and forecast weather conditions to see what factors may slow you down or speed you up while you’re in the air.

Our list is not a complete list of things you should do when fuel planning for your trip, but it covers many areas you should consider. You should always have your flights planned out and make sure you know exactly what lies ahead of you. Here is a short list of things to make sure you are ready!

  • Check the weather
  • Call a Flight Briefer for a Standard Weather Briefing
  • Check the NOTAMs for any airport you might go to
  • Visually check your fuel tanks and always sump your fuel
  • Do a Weight & Balance for every flight
  • Plan at least one alternate airport
  • Make sure the airport has fuel and that it is in operation too
  • Lastly, is the entire flight forecast to be within your personal minimums for wind, cloud coverage, and visibility?

Looking for some helpful online resources to aid your flight planning? Here is a list of trusted sources we believe are safe for second opinion flight planning use.

  • ForeFlight – By far, one of the most useful apps for your iPhone and iPad for everything from flight planning, weather forecasts, radar, moving maps, FBO information, IFR charts, and so much more! Requires annual subscription.
  • SkyVector – A pilot’s best friend when it comes to up-to-date VFR/IFR charts panned out into a world map view with numerous overlays such as precipitation, icing, turbulence, mountain obscuration and IFR conditions. It also will show FBO fuel prices and link you to airport information such as airport layout/diagrams, phone numbers and so many other features.
  • – This FREE website, and app for mobile devices, is an excellent and easy way to make and file flight plans, receive computed weather information and see routes other pilots have filed previously to aid you in choosing your route of flight. You will have to make your account online, however, you won’t need your credit card for this one at all!
  • – This is the approved national weather site for all things weather related. From current conditions, to synopsis and outlook forecasts and even educational materials. This website is approved by the FAA for weather and flight planning information you can use during a checkride as well.
  • – Stemming from, this website is also an approved national weather site, however, all information is geared towards pilots and aviation professionals. You will be given more detailed information relating to flight planning and current/forecast weather conditions here, and just like, this site is also approved by the FAA for checkride planning.
  • Windy – This mobile app for iPhone and iPad users is another FREE app for current and forecast weather conditions. This app will give you current radar and also has an excellent look at current winds across the country.

As we wrap up today’s article, make sure to share this with others and come back next Monday for Your Eyes in the Skies: The Air Traffic Control System.

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