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knew it was possible, but surely it wouldn't happen to me. How many thousands of times
have EZ's been refueled without any incidents of fire? One reported in Norway (see CP 52
and 53) and now me. Why does it happen? Is it carelessness, or is it preventable?
After a 40 minute flight in my LEZ N8HA, I called for the fuel truck and parked on the ramp with the nose headed into an 8 knot breeze. The fuel truck drove up and was parked about 8 feet behind the plane - downwind. Gary, the driver, unreeled the ground cable and clipped it to the exhaust stack, just the same as we had done about 30 times before. Gary then brought the fueling hose around the left wing and I removed the left tank fuel cap. Eleven gallons of (100 LL) fuel was pumped into the tank and it was about an inch and one-half from being full. He then shut the nozzle down to slow the flow and with both of us looking di rectly at the fuel tank opening, the fumes from the tank started burning. No explosion. The flame above the tank was a couple of feet high and was being blown across the wing aftward about 4 to 6 feet. I remember seeing the end of the fuel nozzle positioned even with the fuel tank opening and in the center of the 3 inch flush filler ring when the fire started. We don't know if the nozzle had touched the ring or not. The nozzle was also on fire.
By very fast reaction and a dry powder extinguisher from the rear of the fuel truck, we had the flame out in about 12 seconds from the time it started. Gary had one hand singed and I was spitting dry powder. I had just turned around from getting a small Halon unit in my cockpit when he shot across the wing with the powder. Damage to my LEZ was mostly cosmetic, but with a couple of heat wrinkles in the skin just aft of the filler ring, and some places in the centersection and wing spar area where the finish paint was blistered up from the primer coat. A large area was smoke blackened from the filler ring to the trailing edge. If we had been standing on the downwind side of this operation it may have been a tragedy for both of us.
The main thing I will do for sure is to install a grounding lug onto the metal fuel filler ring and use it instead of the engine exhaust. Also, a jumper groundwire will be clipped to that lug and to the fuel nozzle BEFORE removing the jumper wire or ground cable. The fuel truck should be parked crosswind from the plane and not downwind of it, and should be grounded into earth-rods. The fuel handler should not be wearing any nylon clothing. A two pound Halon unit will be mounted in my EZ and it will be "IN HAND" or "WITHIN ARMS' REACH" each time the plane is fueled. If this fire had burned another few seconds the top of the tank may have melted away and then it might have been uncontrollable.
Alfred Tiefenthal of Norway and I have learned from a first-hand experience. I hope it will not happen again, anywhere, but I am sure that it will - Maybe to YOU, so please be prepared.
The above letter was sent in by Long-EZ builder/flyer, Herb Anderson of Montrose, Colorado after he had experienced a refueling fire. The only other case ever reported to us was written up in CP52 and CP53. We have refueled EZ's literally hundreds of times ourselves here at Mojave where it is very dry and static electricity is quite prevalent. You can get a nasty jolt just getting out of your car. For some reason we have never had a fire. Now that we know of two instances, it is obvious that we cannot go on without doing the best job we can to prevent such a disaster.
Refueling fires, surprisingly, are not all that uncommon, even in metal airplanes. In the military, for example, the gas truck is grounded, the nozzle has a ground strap that is connected to the fuel tank near the gas cap before opening the gas cap.
We can learn from this. We are equipping our Long-EZ's with a ground lug which is connected to the gas cap ring. This is where the gas truck will connect his ground strap instead of onto the exhaust as he usually does. We believe that a ground wire should go into the tank from this ground lug or the gas cap ring such that it is immersed in fuel even when the airplane is parked nose down with minimum fuel in the tank. When we get ready to take on fuel , the procedure will be this: a short cable with alligator clips will be kept in the EZ and will be connected to the ground lug and to the gas truck's fuel nozzle BEFORE opening the gas cap. The gas truck's grounding cable will also be connected to this ground lug BEFORE the gas cap is removed. This will drain any static off the airframe, out of the inside of the fuel tank and also off the surface of the fuel in the tank where static can build up. Then we will open the cap and pump in fuel.
The friction of fuel through the nozzle and pouring from the nozzle to the inside of the fuel tank creates static electricity but this charge will drain away from the nozzle, the tank, and the surface of the fuel through our internal cable and ground lug, as well as through the truck's ground lines.
We are not experts in this area, however, we believe what we have outlined is a good common sense approach to eliminating the threat of a fire caused by static electricity arcing from the fuel to the nozzle or from the gas cap ring to the nozzle. We are open to suggestions on this potentially serious problem, but what we have outlined above is what we are doing to our airplanes, and we believe every builder/pilot should do to his or her airplane before the next time you refuel it. In addition, as Herb Anderson has recommended, we will carry a good quality Halon fire extinguisher which will be available to the pilot or person refueling the airplane. Once the refueling operation is complete, the gas cap should be closed and locked before any ground strap is removed.
We would like to thank Herb Anderson for writing his report for the CP. Taking these actions now, before it happens to you, may save you from a potentially very, very serious problem. (Click on image to enlarge)