Sunday, December 26, 2021

Fuel Starvation: Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee C, N818TF; accident occurred June 28, 2021 in Woodland, Haywood County, Tennessee

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Nashville, Tennessee

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:
Old School Aircraft LLC

Location: Woodland, Tennessee 
Accident Number: ERA21LA273
Date and Time: June 28, 2021, 16:48 Local
Registration: N818TF
Aircraft: Piper PA-28-180
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Fuel starvation
Injuries: 1 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Instructional


The solo-student pilot reported that, during his preflight inspection, the fuel level was “…just below the tabs in each wing.” He later reported that he took off with 24 gallons of fuel on board and the fuel capacity of the airplane was 50 gallons. Takeoff, departure, and enroute operations were uneventful. About one hour into the flight, he noted a loss of engine power. He attempted to maintain glide speed while pumping the throttle to regain power. Unable to regain power, he looked for an area to perform a forced landing. While approaching a field, the airspeed decreased to near stall speed and the airplane struck tress before reaching the open field. The airplane impacted the trees and came to rest in a nose low attitude.

An inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration responded to the accident site and confirmed that damage to the fuselage and wings was substantial. The fuel selector was on the right tank position, and the right tank was uncompromised and empty of fuel. The left tank contained about 15 gallons of fuel. The pilot later reported that he never switched from the right tank during flight, and he failed to monitor his fuel status and allowed the fuel in the right tank to “burn out.”

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The student pilot’s inadequate monitoring of his fuel state during a solo training flight, which resulted in fuel starvation, a total loss of engine power, and a forced landing.


Aircraft Fuel - Fluid management
Personnel issues Forgotten action/omission - Pilot

Factual Information

History of Flight

Maneuvering Fuel starvation (Defining event)
Emergency descent Off-field or emergency landing

Pilot Information

Certificate: Student 
Age: 18, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None 
Restraint Used: Lap only
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed:
Medical Certification: Class 2 Without waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: March 2, 2021
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 26 hours (Total, all aircraft), 26 hours (Total, this make and model), 8 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 20 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 10 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N818TF
Model/Series: PA-28-180
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1967 
Amateur Built:
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 28-4031
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: June 12, 2021 Annual 
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2400 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 6533 Hrs as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT: Installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-360-A4A
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 180
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC)
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KMKL,433 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 9 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 16:53 Local 
Direction from Accident Site: 89°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 7000 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 6 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 150° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.11 inches Hg 
Temperature/Dew Point: 30°C / 21°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Jackson, TN (KLR) 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: VFR
Destination: Woodland, TN 
Type of Clearance: VFR
Departure Time: 15:48 Local
Type of Airspace: Class E

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Minor 
Latitude, Longitude: 35.590358,-89.100681(est)


  1. Interesting!

    The following pilot statement was provided by Mr. Hilliard via telephone conversation.

    • The fuel level was “just below the tabs.” His instructor was with him during the preflight
    and agreed that the tanks did not need to be topped. He thought the tanks were about
    equal. He did not recall looking at the fuel gauges or recalling what they indicated. When
    asked if he knew many gallons were in each tank, he responded “not exactly.”
    • The PA-28-180 had 25-gallon tanks each side.
    • Mr. Hilliard was asked about “sticking the tanks.” He was unfamiliar with the procedure.
    • He planned to fly for 2 hours.
    • When asked when he was planning to switch tanks, he responded that he didn’t know, it
    just slipped his mind.
    • He flew full rich the entire flight, did not lean the engine. It burns about 8 gal/hr.
    • Mr. Hilliard was asked if he understood what happened, and he responded that he failed
    to pay attention to how much fuel he had in the right tank and allowed it to "burn out".

  2. Obviously had no training on restart procedures. "Pumping the throttle" is not the first step in any restart checklist...

  3. His career in aviation is hopefully over.very lucky to walk away or not stuff it in someones house. The Eagles Burnout Burnout.....

    1. ^^Yep. This is washout 101 fail right here. If you are signed off for student solo but can't manage the aircraft's systems due to attention deficit, get out of the cockpit forever. It's well beyond training at this point. Just about anyone can fly a Cherokee or Skyhawk, but not everyone has the discipline to manage it in flight by the book. This kid's nonchalant responses to the NTSB investigator's questions say it all. This is the gem of gems when asked what his plan was for switching fuel tanks: "it
      just slipped his mind."

      Yeah, hopefully he manages a vehicle on the highways better than he manages an aircraft in flight. Maybe he can deliver pizzas for a living and not run out of gas.