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Trivia Testers

An airplane with leaky fuel caps is sitting out in the rain. How long might it take each drop of water, the moment it gains access to the fuel tank, to: a) reach the bottom of the tank; and b) get to the engine?

"Splitting Hairs" Department
As we know, third class medical certificates are valid for 36 calendar months for those of us under 40 years old, and 24 calendar months, if you are 40 years old or more. Okay, so what happens if you are a pilot who is less than three years from being 40? Do you still get three years, even though part of your "medical currency period" runs after you've hit the big FOUR-OH ?

  1. It's good until the last day of the month of your 40th birthday.
  2. Your medical is valid for 36 calendar months, regardless.
  3. If you are within 24 calendar months of your 40th birthday, your medical certificate is valid until the end of the year during which that 24th month occurs.
  4. If you're two years or less from your 40th birthday, you get 24 calendar months. If your 40th birthday is 24 to 36 months off, you get 36 months.

Answer: Surprisingly, it's actually spelled out fairly well. Part of the apparent confusion may be that its apparent optimism and leniency may seem too good to be true. It isn't. In this case, it's in CFR Title 14, Part 61.23(c)(3)(ii)(A). According to the rule, a third class medical certificate (one issued after September 16, 1996 at least, which does seem kind of academic, by now) expires at the end of the 36th month after the month of the date of the examination shown on the certificate, if the person has not reached his or her 40th birthday on or before the date of the examination. In fact, according to the AOPA ePilot, Volume 3, Issue 24, on June 13, 2003, even for someone who is 39 and will shortly be 40, their medical certificate is valid for 36 calendar months--the last day of their "birthday month", three years later. The answer is B.

Answers to medical questions like this can be found on AOPA Online:

The first candidate for membership in the mile-high club was:

  1. Howard Hughes, in 1937
  2. Nelson Rockefeller, in 1979
  3. Lawrence Sperry, in 1916
  4. Rudolph Valentino, in 1925

Figure 1 Answer: Well, it wasn't Nelson Rockefeller; the former vice president of the United States under President Gerald Ford wasn't the first member of the Mile-High Club. (Also, the year 1979 does seem to be a bit late for such a hallmark of audacity, doesn't it?) He did do something somewhat scandalous, though: he died (at age 71) while somewhat aloft in his Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan (in the act of adultery with a woman 45 years his junior). Rockefeller's wife, Happy, wasn't too happy when she heard the news; she had him promptly cremated, 18 hours later. It wasn't Howard Hughes, though he probably did join the club. After all, he was a glamorous pilot, rich and famous, an engineer in his own right, and probably slept with far too many Hollywood starlets. Rudolph Valentino was a famous silent film era heartthrob, but didn't have much in common with airplanes. The correct answer was the earliest one, too, back in 1916. It was Lawrence Sperry (choice C), the fearless and adventuresome son of Elmer Sperry of gyroscope fame. As handsome as any leading man, and an engineering wizard, he invented the turn-and-bank indicator as well as the autopilot. While flying over Babylon, New York with Manhattan socialite Mrs. Waldo Polk, who was as enamored of flying as he was, he put his automatic pilot to the test. Unfortunately, they didn't quite make it and as a result of something going amiss with the stabilizing mechanism, duck hunters soon plucked two start naked swimmers out of the Great South Bay. (If you'd ever like to read about it, here's the book.) And by the way, one doesn't actually need to be a mile high to join the Club (or so they say).

Chinese Water Torture
An airplane with leaky fuel caps is sitting out in the rain. How long might it take each drop of water, the moment it gains access to the fuel tank, to: a) reach the bottom of the tank; and b) get to the engine?

  1. a few minutes to reach the bottom of the tank, and a few hours more to reach the engine
  2. a very few seconds to reach the bottom of the tank, and a few minutes more to reach the engine
  3. a few minutes to reach the bottom of the tank, and only a few seconds to reach the engine
  4. just a few seconds to reach the bottom of the tank, but a few hours to reach the engine

As you probably know from draining a fuel sample from a wing tank of an airplane (either from first-hand experience, or vicariously), a slug of water will immediately make its way to the bottom of the fuel strainer. Of course, this is because water is heavier than avgas, and given a free path, the difference in densities means a rapid trip to the bottom for any parcel of entrained water. So that knocks out choices A and C. However, that slug of water, in addition to being allowed to escape into your fuel strainer or GATS jar when you visit the fuel drains, can also get to the fuel line, and make its way to your engine! There's some good news, and some bad news: because water (and all liquids) are basically incompressible, and because of the adhesive forces in a narrow fuel line, that water is sitting atop a column of fuel and cannot easily make its way into your engine. After perhaps six, eight, or maybe ten hours though, it can. So if you don't drain your fuel system well at the "engine" end, and you just drain the quick drains and take off, you may have just enough time for a run-up and takeoff. The owner's manual for a Cherokee 235 says to first drain the fuel tanks, and then the belly drains from the tip and main tanks (11 seconds for each tip tank, in fact, because that's how long it takes to drain them). When you drain the tanks like that, you also pull out any water that got into the fuel line, and might already have made its way to your engine! So the answer is D. This information was provided to me by the good graces of CFII Pat Olivolo of Maryland. As a former FAA Aviation Safety Inspector, he has personally investigated at least two accidents that occurred under circumstances such as those just described.

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