On January 13, 2012, about 1930 central standard time, a twin-engine Aero Commander 500-B airplane, N524HW, experienced a loss of engine power during cruise flight near Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The airline transport rated pilot, sole occupant, received only minor injuries during a forced landing and the airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was owned and operated by Central Airlines, Inc. Fairway, Kansas, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a positioning flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan. The flight originated from the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (KMKC), Kansas City, Missouri, about 1810, en route to the Cushing Municipal Airport (KCUH), Cushing, Oklahoma.

The pilot reported that he was at an altitude of 8,000 feet, just southwest of Bartlesville, when the right engine surged and lost partial power. He adjusted the power and mixture controls, which seemed to correct the problem; however, a few seconds later the engine surged again. The pilot noted that the fuel flow gauge was below 90 pounds, so he turned the right fuel boost pump on. The pilot added he then got a surge on the left engine, so he performed the same actions he did for the right engine and felt that he had some sort of fuel starvation problem. The pilot contacted air traffic control and started his turn to the Bartlesville airport (KBVO), at which time, both engines lost total power. The airplane impacted trees and terrain, about 1.5 miles from the airport. The pilot added that before he secured the airplane and turned the master battery switch off, the fuel gauge was still indicating 100 gallons.

The responding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector reported that the airplane received heavy damage during the collision with trees and terrain. The on-site examination of the airplane revealed that the airplane was sitting on its belly, with the main landing gear partly extended. The fuselage just aft of the wings was severely damaged, both the left and right wings were damaged, and the nose of the aircraft was damaged. A hole on the underside of the left wing root exposed the fuel tank bladder. The bladder appeared to have been breached; there was no evidence of a fuel leak on the ground, adjacent the wing.

The inspector added that before moving the airplane wreckage, he turned on the airplane’s battery power and observed the fuel gauge. The fuel gauge moved from below “E” to just above “E”, when power was applied. The inspector noted that about a gallon of fuel was captured from the aircraft, prior to the wreckage retrieval.

A company check pilot flew the aircraft on its previous flight on 11 January. The check pilot reported he ferried the airplane from Chicago back to KMKC, arriving with 50 gallons of fuel remaining. He added there were no mechanical problems with the airplane and that he verbally passed the airplane’s fuel status to dispatch. The pilot also reported that the airplane fuel gauge had a unique trait; after the airplane’s electrical power has been turned off, the gauge will rise 40 to 60 gallons before returning to zero.

The company’s director of operations stated that the fuel consumption on the Aero Commander is about 15 gallons per hour, per engine.

Prior to the accident flight, the airplane was moved from the ramp to the company’s hangar; however, the pilot who taxied the airplane could not recall the amount of fuel on the airplane.

The company’s route coordinator reported that he met the pilot on the day of accident flight and gave him the credit card for fuel and a ride to the hangar. The coordinator stated that he stayed by the airplane’s door, while the pilot sat in the pilot’s seat, turned on the master switch and checked the fuel. The coordinator stated that the pilot said the airplane had “120 gallons of fuel”.

The FAA inspector examined a similar airplane to the accident airplane, at the company’s facility in Cushing, Oklahoma. The inspector noted that when the master switch was turned to the battery position, the fuel gauge indicated approximately 100 gallons of fuel; however, when the master switch was turned to the off position, the fuel quantity on the gauge rose to 120 gallons, before dropping off scale empty. The inspector also removed the fuel cap and that he could see fuel in the tank, but there was no way of verifying how much fuel was in the tank.

A review of the operator’s “Preflight Visual Inspection of the airplane – Aero Commander 500 B/U” checklist; included “fuel quantity – check level and security of fuel cap”; however, a specific method to check fuel quantity was not specified.

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