Today I taxied out with the intent to fly to Petaluma where I was scheduled to present pictures from my recent OSH trip to the Petaluma EAA chapter.


I performed my run-up, got clearance to take off, pulled out onto the runway, pushed in the throttle and started the takeoff roll. Fifty feet down the runway the engine quit and would not start again.  I rolled off at bravo contacted ground and told them I was going to jump out of the plane and hand-pull it back to my hanger which was .54 miles, nice and level, thank goodness.  I put the plane back in the hanger and drove to the EAA meeting.  A few hours later I got back to my plane and dug into the problem.


Turns out the Gascolator and the carburetor float bowl were both full of water and there was still water in both tanks to boot; that’s a lot of water!


One tank had 100 LL in it and the other had Chevron supreme (with ethanol).  There was just as much water in the 100 LL as there was in the Chevron tank so the problem had nothing to do with ethanol.  Anyway, the Chevron fuel was only a week old – too soon to go stale and separate as it is rumored to do (but never has in my airplane).


As best I can determine the water got in when I washed the airplane last weekend.  Turns out both gas caps were loose.


Over the short life of the plane I have adjusted the tension on the gas caps many times.  The battle is to get them tight enough to seal but loose enough to turn into position to latch.  If they are too tight they will not turn.  Today I took the time to think about that problem and it is stupid simple to fix.  Just grind off a bit of the plastic that rotates so it has a sloped leading edge so it does not run into the metal filler neck.  Now my caps are tight and don’t hang up.  Why the heck didn't I do that years ago???




P.S. Yes I do occasionally check for water in the fuel just for the heck of it.  I never find any worth worrying about or enough to justify checking religiously.  I last checked it midway across country on the way back form OSH and as usual found nothing of interest.

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Comment by Stephen R. Smith on August 22, 2011 at 9:58am

Hello Jake,

The 100 LL does not seem to go stale.  It is the auto fuel with ethanol that can go stale.  I think the trick is to fly so often it does not have the chance to.

I am glad you finally got your plane closer to your new house where you can enjoy it.


Comment by Jake Reyna on August 22, 2011 at 8:00am

Steve, I made sure to drain some fuel from both tanks and gascolator before flying to Oregon. As for the rumor of 100LL going stale, etc., I had one tank full of fuel since November 2010 and didn't experience any problems. I did take off with the fresh fuel and after 30 minutes switched to the old fuel and flew a total of 1.5 hours, the last 30 minutes were on the fresh fuel tank, just in case ;-)



Comment by Ron Lendon on August 18, 2011 at 11:01pm
As a student pilot I did all those things and never had a misshap. This reminds me of a saying I sometimes use "The kind of discipline I need most is self inflicted" Glad you dodged that bullet and have the opportunity
to tell us about it.
Comment by Stephen R. Smith on August 18, 2011 at 12:23am

Hello Mack,

Woody was one of the first 601 pilots I told about the gas cap fix.  His 601 is hangered, as is mine, so I suspect he sees water in his fuel only when on cross country flights where his plane is outside over night and potentially in the rain.  I will ask him about that next time I see him.  (By the way, Woody left OSH and flew to North Carolina so he added many days and thousands of miles to his OSH adventure.)

The 601 trainer I learned to fly in was kept outside and often had small amounts of water in its fuel during the winter months when it got rained on.

I just did a little math and determined that I have added fuel to my plane between 250 and 300 times.  I have never had more than the tiniest amount of water in my fuel – right up to this ugly event.

By the way, on the day of the event, I switched tanks while taxing out.  It was the “slug” of water from the second tank that exceeded the water-holding capacity of the Gascolator and allowed water to flow to the carburetor.  Had I switched tanks when airborne that might have been all she wrote depending on what I was doing at the time.

I thank all of you for your comments.


Comment by Mack P. Kreizenbeck on August 17, 2011 at 8:48pm


Thanks for sharing your experience. We all learn from these happenstances. I noticed Woody had masking tape over his caps @ Oshkosh. I hope he is reading this and your solution helps him.

Glad you are safe!

Keep the greasy side down,


Comment by Dave Gardea on August 15, 2011 at 4:25pm
Steve, thanks for sharing this story as a learning experience for us all. In my short tenure thus far still working on my Phase 1, I'm still trying to develop those habits in operating from my check lists and taking care to do a thorough preflight. Just the other day, after returning to the hangar from a long flight, I found my fuel sump sampler sitting high up on the shelf where I knew I had replaced it after cleaning my work bench the other day, not where I would have left it after checking my fuel for water. In my haste to get in the air on a beautiful day and the distraction of others in the hangar area, I had obviously missed this step. Won't happen again. Thanks again for sharing.
Comment by David Gallagher on August 15, 2011 at 3:57pm

I second Larry's advice on BOTH the tanks and gascolator.  It was wierd timing that, just today, I was browsing through an old EAA Sport Aviation magazine from September, 1971 and ran across an article about checking your fuel system for water.  Seems the FAA had recently performed a test where they poured 3 gallons of water in a high-wing, tail-dragger airplane tank that was 1/2 full of fuel.  They drained 10 ounces of gasoline from the strainer at the very bottom before the first hint of water showed up in .  This did not seem right so they repeated the test with the airplane perfectly level and got a whole quart of fuel this time before any water.  They then built a transparent working model of the fuel system to see the fuel and water interact.  Seems the fuel quickly flows to the bottom of the fuel tanks themselves, but did not flow down the fuel lines to the strainer until all the fuel in the lines had drained away. 


I am sometimes tempted to skip the fuel check because my fuel always checks OK when my airplane is hangered.  I do it anyways, but will not be tempted anymore after reading Steve's post.


Be safe,



Comment by Larry Hursh on August 15, 2011 at 3:15pm
So much for following the check list, eh?  Just think Steve, you could have gotten airborne and with the end of the runway underneath would have no no choice but to down it straight ahead.  I do hope you've learned to ALWAYS check your wing tanks AND the gasolator!  Do not assume anything is ""good to go"".....You my friend, have just been given a second chance!!
Comment by Doug Dugger on August 14, 2011 at 6:51pm
you byum books and byum books and all they do is collect dust and just maybe a little water now and then.
Comment by Allen Furr on August 14, 2011 at 3:24pm
This is exactly why every flight gets a preflight and every preflight check for water in the gas. You would have caught the water in the tank before the takeoff roll. I'm glad it turned out ok and you were not hurt. Fly safe.

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