[In behalf of Anonymous user, originally posted on 22 Oct 2008]
Awhile ago I was taking a passenger to Nelson, before dropping off another in Wellington and then I was gonna return back to Palmy to pick up and then drop off an instructor in Wellington. I left Palmerston North with full tanks and after dropping of the NS pax, I decided to fill up the tanks to the step (65 litres aside) so I would be lighter and fly faster as I needed to get back to PM as soon as possible as the aircraft was needed. I left for Wellington climbing to 7500ft over the sounds at full throttle for most of the way, a quick stop and offload in Wellington before heading back to Palmy to pick the instructor. I had to do two trips to WN as the was too much weight on the first trip for 4 people. I was going to full up in Palmy before heading back to WN, but was rushed and was told that I had the aircraft for a little longer, but I still needed to hurry to get back in time. So I completely forgot about refuelling and got airborne for WN. I realised that I had forgotten to fill up in Palmy about halfway to WN, and thought Id just stick some in the tanks at the aeroclub while dropping off the passenger. However as we were taxiing in to the aeroclub the instructor said, "Just leave the engine going, I'll hop out and grab my bags". So I did just that and turned around to taxi for takeoff.
I sat on a taxiway waiting for quite some minutes for clearance for take-off as it was very busy. I was bored and was just glancing around the cockpit when something caught my eye….The left fuel gauge was reading 0!! I got a big fright and thought about turning around to refuel, but realised I had already asked for takeoff clearance and there was no way of turning around without going on the runway… How embarrasing!!! Anyway I decided that 12 gallons should be enough to get me back to PM, so I taxied on the almost empty tank and switched to the right tank just before takeoff. Im glad I noticed before I took off else an EFATO off runway 34 at WN would have been real interesting!!
I got airborne and as soon as I was level at 1500ft I reduced throttle to 2400rpm and leaned the mixture (yes not supposed to be done below 3000ft). I flew as efficiently as I could, with low rpm and mixture right back. I thought of landing in Paraparaumu, but thought Id have some serious explaining to do (as […we…] are not permitted to land at Pram), so my next thought was Foxpine…This would make me very late however, again explaining to do. So I made some calculations (as the fuel gauges are in gallons and we work in litres) and figured that with careful watching of the fuel gauges I could make it back to Palmy. All the while I was running over my Forced landing procedures, and what I would do if my engine died over the city. Anyway I made it back and taxied to the pumps (sure as hell didnt want the refueller asking questions about how low the tanks were). Ive never seen the cherokee tanks so empty! Anyway I ended up putting 162 litres of fuel in the tanks (182 capacity) which was below the minimum of 45 minutes of reserve fuel. I flew NS-WN-PM-WN-PM on 130 litres.
I took many lessons from this adventure…dont be pressured into going, no matter how embarassing it may be - safety first, a properly filled out flight plan and fuel log would have been good, and do all your checks properly (before take off etc.)