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When the plane has run out of fuel, is it possible to find fuel substitutes onboard?

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Commercial Pilot, General Aviation

Once I read about a commercial airplane that, while flying, run out of fuel and the pilots used the alcohol that the plane carried onboard (in the form of bottled whiskey etc) as a substitute for fuel. I remember it worked and the plane managed to land safely. Does anyone remember this story?

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3 Answers

  1. Nathan Parker on Jun 25, 2011

    I’m a bit puzzled about how they would introduce the alcohol into the fuel system from inside the cabin.  Also, considering the fuel burn per minute of a transport category aircraft, the quantities of alcohol likely to be in the cabin probably wouldn’t last more than a second or two.  And alcohol has less energy content than Jet A.
    I also wonder that the crew would have the time to be scouring the cabin for such combustionables; in this sort of scenario, they’re usually pretty busy.  I suspect they’d more likely be able to improve their prospects by configuring the aircraft properly and be seeking out a landing place. 
    The story sounds like fiction to me.

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  2. Pat Flannigan on Jun 25, 2011

    Although I can’t definitively bust this myth, I find it highly suspect.
    In the event of a double engine failure, the flight crew will be bombarded by a series of system failures associated with the loss of power. The appropriate response is to follow established procedures which involve application of the Double Engine Failure checklist. This checklist will direct the pilots to attempt to relight the engines and in the worst case, direct them to plan a forced landing. Time is short and creative problem solving is detrimental to the goal: landing.
    As Nathan mentioned, the quantity of alcohol on board is another factor that makes this even more unbelievable. The CRJ-200 burns through just over 2,000 lbs/hr at long-range cruise. That’s about 285 gallons per hour. Even if alcohol burned as efficiently as Jet-A, you would need almost 30 gallons of booze to fly a small regional jet for 10 minutes
    Furthermore, I can’t imagine any way to introduce any sort of fuel to the aircraft from the cockpit or cabin. All the fueling points are located outside of the airplane, so unless somebody was willing to do some airliner wing-walking, it just isn’t going to happen. 
    I’m going to have to call this one as myth busted.

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  3. James MacGregor CFI on Jun 26, 2011

     Is it POSSIBLE, sure, however I would put it up there with the posbility of making a parachute out of things you find in a plane a just jumping out safley, yea I’m sure it could happen, but doubt it would happen   
     Rate it 90% McGiver, 10% real life

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