How To Fuel Light Aircraft By Yourself

Just like owning a house or a car, owning a light aircraft is a responsibility. While there may be folks available to do maintenance work and refueling, it’s always a good idea to learn to do these yourself.

Which is why it’s part of flight lessons for student pilots. Anyone who owns or flies a plane on their own should also know how to fuel it themselves. After all, you won’t have someone else to handle your refueling for you, especially if you’re on your own in an unfamiliar airport.

The 12 steps for refueling your own light aircraft all by yourself

  1. Always observe safety
  2. Approach the fueling area
  3. Connect the grounding wire
  4. Review the fuel pump instructions. Follow directions.
  5. Use the refueling nozzle.
  6. Fill your tanks and replace the caps.
  7. Rewind the fuel hose.
  8. Complete your payment.
  9. Disconnect the grounding wire.
  10. Secure your fuel caps.
  11. Sump the tanks.

The Basics

First things first: every time you fly, you’re expected to know a couple of things: 

  • what fuel grade is required for your aircraft, and 
  • how much fuel can your plane carry?

You should also have your plane’s registration number handy as well as other official documents, such as your aircraft manual, just in case.

Lastly: refueling your light aircraft is NOT like fuelling a car. There are a lot of safety measures put in place so you need to be a lot more mindful of what it is you’re doing at any given time.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Fueling

1. Always observe proper safety

We can’t stress this enough– always work with safety in mind. Always be mindful of what you’re doing. Pay attention to where emergency equipment is stowed nearby. And whenever you’re in doubt, always err on the side of caution.

Other safety tips to keep in mind:

  • It goes without saying that you should not be smoking around the fuel station, fuel truck, or near the tank farm.
  • Be particularly aware of fo your surroundings when you’re on the ramp.
  • Obey the rules of the ramp and vehicle corridors.
  • Before refueling, you should be adequately trained and briefed by the operator of the fuel station on proper fueling procedures.
  • Check for water in the fuel, before fuelling and during fuelling.
  • When done, always double-check that things are properly put away.
  • No smoking around fuel truck or near the tank farm.

2. Approach the fueling area

There are likely several fueling areas available. Choose an available spot and carefully maneuver your plane alongside the pump. You’ll want to run in a direction where you’re just close enough for the hoses and wires to reach your craft. 

Watch out particularly for your wingtips. It’s alright to use the tow bar to slowly pull your small plane to the pump, or push it away as needed.

In piston aircraft, use the grade of motor gasoline listed in the manual– this will likely be Avgas 100. For turbine aircraft, however, use Jet A1, unless your manual says otherwise.

3. Connect the grounding wire

Before you get any fuel flowing, ground your aircraft with the grounding line provided. You might encounter static electricity during the refueling process, so the grounding line is to help deter sudden discharges.

You’ll want to attach one end of the grounding line to bare metal on your aircraft– usually the exhaust stack. Take note, however, if you’ve just landed from a particularly long flight, your exhaust stack might still be hot.

4. Review the fuel pump instructions. Follow directions.

Different airports will have different fuel pumps, so take the time to look for the instruction card and follow the procedure indicated.

Note that you may need to flip a power switch on before entering any required information. You’ll also likely be swiping your credit card before any fueling occurs.

5. Use the refueling nozzle

A ladder is usually available for fueling high-wing aircraft, so take the ladder and position it so you have ready access.

Gently unreel the fuel hose and pull it to your aircraft. Remove the fuel cap, insert the nozzle, and squeeze the trigger to begin fueling. Unlike the pumps at a regular gas station, these nozzles typically don’t lock in the “on” position, so pay close attention and ease off on the trigger as the tank fills up.

Note: when fueling, touch the nozzle to the lip of the filler hole, so it is grounded in two places. Also: hold the refueling nozzle properly. Pay particularly close attention that it’s upright throughout the whole process and not leaning against the side of the opening. This way, you’re sure you’re not damaging any parts– whether it’s the nozzle, or more importantly, your aircraft.

6. Fill your tanks and replace the caps

Once your tank is filled up completely, carefully replace and secure the cap on the fuel tank. 

Move to the other wing and do it all over again. If you must lay the hose down, make sure the nozzle’s opening does not touch the ground. Fill up this tank, as well as other tanks your aircraft has. Some twin-engine planes might have as many as six tanks.

7. Rewind the fuel hose

Once you’re done, rewind the fuel hose. Stow it away properly for the next user. Many reels have springs or other similar mechanisms to help retract the hose. Guide the hose back so it rolls smoothly and retracts properly. 

8. Complete your payment

At this point, you may now complete your transaction at the fuel station. Switch off the main power if you’ve switched it on earlier.

9. Disconnect the grounding wire

Disconnect and carefully rewind the grounding wire in the same manner as you did with the fuel hose. 

10. Secure your fuel caps

Check your fuel caps once more to ensure they’re closed properly and adequately secured. Stow the ladder away as well for the next customer to use.

11. Sump the tanks

At this point, you may want to reposition your aircraft and get ready to go.

However, your new fuel might have a bit of water, so wait for the new fuel to settle before sumping the tanks. If you’re quite in a rush and need to get going, gently rock your wingtips up and down several times. This way, any water present gets to the lowest part of your tanks.

Do one last walk around your aircraft for a final inspection.

When Someone Else Fuels Your Plane

During those occasions where you might have someone servicing the fuel station or you have someone else fueling your aircraft, make it a point to be involved in the process. 

As a responsible aircraft owner, you still need to be on top of things, especially when it comes to making sure your is issue-free and ready to go. That said, here are just a few things to keep in mind when someone else is fueling your craft:

  • Fill out a fuel order. Specifically, you will need to indicate on the form the following:
    • your aircraft’s registration number, 
    • your type of fuel, 
    • and how much in each tank (or “top off,” if you want all tanks filled).
  • Make sure that the fuel truck used is marked for the type of fuel that you need. In most cases, this is likely 100LL, but check nevertheless. Fuel trucks carry only one grade of fuel.
  • From a safe distance, monitor the refueling process.
  • Finally, when the fueler is finished, check each fuel cap yourself. Most fuelers will appreciate your taking interest.

A Final Word

Do-it-yourself fueling of your aircraft is an essential skill as an aviator and as an aircraft owner. You’re not going to have serviced fuel stations all the time, so you’ll be expected to do the refueling yourself. 

This is a technique you will be taught during your flight instruction. And in addition, fuel station operators will also check and make sure you will be refueling your aircraft according to their procedures.