Jay Elinsky’s butterfly garden is a welcome haven for flying insects of all types, but it was an altogether different object that recently landed in his backyard oasis.
On Aug. 3 near his gazebo in the yard of his West Bethesda home, Elinsky found a military-issue fuel cap. The cap could have come from a helicopter or airplane, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters.
Elinsky was mowing his lawn when he noticed the part from J.C. Carter Co. lying on the ground amid some vegetation. He said a post on Facebook about his unusual find garnered multiple “likes.”
Still, the incident disturbed him. At 11.5 ounces, he said the fuel cap could have injured someone.
“Fortunately, it didn’t,” he said.
After doing an Internet search of the numbers listed on the part, he determined it was an aircraft fuel cap, a fact that was confirmed when the FAA picked it up from his home on Aug. 31.
“I think it's surprising that an airplane part would end up on my property,” Elinsky said. “What’s the chance of that?”
Elinsky’s house is within the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area and Flight Restricted Zone, which means general aviation pilots must request permission to enter the area, according to the Transportation Security Administration. But the neighborhood is near a flight path to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Peters said.
The FAA was unable to provide statistics on how often an aircraft reports a dropped fuel cap, but a study from the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority in Tennessee tracked missing fuel caps.
Between December 1998 and April 2009, 217 fuel caps were recovered at airports in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Memphis-Shelby report.
Peters declined to comment on the report.
“No, because what they’re probably talking about is caps for different aircraft,” he said. “Without specific information, without knowing how the report was compiled, we would not comment on it.”
It is unclear why the cap that landed in Elinsky’s yard fell off in midflight.
The part, called a pressure fuel servicing cap, is used on commercial and military aircraft throughout the world, wrote Kelly Jasko, a spokeswoman for Eaton Corporation. J.C. Carter Co. now is part of Eaton’s aerospace business. Peters said its loss would not have endangered the aircraft.
The cap is removed on the ground when the aircraft is being fueled, Jasko wrote. Its primary function is not to keep fuel in, but to keep debris out of the adapter that is used to fuel the aircraft. A valve that sits behind the cap prevents fuel loss, regardless of whether the cap is in place.
“The loss of this type of part during flight typically results from the cap being put on incorrectly (i.e., not screwing it on all the way to the locking mechanism),” she wrote.
The FAA staff will continue to try to identify the aircraft from which the cap came, Peters said.
“If we do that, then we can notify the military branch,” he said.