Synthetic Jet Fuel Test A Success

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Tests of a new synthetic aviation fuel in California this week attracted wide attention as airlines -- and other oil-guzzling industries -- hoped for a break from high oil prices. The U.S. Air Force tested the fuel in a B-52 bomber Tuesday morning at Edwards Air Force Base. The bomber flew with two of its eight jet engines burning a 50-50 blend of conventional JP-8 and a synthetic fuel produced from natural gas. An Air Force spokesman said the engines running on the synthetic fuel performed as well as the others, though final test results are pending. The flight was cut short due to a mechanical issue with the B-52's left wing-tip landing gear, which was unrelated to the fuel test. The aircraft landed safely without incident.

The flight marked the first time a U.S. military aircraft was powered by something other than regular jet fuel made from oil. The process used to produce the synthetic fuel from natural gas can also be used starting with coal, which is the ultimate goal. The U.S. has a coal reserve of about 500 billion tons, which is about a 200-year supply. Experts disagree as to whether the synthetic fuel would be any cheaper than oil-based fuel. The main attraction is the domestic supply source. The coal-based synthetic fuel also burns cleaner, emitting fewer pollutants into the atmosphere.