AVmail: January 28, 2013
Letter of the Week: Mogas Options
I note the article in the Jan. 24 issue of AVweb, "Fuel Projects Move Forward, But Slowly," and I appreciate the reference to mogas in the article; however, I would like to clarify and expand a couple of points.
The price differential between mogas and 100LL is far greater today than it was in the 1980s, not the other way around. And it is the addition of ethanol that has thrown a wrench into the works insofar as the availability of mogas is concerned. Auto gas has not fallen out of favor; it's been contaminated.
While indeed there are fewer airports selling mogas today than in the late '80s, the reason for that is the EPA regs that forced the removal of underground tanks in the 1990s — not because there was inadequate demand, not because it had "fallen out of favor." What are lacking today are reliable sources of non-ethanol gasoline.
Then there was this statement:
Another option on the table, albeit not an approved aviation fuel, is mogas.
Statements like that are what hold back a wider acceptance of mogas, and we've been battling that same negative attitude for years. Once it is placed into a properly STC'd airplane, autogas becomes an approved "aviation" fuel. It is viewed that way for tax purposes by the individual states and by the federal government. In the 1980s, the FAA viewed it that way as well. You may call it what you will, but the fact remains that auto gas has been in use legally since 1983. Thousands of pilots have saved literally millions of dollars by switching from 100LL to auto gas. While the fuel itself may not be "certified" as avgas, engines that burn it are — by virtue of the Supplemental Type Certificates that approve it.
A great deal of the hand wringing over a drop-in replacement could be avoided if our airports were able to order up premium unleaded E0 mogas rather than waiting another 11 years for Swift or GAMI. If the alphabets had been doing their job properly, then they would have made at least some effort to keep premium mogas ethanol-free when the ethanol mandates were being codified. Doing nothing, however, allowed auto gas to fade away without anyone having to lift a finger to make it happen, and the only thing left would be some vague promise of a drop-in replacement — eventually.
Then there is the notion that our highest-powered aircraft cannot use mogas, which is blatantly wrong. I continue to maintain that 99% of the high-powered end of the fleet could use premium mogas with an anti-detonation injection (ADI) system making up the octane deficit in the higher-powered airplanes.
Keep in mind what has happened just in the past couple of years. The new LSA class have type certificates that approve autogas as well as the latest generation of engines for these aircraft — Rotax, Jabiru, I0-233 and others. See see this link for a list.
The latest generation of AF (alternative fuel) engines from Continental and Lycoming are designed to operate on certain grades of mogas as well.
Finally, the world's largest producer of light aircraft, Tecnam, has an "all mogas" policy for all their aircraft, including the new 11-seat, Lycoming-powered P2010, certified from day one to operate on mogas.
This demonstrates that many of the leading manufacturers of engines and aircraft are of the opinion that auto gas will play more than a minor role in what is to come. They are building airplanes and engines right now, today, which will burn unleaded auto gas. If anything, many in this industry are of the opinion that a drop-in replacement will play a non-existent role in the fuel transition. These companies clearly are not waiting another decade for someone to produce a new fuel.
Todd L. Petersen
An Ally in Motorsports?
I am aware of a family of high-octane leaded and unleaded fuels for piston engines available right now that I imagine would be useable for aviation with minimal or no changes to the fuel. These are auto racing fuels.
Sunoco is one manufacturer of racing fuels and makes a number of blends that are used by different areas of motor sports. These fuels range from 94 octane up to 104 octane, using the (R+M)/2 method (a different method of measuring octane than we use to measure 100LL).
Some of these are leaded, and some are not. I can remember smelling exhaust fumes from race cars that smelled very similar to the exhaust fumes from aircraft burning 100LL. More info about their fuels is is here.
As we all know, there are many characteristics of avgas that separate it from mogas — such as longer storage life, more expensive refining and transportation costs, and oxygenation by adding ethanol, among other factors. It looks like these same challenges are being addressed and paid for by the racing community.
One more market for an existing family of unleaded fuels should help with keeping costs for a fuel solution as low as possible. Also, these fuels have already been tested in extreme conditions and under high-performance demands. Could there be a solution to our aircraft fuel needs over at our nearest professional racing venue?
Glider Incident a Symptom
Regarding your blog on the glider incident: I've spent the last nine years fighting the exact same ignorance and stupidity here in the D.C. area that was exposed down south in this incident. If you don't understand why people are so upset over the incident, you don't, in my estimation, understand the Constitution of the United States. What happened in Darlington is symptomatic of what's happening across the country. People overreact to a perceived threat, and, the next thing you know, civil liberties are violated wholesale.
In fairness, this isn't new. During the Second World War, GA aircraft owners were required to guard their planes or remove the props because they were perceived to be threats to the nation. Of course, that was in a time when U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were interned. One would think we've progressed since then, but when it comes to aviation, I fear we haven't.
I think that you've not been exposed to the kind of bureaucratic thinking in the government that I have, including senior DHS officials asking me in 2003, "Why do you guys have to own airplanes, anyway? They just make our jobs harder." No, I'm not kidding. American citizens serving in regulatory positions actually asked those questions. After the start of the Iraq War in 2003 and the imposition of the ADIZ/SFRA, just the economic losses alone were devastating, yet no one seemed to notice.
There's also the cumulative effect problem. Do you think airspace restrictions will be relaxed when the Iraq War ends? No, because even the regulators who know better call them "9/11 restrictions" when, in fact, most of them were originally imposed as temporary measures during the conflicts in the Middle East. Now they're permanent, and our businesses suffer for it.
Frankly, I think not enough people are getting upset about [the glider] incident, not the other way around, and I think you've seriously missed the whole point here. No one needs a Corvette, but here in the greatest country in the free world, if you work hard and save your money, you can own one. No one needs a glider, but if you want to enjoy the freedom of the skies, you can. It's not important whether it was the power plant security guys or the county sheriff who did wrong. They both screwed up and should be publicly held accountable for it.
What you're also missing is that, in my experience, these kinds of "misunderstandings" are often used by regulators to increase oversight. Rather than the logical response, which would be to educate people on the proper responses and the appropriate attitudes, it's often the opposite.
For example, the visit by President Bush to the Fallen Firefighters Memorial moved the Camp David TFR by four miles, just enough to catch a couple of folks on the edge. The government's response was to create a working group to create a larger TFR. Cooler heads prevailed, thank goodness, but the reaction is scary, to say the least.
Dennis B. Boykin IV
The writer serves as chairman of the Leesburg Executive Airport Commission in Leesburg, Virginia. The opinions expressed are his own.
Where was the Domestic Events Network in all of this?
My guess is the local sheriffs department is not a participant and should be, but a 121.5 call to the ARTCC may have gotten the system engaged.
Push in the Wrong Direction?
If you want to read more about Pardo's Push, read A Fighter Pilot's Story by Robin Olds. The brass were more than displeased. They wanted to court martial both men. The Silver Star commendations were submitted to prevent the courts martial.
It speaks to the lack of leadership in the USAF during the Vietnam War. I'm a former F-4 crew chief. I still love that jet.
Successful men and women have, in my experience, a common trait: the ability to think out side of the "box," searching for solutions while staying focused on the problem(s) at hand. Bob Pardo (and team) stayed focused on flying their jets while searching for and trying out possible solutions to their problem, getting his wingman closer to safety.
I'm not sure you can teach this, but I do believe that it is a skill that needs be cultivated in the men and women training as pilots. Further, it needs to be cultivated in each and every young man and woman as they mature into adulthood.
There are few greater gifts that one can bestow upon another person than to allow, encourage, or mentor that person into discovering multiple solutions to a problem and to be allowed to test out these solutions in a non-caustic environment.
Thanks for the story/video of "Pardo's Push" — I enjoyed it.
I'm probably the umpteenth person to point out a small oops on your latest "Short Final" entry: Three Bells would be 0130, 0530, 0930, 1330, 1730, and 2130. Also, some ships ring the bells on the second dog watch (beginning at 1800) as 1-2-3-8, so it's possible to hear Three Bells at 1930. 1500 would be Six Bells. See here for a more thorough explanation.
Our thanks to the many readers who set us straight. Our ears are ringing.