Is Lead in Fuel Morally Bad?

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In my workshop, I have three gallons of a deadly blend of methanol, toluene and methyl ethyl ketone. It's explosively flammable, it's a breathing hazard and a suspected carcinogen. Why, in a society that prides itself on protecting its citizens from undue hazards, am I allowed to have this stuff?

Because it's otherwise known as lacquer thinner and I use it as a solvent to cut lacquer-based paints. The can is festooned with warning labels and, evidently, we've decided that the benefits of its use outweigh the hazards. Or maybe it's just that environmental groups haven't gotten around to convincing the government to declare lacquer thinner a controlled dangerous substance. After all, one could make the argument that one gallon of lacquer thinner is one gallon too many.

I submit that lead in aviation gas ought to be—but is not—treated similarly. When lead was phased out of autogas during the 1980s, it was, without question, the right thing to do. Millions of cars were spewing tons of lead byproducts into the air, and the larger issue was that lead emissions fouled the catalytic converters that have substantially reduced air pollution and photochemical smog.

Now we come to the same juncture—finally—with leaded avgas. Or maybe not. The numbers aren't nearly so convincing. Avgas accounts for less than one percent—way less—of all the light motor fuel burned in the U.S., so airplane emissions are a tiny fraction of the total vehicle-originated pollution load. True, avgas might account for a large portion of the total lead pollution, but these days, that's not much.

So the question is, is it still too much? The Friends of the Earth say it is, thus they are petitioning the EPA to regulate lead out of existence as an octane additive. And that brings us up to date, as the EPA has ordered lead emission studies at a number of U.S. airports in advance of rulemaking to eliminate lead. This may turn out to be as much politics as science, but that's how things go these days.

First, Friends of the Earth. This group is a network of environmental activists, and it is not without resources. As card-carrying members of our own special interest group targeted by FOE, we might dismiss them as environmental wackos but this is, in my view, an infantile characterization. These are serious people. They have their agenda, we have ours. It's not impossible that they're right.

At issue is how airborne lead affects public health in general and children specifically. The FOE and EPA are arguing that epidemiological studies show that small differences in lead content can measurably impact IQ scores. By measurable, we are talking about 0.08 IQ point which, extrapolated to a larger population, means this: At a lead content of .06 micrograms per cubic meter, the number of children with IQs below 80 would rise to 10.66 percent from 10.56 percent if the same air were lead free.

While I consider myself sensitive to environmental issues, I'm not buying the science on this one. My J-school education was short on epidemiology, but I've covered enough of these issues to sense that this just doesn't add up. There are too many variables involved in IQ determination to split the hairs into tenths, never mind hundredths, even among large population groups. And how strong is this supposed correlation? Has it proven to be repeatable? Have other factors been ruled out?

I'm open-minded and willing to be convinced, but so far, no sale. To me, the science isn't a credible enough foundation upon which to build public policy. Further, the EPA hasn't been forthcoming on the methods used to measure airborne lead content around airports it has examined. Without that data, the science is ever more suspect.

One idea floating around is the so-called "Oshkosh experiment." This would involve placing lead monitors around the airport during AirVenture which is, arguably, the most intense piston GA event on the planet. While it sounds appealing, I'd be a little careful with this idea unless we as an industry are prepared to confront what we might find. Suppose the measured lead content is twice the .06 value? Or 10 times or 100 times? Now what? If those undertaking such an experiment are confident the lead value would be below the background noise, I'm all for it. If not, better be prepared for an answer you might not like.

My guess is that at times, there's enough activity at Oshkosh to spike a well-designed lead monitoring network. (Think about 30 or 40 airplanes idling on departure day.) But at typical airports in the U.S.—even busy ones—I seriously doubt lead pollution is significant. That's my gut feel for it. Yours might be different.

So, if I were setting public policy here, I'd leave lead in avgas alone. There are much larger public health issues to address—tobacco and obesity come to mind—than this one. If, on its own, the industry determines that unleaded fuels have other benefits, not the least of which is lower cost, then we should let lead go. But that's a market solution, not a regulatory one. I see that as a good thing.

You do hear this argument a lot: Well, there's only one source of TEL in the world and it's threatened. That's a reference to the Octel plant in the U.K. But let's wake up and smell the coffee. If that plant is phased out and there's still money to be made making and selling TEL, the Chinese will fall all over themselves to capture the market, if they aren't already.

TEL manufacture is nasty business, which may alone argue for phasing it out. But in my view, the public health case hasn't been made. What I'm sensing is a feel-good, group think momentum that accepts the notion that the only good lead is no lead when there may be no science to support that.

Over to you, FOE.

Comments (174)

Finally!!! Paul thank you for providing some common sense dialogue on the lead in avgas issue. I would like to share three key facts that have kept lead in the avgas we fly for so many years.

1. Lead is an excellent octane booster.
2. Lead inhibits microbial growth and is the major reason that avgas has such an excellent shelf life.
3. Lead is the cheapest gasoline octane booster available.

All alternative involve some type of tradeoff, either performance limitations, cost, or incompatiblity with the current fleet or a combination of factors.

Lead is RELATIVELY SAFE when properly handled and used. Dont throw out the baby with the bath water.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | February 16, 2010 2:52 PM    Report this comment

I think the real environmental issues with leaded fuel are totally overblown. I would like to see an unleaded fuel like 92UL become common for other reasons - for one, I believe it will be somewhat cheaper (or perhaps not increase as much as 100LL) As a mechanic, I get tired of digging chunks of lead out of the plugs and dealing with chronic valve problems especially on the smaller engines. As for me, as long as I can get ethanol-free mogas from my fuel wholesaler it's a non-issue anyhow.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 16, 2010 5:00 PM    Report this comment

Speaking of infantiles and whackos! What part of air and water polution are you in favour of promoting? You are proud to harbor dangerous chemicals and untill your liver gives up or you plane and hanger burns down you'll fight for the risk! I'll never understand being proud of the lack of education either. I'll assume you enjoy picking lead from 8-12 sparkplugs at a far away airport which has closed for the night! Give me a break Paul, any polution that can be avoided is better than not!

Posted by: Larry Fries | February 17, 2010 4:44 AM    Report this comment

There's lead and there's lead. If one were to ingest a large amount of lead II, one would expect it to be biologically available. Lead III (in the highly oxidized state emerging from an internal combustion engine) isn't.

The issue is really the catalytic converter. Richard C. Gerstenberg, whose other accomplishment was to make General Motors' cars so unappealing that the company lost a quarter of its market share in the early '70s, decided that the catalytic converter was to be his monument. There were other, better, safer, and cheaper technologies available to reduce NOx, hydrocarbons, and CO, but he had the industry clout to force all the other manufacturers to adopt the Pt/Pd converter technology.

One problem: lead will poison the catalyst very rapidly, so it had to go.

How to do this? Enlist the brain-dead "environmentalists" in much the same way that the AGW conspirators have done recently. the AGW scam artists got caught; the lead-in-gasoline Luddites did not.

Here's a factoid for you: every year the Congressional Black Caucus mandates several tens of millions of dollars for lead testing in inner city kids as an attempt to fix blame on element 82 for their poor academic performance. To date, there is no statistical correlation nor is there evidence of elevated lead levels.

There however are a large number of "environmental" whacko dupes who have jumped on the bandwagon.

It's too bad that most Americans go not know chemistry.

Posted by: Bill Hill | February 17, 2010 7:02 AM    Report this comment

Watching this blog with interest.

Posted by: Unknown | February 17, 2010 7:17 AM    Report this comment

Lead does raise octane cheaply, but despite the pro lead propaganda we have been bombarded with, lead is bad for engines as well as people. As the comments above indicate, it clogs spark plugs and makes valves stick, leading to burnt valves and cylinder changes. We forget that when lead was introduced, engines had to be modified to accept it, otherwise engine life and reliability was reduced. Some aircraft engines tolerate leaded fuel, others do very poorly on it. I have a certified aircraft for which there is no Mogas STC, otherwise I would be burning leadfree today. A fleet of towplanes with the same engine as mine (Lycoming 0360) tried Mogas in some of the engines for a season. The result? 50% more cylinder life; no valve sticking, no fouled plugs, and no gray sludge in the oil to clog up the engine. No issues with vapour lock either. As for the purported superior stability of Avgas, I have experience with Mogas up to two years old starting and running normally in all kinds of engines. Give us lead free fuel, it has already been demonstrated by GAMI among others, that even the most high strung engines can be made happy without TEL.
Brian Hope

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | February 17, 2010 7:38 AM    Report this comment

See the third comment. He really thinks that Paul promotes pollution. That's what we face. Illogical thinking in favor of a political agenda.

I was at a small aviation airport yesterday. My wife flew our plane there to have our seats reupholstered. The delivery man at the gate would not give me the gate code so I could drive in. He said: " I don't know who you are!!"
I told him this is a general aviation airport and ANYBODY should be able to go in. We all pay taxes for the airpot and have a right to enter. Some young people might want to take lessons or folks might be meeting friends to go flying. I had to show him my airport badge that I had from a commercial airport where I was based. I told him I think the TSA should be sbolished, but he said: "At least they are keeping us safe". That statement is the kind of illogic that the third comment reminds me of. There were two other gates that were left open all teh time anyway, one about 200 feet away! The only thing I see from TSA is an ever-greater power grab, and more loss of our constitutional rights, as well as huge negative impact on GA. IF we can't stop them, it will be the death knell of GA.

As far as avgas is concerned, I agree with Paul. There is NOT enough evidence to coroborate their claims. Everybody's a statistician it seems, to push ahead one's agenda. The statistics and science are not there to warrant the removal of lead from 100LL. I am a former medical researcher.

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 17, 2010 7:43 AM    Report this comment

Paul - read 'Scared to Death' (Booker & North) for a skeptical account of the 'lead in petrol' debate. Your instincts on the epidemiology seem to be right, from that account at least. Some very dodgy science has entered mainstream thinking and been adopted as dogma.

The main issue for GA is that it's an easy target for the environmental NGOs; their whole approach denies that cost/benefit judgements need to be made on this issue. But as you say, they need to be taken seriously rather than dismissed as whackos, regardless of what we think of the science and logic of their position.

Your esteemed politicians will throw GA under the wheels without a second's hesitation if they think it will buy them environmental credentials. The scientific debate over lead in avgas is therefore moot.

Posted by: Ceri Reid | February 17, 2010 8:12 AM    Report this comment

I am in my late sixties. Picture Los Angeles in the fifties, on a nice fall day, with a temperature inversion, during rush hour, standing in the smoke of burning raked leaves, smoking a cigarette and drinking a cocktail... that was living! It is a miracle I have any brain cells left to take an IQ test.

Posted by: Gordon Young | February 17, 2010 8:55 AM    Report this comment

I would like to add my comments on the lead issue.

First, you can't compare methanol, toluene and methyl ethyl ketone with lead. These solvents are poisonous and flammable, and must be treated with respect. But they do not last forever in our environment. Lead, on the other hand, is toxic by its very nature as an element. So while methanol, etc. will eventually go away, lead is forever.

The same by the way is true of mercury, which is unfortunately released into our environment when coal is burned. It may well be that spending a million dollars to reduce mercury emissions from coal burning power plants, will yield a better health payoff than spending the same to eliminate 100LL.

About lead poisoning in our nation's inner cities: Eliminating Pb from autogas probably helped a little, but a much bigger payoff in improved health resulted from banning lead from house paints.

Finally: We should ask: If elimination of 100LL might result in a very small health benefit, how much smaller a health benefit results from going through the expense of eliminating lead from solder in electronics (including avionics!). It seems to me that we should advocate recycling and proper disposal of worn-out or obsolete electronics, instead of submitting to the problems of using pure tin as solder (it has a much higher melting point, hence harder to work with) instead of lead-tin eutectic, which has been used as solder up until recent years.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | February 17, 2010 9:28 AM    Report this comment

What part of air and water polution are you in favour of promoting? You are proud to harbor dangerous chemicals and untill your liver gives up or you plane and hanger burns down you'll fight for the risk! I'll never understand being proud of the lack of education either.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 17, 2010 9:35 AM    Report this comment

Re statistical justifications: Some of you are probably already aware of Mark Twain's three categories of lies. Here they are anyway: 1. LIES 2. DAMN LIES 3. STATISTICS watch out for them forces of evil. JOHN WOOD

Posted by: john Wood | February 17, 2010 10:37 AM    Report this comment

Paul B.: "...I'm not buying the science on this one...", "...To me, the science isn't a credible enough foundation upon which to build public policy..." Wow. You mean everything labeled "science" ain't necessarily so?

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | February 17, 2010 11:26 AM    Report this comment

>>J-school? Your point. Flamable toxic solvents indoors. Your point. TEL is only a little toxic. Your point. Science and common sense should take a back seat to a Chinese dictatorship. Your point. We have an ageda. Your point.

Posted by: Larry Fries | February 17, 2010 11:35 AM    Report this comment

I don't have any technical expertise on this issue, but I think the point of perspective in Paul's blog is well taken. Here in the Az desert SW I drive daily a restored '66 Beetle ragtop - without a cat. converter. There are thousands of us (incl. So.Cal)driving them, not to mention the leaf blowers, mowers, coal burning, airborne tire disintegration on roadways and other particulates - plenty of irritants to my severe allergies that inhibit my flying some days. Our inversion layers in 'winter' months are disgusting, and the last thing I consider to be the cause is the occasional airplane overhead.
Tho being at engine choice time with my homebuilt, I am all ears on what is going down concerning fuels.

Posted by: David Miller | February 17, 2010 12:49 PM    Report this comment

I don't know how many times this subject comes up
(avgas verses mogas) have been using mogas in my C- 150 and my ame is surprised at the compression and over all condition of the engine. So lets get on side and go with a cheaper wayin support of GA.

Posted by: marvin monchka | February 17, 2010 4:27 PM    Report this comment

I would love to be using Lead-Free gas but I can no longer get ethanol free (uncontaminated) mogas!! Where are the environmentalists on that front? Just another example of short-sighted wacko thinking! Maybe they should be pointing out to lawmakers that they are forcing us to use more lead.

Posted by: Jim Hurd | February 17, 2010 5:13 PM    Report this comment

Traditionally there are 3 reasons for labelling the 100 LL fuel with scull and crossbones.
1. Benzene content. Benzene is proven to cause blood cancer.
2. Lead. Lead is wellknown causing brain damage etc
3. The only approved scavenger for lead in AVGAS the
dibromoethane. That is THE real poison.

The most toxic of them all is the scavenger.

I can confirm Brian Hopes comments. 29 years of
unleaded AVGAS in Sweden show that a typhical Lycoming engine makes about 50 % more hours before
major overhaul than the listed TBO by engine manufacturers.

Yes Paul -- lead in fuel i morally bad.
Lead and scavenger are dangerous for people,
animals and environement. (the scavenger is also an ozone depleeting substance)
Pilots (fuel drainage) , mechanics, fuel handling people are affected.

AVGAS 100 LL has about 4 times the lead used in car gasoline. So if AVGAS 100 LL is 1 % of car gasoline in the US then relatively lead exhaust has to be multiplied by 4.

In the long term economy speaks against leaded fuels.
One single leaded fuel product in an else unleaded fuel world!
Currently users of leaded fuels do not pay their environmental costs compared to unleaded fuels
in the US.
If that cost was to be added (as with fuel taxes like in Europe) the calculus would be even more in favour to eliminate leaded AVGAS asap.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 17, 2010 5:16 PM    Report this comment

I recently noticed that Marathon is making a premium, ethanol free unleaded fuel available as a "recreational fuel" Perhaps this will breathe new life into the Mogas movement for us low-compression guys. It seems that if we could eliminate 30% of the leaded avgas issues by using mogas alone it would be a great environmental benefit - now to find a nearby airport that actually has it.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 17, 2010 5:41 PM    Report this comment

29 years of unleaded AVGAS in Sweden show that a typhical Lycoming engine makes about 50 % more hours before major overhaul than the listed TBO by engine manufacturers.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 17, 2010 6:06 PM    Report this comment

NASCAR apparently runs unleaded fuel; except at Daytona. Anyone looked at this? Apparently the road race boys also use it. Maybe, we are too insular and EPA/FAA Big Govt. solution (rules are not solutions) oriented. Just saying...

Benzene? Wackos tried that and styrene in the 70s.

Big picture is that we cannot win this battle because no matter how clean the emissions, the e-wackos will not be satisfied.

Posted by: David Spencer | February 17, 2010 10:57 PM    Report this comment

Sorry, but I forget to answer the moral question. The only thing immoral about airplanes is trying to justify airborne sexual relations with morally bankrupt sandbuckets such as e-wackos and other repugnant critters.

There is nothing immoral about the sound n' fury of digging holes in the sky...

Posted by: David Spencer | February 17, 2010 11:19 PM    Report this comment

The environmental nuts aren't interested in facts, they simply want to shut down free commerce. Green became the new red after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the greenie goals are the same as the old red goals.

In a rational world, we would be going after those substances which have the most negative impact on people overall, taking into account their proven "toxicity", the number of people affected, and how seriously they are affected. Instead, the greenies pick an emotional subject, blow it out of proportion, and get as many unethical university "science" whores as possible to scavenge government grants to put out manufactured numbers as "settled science." I also notice that the Greenie responses to Paul's article are basically dismissive ad-hominem attacks without any facts.

Reminds me of the man-made-up global warming lies they spew. And it should; they are ideologues with no solid factual grounds for their transparently anti-capitalism arguments.

Paul's comments here are 100% spot on. He reviewed the overall situation and rightly sees an anti-lead agenda not properly supported by facts. Sorry, greenies, your cover has been blown.

I don't like lead, either; but we're not going to let your little cabal screw up aviation. When you go after China, where 99.9% of the lead is these days, we will know you are serious. Until then, you're just laughable self parodies.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | February 17, 2010 11:59 PM    Report this comment

There is no government statistic or similar about engine times available. The longer time between major overhauls have been and are frequently reported. But ask any engineer at Lycoming or Continental or else:
For low and middle octane engines: What would the effect for the TBO if lead was removed?
I have done it several times and the response is
always the same. TBO is usually about valve system problems (and corrossion). Lead contribute to them both.
For engines in the Sport Aviation field, (in Europe ultralights) look at all the known problems with lead and the related Service Instructions.
For Mr? S Lanchester: People having ideas about a better world without toxic agents are "laughable self parodies".
Well the "green "ideology" in the world is probably the fastest growing ideology, has and is getting more and more political acceptance. It is about caring about the environment, living species and your fellow citizens.
The world today is not the same world as it was some generations ago and the law makers are beeing challenged with enormous problems to solve.
I have been flying for 43 years and when I have an aircraft that can operate on unleaded AVGAS and I arrive at the pumpstation and I can make a choice - unleaded or leaded, I actively make the choice to go unleaded.
What would you do, and explain why, if the price of leaded and unleaded was the same?

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 18, 2010 1:39 AM    Report this comment

My experience with the impact of lead on overhaul time is almost the opposite of yours. My additional perspective is that as a journalist, I have routinely visited and interviewed field overhaul shops. There is a distinct tilt among these shops against mogas--very few endorse it. True, that's not the same as unleaded avgas, because mogas has additives that avgas doesn't. The issue is heavy deposits on valves and piston crowns. So just as I question environmental claims against lead, so do I question the claim that removing it statistically improves TBO performance.

Again, I'm willing to be convinced. I am not closed minded. But show me the data. And speaking of showing data, if you can show me a fuel that will equal lead's anti-detonation characteristics for high performance engines at similar cost--even a little higher--I'd be all for it.

>>The world today is not the same world as it was some generations ago and the law makers are beeing challenged with enormous problems to solve

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 18, 2010 4:01 AM    Report this comment

Again - You have to ask the engine designers with Lycoming, Continental and Rotax -- the leading
engine manufacturers. That would not be so difficult for an aviation consumer magazine.

I can only as an fuel designer and producer tell you about what we hear on our Swedish market. Aeroclubs that narrowly made it to TBO for their major overhauls now are angry with our CAA that forces them to make the major overhaul when TBO + 50 % is exceeded when they have switched to unleaded AVGAS.

You want to be shown that there is a fuel without lead that will equal lead,s anti-detonation characteristics for high performance engines.
Well THE leading GA aircraftproducer in the US did it in a documentation > 400 pages and this documentation is almost 10 years old.

It is up to the US aviations magazines (incl Webb-ones) to turn all the stones there and we readers are really waiting for you to tell us all about it.

Keep on the good work!

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 18, 2010 4:57 AM    Report this comment

Well THE leading GA aircraftproducer in the US did it in a documentation > 400 pages and this documentation is almost 10 years old.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 18, 2010 5:01 AM    Report this comment

It is circulated among the people working with the future fuels of piston powered aircraft engines in the US. Just ask around and you will find it.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 18, 2010 5:15 AM    Report this comment

It is clear that aviation is an easy target on this one and tests have already been done and did not produce the results wanted by the environmentalists. The same ones that problably fly around in GA aircraft to get their data for other causes. The same issue will go for race fuels as well. To allow more and more tests until they get the results they want isn't going to stop the drive. Battery recycling as well as some other industries are likely to do more damage. Now go to a function to measures thousands of airplanes converging into one spot isn't an accurate account of the nationwide issue and will produce data to be incorporated into a bogus report. After the global warming BS we are now seeing come out of possible flawed data, how can we trust. After all I was taught that any study needs to end "more funding needed for further study..." More and more about less and less.

Posted by: Chuck West | February 18, 2010 8:48 AM    Report this comment

I hate to be cynical, but as long as politics and greed drive the process, the outcome will not be good for the environment or general aviation. It will only be good for politicians and the petroleum companies. AS Lineberger

Posted by: ADRIAN LINEBERGER | February 18, 2010 8:59 AM    Report this comment

Hi Lars,
The best answer might be to move to Sweden. I hope I am wrong, but I don't see any real solutions coming soon in the USA. The planned replacement fuels will be so expensive that I fear most piston aircarft will become obsolete unless coverted to diesel or jet fuel systems. AS Lineberger

Posted by: ADRIAN LINEBERGER | February 18, 2010 9:34 AM    Report this comment

Talk about BAD science...any professional psychometrist/psycologist will tell you that IQ scores are only measurable to within +-5% at best. If the FOE is claiming that lead usage causes a 0.01% shift in IQ scores then they are guilty of mislaeading and bogus junk science. There are mathematical rules for "significant figures" which limit the precision to which data may be interpreted.

Posted by: A Richie | February 18, 2010 9:47 AM    Report this comment

"It is circulated among the people working with the future fuels of piston powered aircraft engines in the US. Just ask around and you will find it."

What kind of scientific rebuttal is this? Baloney

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 18, 2010 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I have to take issue with your opening comment: Why am I "allowed" to have lacquer thinner?

You may not realize it, but this line of thinking in the mind of the public enables the government to control whatever it may choose in our lives and is incompatible with the principles of a free people. Like a tightening tourniquet, what will they not "allow" next? The possibilites are endless, and you can't assume it is for the common good; no, follow the money instead. Be careful.

Posted by: A Richie | February 18, 2010 10:02 AM    Report this comment

Hi Ruth,
As in most scientific organizations, documents presented there are open for those in the organization but often not known for the general public while it is beeing discussed.
In this case the organizations working with the future fuels for piston powered aircraft in the US are the ASTM and the CRC and this is well known.
As far as I know everyone can join the ASTM and the CRC and get access to this info and be part of the game.
This is not "Baloney".

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 18, 2010 10:17 AM    Report this comment

There is no proof that 100 LL in the amounts used is doing anything to harm the environment.

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 18, 2010 10:37 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Hjelmberg,
Thanks for the comments. I've been following Hjelmco's 91/96UL for a number of years.
One question I have: Do you use the 91/96UL fuel in your Piper Navajo?
John Mininger

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | February 18, 2010 10:39 AM    Report this comment

It is becoming apparent that we have a developing civil war within our own group. Those who propose moving away from 100LL are taking a very narrow and parochial position that undermines all of GA. Even though they may be unaffected by removing lead, what happens when the only airplanes flying are experimental or 50 year old relics. Remove the economic foundation of large displacement certified aircraft and what happens to all the supporting industries. Do you think the "little airplane" community can support Garmin, GAMI, Aspen et al? I would say not. We are all in the same boat ultimately, and I think Paul's position is not only well presented but the only logical path that supports ALL of GA.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 18, 2010 10:42 AM    Report this comment

As an Auto Mechanic that went through the transition from leaded to non-leaded fuel we has all the same reasons against eliminating lead from the fuel. Well, we were wrong! Unleaded fuel was much better for the engine as well as the environment.

All that "Carbon" that I dug and wire brushed out of Cylinder heads was not really "Carbon" it was highly leaded carbon compounds and when the lead was removed gasoline engines were about as clean as propane and NG engines.

The Automotive industry solved the material problems with valve recession and valve life is much better than it was with lead. The engine controls keep the mixture bang on and there is almost no dilution of the lubrication at the top of the cylinder that was common with carburetor equipped engines. Modern auto gasoline engines last as long as diesel and with less maintenance. To get these benefits aircraft engines will have to abandon lead and obsolete controls and arrive in at least the last quarter of the 20th century.

Getting the lead out of the fuel will have major benefits for GA and the environment, a win-win for both sides. Get that lead out NOW.

Bob Parry

Posted by: Bob Parry | February 18, 2010 11:13 AM    Report this comment

Interesting. Have the FOEs stopped to consider 0.08 IQ points is not even close to being statistically relevant? Any IQ test by itself has much greater margin of error.
And do the FOE guys think that .08 will make the difference between a drooler and a lawyer? They partaketh of too much rope.
I wish the FOEs would remember they can't save everyone, just don't be standing next to them when they go off.

Posted by: C.C. von Plato | February 18, 2010 11:16 AM    Report this comment

I have made my Living flying piston engine aircraft for the last 15 Years

I for one would love a less toxic fuel for myself and the environment.

As always our industry lacks willingness to go ahead with new technology.

North America has been a Industry leader for a long time -- the Europeans are

Catching up and will surpass us. The GA Industry in north America NEEDS to

get on with new Ideas and technology if we want to survive.

There was a time when we embraced new Ideas and technologie.

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 18, 2010 11:37 AM    Report this comment

The salient point is being missed folks. The free market will dictate what works and what won't. Gov't regs, rules and "moral imperatives" will not allow an industry as fragile as GA to continue. That is not necessarily a bad thing from their perspective, but it is from ours. American ingenuity will provide one or more good solutions when they are technologically available. Allowing some dweeb bureaocrat to rule large displacement engines out of existence will be not only very sad but borderline criminally stupid.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 18, 2010 11:51 AM    Report this comment

I fly little planes that use engines that are made for a fuel now all but unavailable in the US: automotive hi-test; ethanol free. So now there is a constant watch to have the freshest fuel, hoses, tanks, etc. to keep the ethanol from gumming up the engines.

Plus on cross-countries all I can get is leaded fuel that tend to foul the engines. I had to rebuild a 582 because of lead and none of the new 4-strokes like it much either. The guys who fly the puddle jumpers won't miss 100LL when its replaced with something else that's lead free so we can at least buy good fuel at an airport. There are so many other costs to flying that fuel price is not the biggest item.

Posted by: Mark Naper | February 18, 2010 11:59 AM    Report this comment

To follow Mark's line of thought and to point out the road to Hell is paved... What fuel takes 8 gallons of oil energy to produce 6 gallons? You guess it, ethanol, and all the price increases in things based on the corn industry. Now that is exactly what will happen to avgas as well. Not so sure the sealant in Mooney and other fuel tanks will tolerate ethanol, not ot mention carburators. There was an idea that has produced a product that messed up a lot of cars in the 80's and will do lord knows what to aviation seals. I am for any product that helps the environment, but not at the expense of not knowing the outcome. There is way too much kneejerking to find the cure is worse than leaving it alone. One day it may be fuel cells and electric motors...until then let the engineers develop and "prove it first". We are a captive audience.

Posted by: Chuck West | February 18, 2010 1:20 PM    Report this comment

I never thought of ethanol as the answer. We have used lead free 110 octane fuel in racing applications for years. To say that it is impossible to have a similar product that would require 0 change in what and how we operate is ridiculous. It is this kind of attitudes that makes us fly behind unreliable magnetos and 60+ year old engine designs.
Trust me I know what i am talking about would you like to see the bills I pay every year on Maintenance of technological dinosaurs
There is no doubt that a lead free fuel would reduce maintenance cost.
There was a time where lead was the best we had this time has passed.

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 18, 2010 1:44 PM    Report this comment

I have no moral problem with the potentially minuscule amount of damage (if any at all) to the environment that we may be causing by burning 100LL while flying cross country.

The deeper question for me is whether or not we are causing any harm to the people who happen to live off the takeoff end of the prevailing wind runway of a busy GA airport. Paul’s mention of the “Oshkosh experiment” is interesting. But as he says, we better be ready for numbers that we may not want to hear.

I'm just curious: If Swift's 100SF and/or GAMI's recently announced G100UL turn out to be seamless replacements for 100LL, and if these fuels can be produced at a cost/price comparable to 100LL, does anyone think that all of GA would not be better off using an unleaded fuel?

I’m also old enough to remember having to change spark plugs in my car every 10-12,000 miles because they were fouled with lead. I don’t particularly miss those days.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | February 18, 2010 1:46 PM    Report this comment

Not that I am normally pessimistic, but in light of the suicide flight today in Texas, what fuel we use may be moot anyway considering the fallout to come with GA, security, TSA, and the media. Might as well start a new blog on this, Paul.

Posted by: David Miller | February 18, 2010 2:19 PM    Report this comment

>>Not that I am normally pessimistic, but in light of the suicide flight today in Texas, what fuel we use may be moot anyway considering the fallout to come with GA, security, TSA, and the media.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 18, 2010 4:36 PM    Report this comment

I never thought of ethanol as the answer. We have used lead free 110 octane fuel in racing applications for years. To say that it is impossible to have a similar product that would require 0 change in what and how we operate is ridiculous.

Gerd, this is new to me, being able to produce 110 octane without lead. If this can be done, then isn't that the answer? Help me here on this subject...

Posted by: Chuck West | February 18, 2010 4:56 PM    Report this comment

We are all so tied up squabbling amongst ourselves, we might never reach a solution/solutions that might just be staring us in the face. If many agree that the avgas problem is not a technical one (let's face it - racing cars have high octane unleaded fuels. They're just $3-21 more per gallon than avgas), then it's money and evidently politics. Whatever ambient air quality testing shows, general aviation seems to need to gather together now more than ever and follow a clear united front so that we may keep our passion alive. Corporate responsibility comes to mind and so does sustainability. Consider ourselves a corporation and think 'going concern'. We want to keep flying so we need sustainable options. Mogas is already a solution, 82UL seemed promising, Mr. Hjelmberg's 91/96 UL has nearly 20 years experience on the Swedish/Japanese markets --- if the FBOs do not want to foot the bill for an extra fuel tank, why not get your flying club to vote on it? We are not powerless, we have many resources to help us unite and get what we want, but we have to decide what it is that we want first. A popular song comes to mind: "Come together, right now..." Let's keep flying --- sensibly and sustainably.

Posted by: Marcellette Cloche | February 18, 2010 5:17 PM    Report this comment

Now, now, Boys and girls, sanity and thought will kill the diatribe. Please remember this is a question of morality. As for me, mine have allways been in question.

Posted by: Larry Fries | February 18, 2010 7:05 PM    Report this comment

While we are on the topic of wacky things, consider the fuel sump samples we are to treat as toxic waste. After our compliant and eco-friendly aviator 'properly' disposes of the leavings he fires up the engine and, taxis, departs and climbs with the red knob full forward, then dutifully follows the ancient checklist again that recommends 'full rich' for descent, approach and landing. How many GALLONS of unburned fuel has that operation added to the air?

For the unaware, GAMI, Aveweb, John Deakin, Mike Busch and the guys at Advanced pilot Seminars know that the old checklists are wrong and have the data - aka 'science' to back it up.

I've had fuel sample nazis insist that any fuel that passes thru the engine is burned, end of discussion. Right there you begin to realize that 'science' is a selectively applied process. Personally, I think that 'properly disposing' of 50CC of fuel samples gives a halo effect, whereas proper engine management doesn't, or it isn't obvious enough to understand. In reality, a tiny fuel sample tossed on the ramp is a fraction of the unburned fuel dumped out the stacks mindlessly following the checklist or some other mind set.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 18, 2010 8:40 PM    Report this comment

he use of leaded fuel is in the same area: Yes, TEL in it's concentrate form is nasty, as are so many chemicals on the shelf at the local hardware store. And like the 'science' behind the age 60 - er 65 - rule, it sounds good to the ignorant, but to the aware it's a red herring whose only purpose is to give a warm fuzzy.

The solution to pollution is dilution. The EPA leads the charge in claiming that there is no known safe level for lead, mercury, PCBs, Halon, radon, asbestos, copper, zinc or chlorine in biological systems. Yet, as one hard rock miner once pointed out, the earth's crust contains all of the natural elements in the periodic table, mixed together into various compounds we call rock or concentrated into a few we call minerals, then sorted by wind, gravity and hydrothermal forces. Hence any random sample potentially contains all of those elements. How is it that mankind evolved in such a hostile place if there were no safe level for each element? And how is it that our lifespans have doubled in the presence of so many man made chemicals?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 18, 2010 8:41 PM    Report this comment

The answers are not to be found with most federal agencies. Heck, they just added your exhaled breath to the things to be regulated based on a hypothesis that doesn't even qualify as a theory, so the absurdity mounts. They make rules to satisfy the noisy housewives, special interests and for career advancement. True, some of the EPAs rules are based on factual occupational studies or one-time opportunities to study massive pollution events. The data learned at Hiroshima and Nagasaki come to mind. Or the occupational data collected from uranium miners, asbestos workers and painters who used lead based paint or painted iridium instrument dials. But the extrapolations they make from that data are comical leaps of logic that rarely withstand the slightest scrutiny. There is nothing scientific about it. And like the age 65 rule, once it is etched in the CFRs, logic doesn't matter.

As a not so funny bit of humor, do a web search for dihydrogen monoxide - DHMO - and how easy it is to get people to agree that the stuff should be banned. Let us know what you learn and extrapolate that to such villains as heavy metals. Including the ones listed on your vitamin bottle.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 18, 2010 8:41 PM    Report this comment

Laughable people are those who want to dictate fuel regulations that would harm General Aviation with no verifiable proof of any benefit. They overlook China's belching out lead by the ton, but are somehow aghast that GA meters it out by the gram. Green ideologues have no sense of proportion in public policy.

You say the green ideology is growing fast, with increasing political acceptance. Oh? The UN’s IPCC head has been sacked over the dishonesty of his agency’s “settled science” report, including the Mann-made-up global warming scandal. Meanwhile, China, India, and other countries are having none of it. How politically acceptable is the green agenda when the world's most populous countries clearly have no use for it?

You say green ideology is about caring for the environment, species, and citizens, but that's just their romantic cover. Avoiding waste and pollution are good; but the real green agenda is too much about grabbing power under specious pretenses to stop economic growth in the world's greatest economies. Greenies like only the economically unsound technologies.

You ask which fuel I would buy if leaded and unleaded fuels cost the same; but first tell me -- how much is the unleaded fuel subsidized, are the taxes on the two fuels the same, what pollutants are created in making each fuel, what new emissions come from using the unleaded fuel, and what are the verified performance and engine life comparisons for the 2 fuels?

Posted by: S. Lanchester | February 19, 2010 12:35 AM    Report this comment

Mr Lanchester: your questions are good here are my answers: (in capital letters for easier reading)

You ask which fuel I would buy if leaded and unleaded fuels cost the same; but first tell me -- how much is the unleaded fuel subsidized,

are the taxes on the two fuels the same,

what pollutants are created in making each fuel,


Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 19, 2010 1:35 AM    Report this comment


Thanks for the answers. If real prices are the same, there appear to be good reasons to use the unleaded fuel. I guess price is the stumbling block, though. A lot of comments here mention $7/gallon, but I don't know where that came from.

It will take some time to look at your hjelmco site. I'm an airplane designer not a chemist, so it will be slow going.

I can't believe that the only place I've heard of your fuels is on this website. I've spent my career turning over rocks in the GA world, looking for and evaluating new ideas; but I missed your fuels.

..... now eating humble pie.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | February 19, 2010 2:08 AM    Report this comment

Ethanol: The Brazilian Embraer EMB 202 Ipanema has been modified and certified to run on ethanol. Do a web search to learn more. National Geographic - I think the aug 08 issue but don't hold me to it - did a comparison of EToH as a fuel source compared to petroleum and pointed out that ethanol has a higher octane rating than most petroleum fuels (How octane is rated is an important consideration. Auto and aero ratings differ significantly). Once you get past the negative energy cost of production compared to petroleum, and the food for fuel exchange, and the unique characteristics of ethanol as a material that absorbs water out of the air and allegedly forms phase layers of water rich and water lean solutes and the lower energy density by volume there might be something to love, especially if you are a corn or sugar cane farmer. Some articles claim lower maintenance costs with the Ipanema, but as Paul says, show me the data.

The water absorption thing has me stumped. My Cessna Cardinal POH permits adding isoprophyl alcohol up to 10% by volume to absorb water in the system so it can be a good thing. According to others, that's a bad thing, so in reality the honest answer is we don't know.

I think it was Paul who pointed out in another publication that water in EToH isn't really a problem until you get to 10% water. that's 2.5 gallons in a 25 gallon tank - If you get that much water in a tank you probably have other problems.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 19, 2010 11:57 AM    Report this comment

Apparently EToH cannot be transported by pipeline that also carries petroleum products, so it becomes a specialty fuel just like 100LL.

Alcohol often burns with an invisible flame, which must be a real hazard to firefighters.

The EAA and Peterson autofuel STCs forbid EToH. Not because it poses much of a hazard - I think that there are enough autos running the stuff to prove it's not as bad as the FAA and EAA claim, but it hasn't been tested, and since it is a moving political target with various states proposing different blends, nobody wants to go thru the testing again until the dust settles, if ever.

How EToH affects vapor lock is a concern. Most aircraft fuel systems only have sucker pumps that pull, not push the fuel, so vapor lock can occur on the suction side. If you look at the autofuel STCs, some require the installation of pusher pumps for low wing aircraft, just like the pump that probably lurks in the tank of your auto. Hence, running autofuel is more complicated than just making a donation to the STC holder.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 19, 2010 11:58 AM    Report this comment

I have heard for years that the only evidence of lead poisoning in children was from lead paint; not from leaded motor fuel.
Does anyone know of any studies that have been done comparing those two potential sources of lead poisoning? Studies that aren’t too ideologically biased.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | February 19, 2010 12:35 PM    Report this comment

I know of such a study, and it was done and published in 1983. I read a summary of it in the journal American Scientist (Jan-Feb issue, 1999), which is the journal of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society. It is very well regarded and not political. The authors set out to test the lead paint hypothesis, and found that the data did not support just one source of lead as a source of lead poisoning, particularly in children. Lead in the top surface of soils that were near roads that were busy in the early 70s, when leaded gasoline use was at its peak, was highest, and best correlated with lead levels in individuals. It so happens many of these roads were in inner cities and near buildings with lead paint, of course, but one notable discovery was that even unpainted brick buildings, near roads, had high levels of lead in the soil next to them. This is what you would expect if the heavier, lead-containing pollutants settled there, and there was no likely paint-related source. Lead in children corresponds well with lead in soil where they play, too- so much that one form of remediation is to remove several inches of topsoil from play areas. Lead pretty much stays near the surface, so this works. (continued)

Posted by: TOM LUBBEN | February 19, 2010 1:10 PM    Report this comment

(continued from earlier post- character limit got me) As it relates to aviation use, though, all this is maybe less relevant. There may be opportunity for heavy lead deposits under/near traffic patterns, but away from airports, dispersion and the low levels may make it hard to argue a good epidemiological case.
So in summary, I (as a PhD scientist myself) think the case for lead poisoning from automotive widespread use is good, mainly because lead is deposited close to where people live. The case for aviation use, given its dispersed use, is much harder to make, and I have not seen the numbers that adequately describe this situation, favorable or against. Given the low concentrations, that is going to be a lot harder to decide.

Posted by: TOM LUBBEN | February 19, 2010 1:11 PM    Report this comment

I guess that is why back in the day when lead fuel was phased out the grass in the ditches along the autobahn in Germany was so high in lead content that it was not suitable for animal--feed.
If you look at it from straight a Moral standpoint ---anytime you use a highly toxic substance even though none toxic alternatives may be available ---It is not acceptable period!!!!!!!! --- How could anyone justify poisoning your children's future with no reasonable cause--This is a simply irresponsible
Attitude. The only responsible grown up Attitude is to look for a better alternative. Lets face it who ever is first with the solution has a lot to gain.
Thee rest of the world will follow.

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 19, 2010 1:23 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the feedback Dr. Lubben. It never made complete sense to me that the higher levels of lead in children in the 50's, 60's and 70's was the result of all or most of them chewing on paint.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | February 19, 2010 1:41 PM    Report this comment

Mr Hjelmberg makes some good points. But as a producer of unleaded Avgas apparently angling to have his product supplant 100LL, his input may be a little biased.

The info Tom Connor presented on the real world effects of ethanol are interesting. I looked into this a year ago and found much the same, some contradictory science and anecdotal evidence on both sides of the argument. As the builder/owner/pilot of an Experimental airplane (one powered by an Experimental auto conversion no less) I choose to burn Mogas in my plane after reviewing the "evidence".

My take follows Bob Parry's - lets adopt at least some of the engine controls engineered for the automotive market to bring airplanes at least into the last quarter of the 20th century. With that accomplished, lets stop talking about specialty boutique fuels and use the same gas the rest of the country uses.

Whatever the outcome, one thing I'm sure of, any argument for retaining leaded Avgas is a political dead end. One way or another somebody better come up with an acceptible unleaded alternative soon.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 19, 2010 2:23 PM    Report this comment

Like I said, I've read up on the science and the anecdotal evidence. In 40+ years of driving I've never had a car quit and leave me stranded. As far as I know this isnt a problem with today's gas and today's cars. Modern controls can compensate for variation in gas quality.

On the other hand, I used to own a Cessna 140 that would foul plugs on 100LL so regularly I gave up on Avgas and started burning Mogas to solve it.

In some cases a poor standard is not a good substitute for no standard. The same can be said for magnetos that fail routinely, carbs and fuel injection systems with vapor lock and hot start issues, etc...

But I know there are many who will never give up their magnetos, carburetors, and mechanical FI or Avgas. So I said my piece and I'll let it go at that.

BTW, I thought there was a rule about anonymous replies in these blogs? No confidence in your comments?

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 19, 2010 3:50 PM    Report this comment

No, for some reason it doesn't show my name; I don't know why, or how to fix it. I've been an Avweb member since 1996 and it's always done this. I see someone has deleted my posts. Gee thanks.

Posted by: A Richie | February 19, 2010 4:21 PM    Report this comment

Sorry about that. If nothing more comes of this, at least maybe a 14 year old problem will get resolved. I assume that if Paul can delete your posts he can put them back once he knows who you are.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 19, 2010 5:04 PM    Report this comment

If you think that the only reason for not using ethanol-laced gas is because it is un-tested, talk to the light-sport guys that have had it eat through aluminum tanks and resins, swell the seats in carburators, and destroy fuel lines. Yes, systems could be replaced to adapt to ethanol, but at what cost. As things stand, a lot of the ultralight and light sport folks are sh!t out of luck because they cannot use leaded avgas either.

Posted by: Jim Hurd | February 19, 2010 6:04 PM    Report this comment

Ethanol, cars vs. planes is an apples-n-oranges comparison.

Test results of 'gasohol' for airplanes was presented at an ASTM symposium on 'Future Fuels for General Aviation Intermittent Combustion' held on June 29th, 1988. The paper was entitled "Investigations into Gasoline/Alchohol Blends for Use in General Aviation Aircraft" by August M. Ferrara, FAA Aerospace Engineer.

The test setup was a ground-based Cessna 172 fuel-system. They tested fuels ranging from a 0% to 15% blend of alcohol mixed with 100LL. Both ethanol and methanol were tested. The systems were both heated to simulate a hot engine compartment, and cooled to simulate high altitudes.

Material Compatibility
In general, any o-rings in the system would swell in the presence of alchohol; methanol would cause more trouble than ethanol. The tank-selector became difficult to turn. When testing with methanol they had to replace the selector. The drain O-ring swelled so much it wouldn't closed once opened. The fuel-pump diaphragm swelled with ethanol but continued to run for 20hours. With methanol, it failed after 2 hours. They replaced it with an alcohol-compatible fuel pump and continued testing without further trouble.

"Many of the synthetic materials found in the fuel system...were susceptible to attack from gasolines containing alcohols"

Posted by: KIRK WENNERSTROM | February 19, 2010 10:36 PM    Report this comment

(continued from previous post)

Phase Separation
"During the course of endurance runs, the fuel flow, then the fuel pressure would begin to decay, and eventually, vapor lock would occur. This phenomenon was markedly more severe on hot humid days than on dry cool days."

"As the tank was allowed to cool to room temperature following a test where the fuel was maintained at an elevated temperature such as 43°C (110°F), the blend would become cloudy, then with time, a layer of alcohol, water, and gasoline would settle out in the sump."

"If the fuel was allowed to age overnight in the tanks, there would usually be a phase layer in the sump, even if the sumps were drained the previous day."

"This phase separation problem appeared to result in corrosion problems in the aluminum tanks. Before and after photographs indicate the tanks corroded badly in the short period of time the alcohol blends were used."

* * * * * * * * * *

Why don't cars suffer these troubles? Because they're built differently. The materials in modern cars are built from plastics that are not affected by alcohol - metal fuel tanks are galvanized, or if it's a flex-fuel vehicle, usually made from plastic. Fuel-injection pressures and continuous-flow make vapor-lock a non-issue. Finally, modern fuel tanks are sealed systems with no direct exposure to the air. The EPA-approved venting that insures no gasoline vapors escape also keeps water vapor from getting in.

Posted by: KIRK WENNERSTROM | February 19, 2010 10:37 PM    Report this comment

(continued from previous post)

There are other papers from this symposium that tested the effects of alcohol blends on just the engine. For the most part, the engines ran just fine; better, even, on alcohol blends. The problem remains in delivering the fuel to the engine safely and effectively. For our planes this means everything from gas cap to carburetor (inclusive) would need to be examined and modified.

Right now there is no market left for mogas STCs - everyone who wanted one bought one, and who would buy one today when it's so difficult to find untainted fuel.

If it were easy to get 'gasohol' approved, then EAA/Petersen would've come up with an "Ethanol STC" by now and sold it to everyone ("Nope - you gotta buy this NEW sticker - your old one says "No Alcohol" - sorry, that's what the Feds require....").

Posted by: KIRK WENNERSTROM | February 19, 2010 10:40 PM    Report this comment

Back to the topic of this blogg.

Is the pilot morally to blame if there is only one fuel available - and that fuel contains lead?

Or are the oilcompanies to blame that they don,t provide an unleaded AVGAS.

If a small regional oil-company in a remote part of the world can do it - sure large multinational oil copanies could do it, if they want and aviation consumers ask for it.

The fuel price at the pump -- if one company can have
an about 10 % lower price for unleaded AVGAS than for leaded since introduction of unleaded AVGAS
29 years ago - sure this could be done by an efficient US oil company?

Why invent the wheel again - when there is already a substitute available that already has all the approvals from piston engine aircraft producers covering > 90 % of the entire world piston aircraft fleet has been produced for 19 years and already flown millions of hours without any problems.

Does the aviation consumer really have any consumer power or are we to use what is offered?

If it is so that the aviation consumer does not have
the traditional consumer powers we associate when we buy other things - then who is then morally to blame?

PS. The Hjelmco AVGAS 91/96 UL is not covered by any patent.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 20, 2010 4:30 AM    Report this comment

Lead in Avgas is not morally bad. It certainly was a component of smog where I grew up and attended high school in the Los Angeles Basin in the early 60's.

I can remember it used to hurt to breathe after an outdoor football practice or when the wrestling coach decided we were goofing off too much and needed eight laps around the track to improve our conditioning.

I don't know if it made any of us any smarter or less smart, but we survived and as far as I know, most of the folks I was out on that field with in the smog managed to made decent lives for themselves.

I do remember trying to figure out how to fly the Mini-Guppy with P&W 4360 engines at max gross weight without 115/145 octane fuel. 100LL was available, but it reduced takeoff weight because of reduced manifold pressures. Not exactly the most efficient way to fly the old girl.

I would hope that we will move toward using biological sources for aviation fuel. Whatever we do, we need to get away from using the processed remains of long dead organic material as a fuel.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | February 20, 2010 3:16 PM    Report this comment

It does seem that Hjelmco 91/96 UL has been around long enough that there should be a verifiable track record of how European pilots, A&P’s and engine rebuilders would compare it to 100LL. I have no idea how large the sampling could be, but I for one would love to hear some third party feedback about an unleaded avgas that was refined to be avgas from the start, as opposed to auto fuel. I would be especially interested in hearing feedback from mechanics regarding the proverbial problem of: “lack of lead for valve lubrication”.

A future article in Aviation Consumer?

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | February 21, 2010 10:08 AM    Report this comment

lead as valve lube: It's an old wive's tale. According to John Deakin and GAMI, they have never found an engine manufacturer's engineering design requirement for lead as part of an engine's operation, including both auto and aero engines.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | February 21, 2010 10:23 AM    Report this comment

John, Lycoming et al took steps in the late 1970:ies to handle the problems with carbon deposits that ruined valve heads in association with the transition to a single leaded fuel. Thoose along at that time know that we went from 80/87, 91/96 and 100/130 to a fuel labelled 100 L. The 100 L fuel caused a lot of hard carbondeposit problems with the valves specifically for the smaller engines. When solving this problem engine manufacturers started to use hardened valve material with Rockwool numbers. What the engine manufacturers did no know at that time was that this change of material in the valve system also made the same valve system suitable for unleaded AVGAS.
In Sweden we post any major overhaul before 1978 as a disqualification for using unleaded AVGAS.
This is however not really a problem today because that was 32 years ago and few engines run today with a major overhaul performed so long time ago.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 21, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Thanks again Mr. Hjelmberg for the comments. I follow this issue very closely and I had never heard that before.
This is probably a question more for George Braly, but since you have been very active on this blog I’ll ask you: When using the GAMI PRISM system, do you happen to remember how much higher the fuel flow was at 350 HP in the Lycoming TIO-540 burning 91/96UL, as opposed to 100LL?

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | February 21, 2010 11:43 AM    Report this comment

About 1994 John Stossel broadcast an ABC network program on the ten things that affect human lifespan and later incorporated it into one of his books. In summary, the main culprits were poverty, smoking and driving, deducting 9, 5 and 1/2 years of life respectively. Heavy metals account for four days of lifespan. (please don't challenge me on the methodology. I don't know it. Read his book. Insurance acturaries also track such things, easily found on the web. Reports from the World Health Organization (2002, page 49, and NIH corroborate John's conclusions)). One conclusion was that if jobs are delayed or canceled due to environmental permitting it contributes to poverty. So who is government protecting?

Posted by: Thomas Connor | February 21, 2010 12:04 PM    Report this comment

Stossel pointed out that affluence can also protect against affliction of government. in the early 90s the EPA issued an edict that homes built on mine tailings in Aspen Colorado had to be razed and the mine tailings 'cleaned up' because they contained lead and would hurt the kids. Affluent doctors challenged the assertion and got the EPA to agree to test the local kid's blood lead levels. The result was that the kids - perhaps denied their daily dose of dirt or doorframe to gnaw on - tested in the lowest quintal of blood lead levels in the country and far below the EPA threshold. A less affluent neighborhood might have buckled to the big bureau's pressures, and poverty stricken ones welcome the 'cleanup' jobs. Disregard that the concentrator 'waste' is a glasslike substance impervious to wind, water, chemicals and dirt-starved kids. The irony of 80 and 90 year old lifelong residents and miners applauding the action to save the 'chillin somehow goes unnoticed: They know it is just wealth extraction in another form.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | February 21, 2010 12:05 PM    Report this comment

I mentioned previously that wind, water and gravity sorted the earth's crust. One of the training tools used to teach budding gold panners is a shovel full of creek mud in a miner's pan and a thin shaving of lead off a bullet or fishing sinker. Lead is lighter than gold, so if the trainee properly washed and agitated and found the lead shaving in the concentrate they will also save any gold because both rapidly sink in an agitated soil sample. Watching how it behaves makes me think that roadside or airport lead behaves the same way as the soil freezes, thaws and shifts with rainfall. It makes me doubt the allegation that auto or aero lead stays on the surface very long.

Biological systems cannot directly absorb many of the elemental metals. For example, an old treatment for stomach problems was to drink mercury and some religions still encourage that practice. It probably doesn't do any good, but it apparently does little harm.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | February 21, 2010 12:06 PM    Report this comment

People with lead bullet fragments in their bodies as a rule experience no lead poisoning, and if they do, chelation is a remedy. natural water concentrations of some metals exceed the EPAs levels for industrial discharge. In parts of Montana arsenic naturally exceeds the allowed level and the EPA doesn't care a whit. But if a miner draws that water from a creek to meet fire fighting requirements and later returns the unused water to the creek, he has to treat the water to reduce the arsenic to the EPA's industrial discharge level. Logical thinkers need not apply.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | February 21, 2010 12:07 PM    Report this comment

People with lead bullet fragments in their bodies as a rule experience no lead poisoning, and if they do, chelation is a remedy. natural water concentrations of some metals exceed the EPAs levels for industrial discharge. In parts of Montana arsenic naturally exceeds the allowed level and the EPA doesn't care a whit. But if a miner draws that water from a creek to meet fire fighting requirements and later returns the unused water to the creek, he has to treat the water to reduce the arsenic to the EPA's industrial discharge level. Logical thinkers need not apply.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | February 21, 2010 12:10 PM    Report this comment

John, This has to passed on to Mr Braly. Perhaps Paul can inquire with GAMI on this question because I don,t remember (it was in 2002) and I don,t know
if the GAMI people are reading this blog.

The question is very valid. I just think the
the fuel injection system was not specifically tailored for our fuel when the tests were made because if you load to much fuel into the combustion chamber - yes the engine will run cooler but you might not get the rated power.
There is also a detonation margin (in fuel flow) which must be observed the rating the engine octanewise as per the procedures.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 21, 2010 12:10 PM    Report this comment

Each flight using leaded fuel adds minutely to the lead burden in air. Although these additions to airborne concentrations do not exceed any safety thresholds individually, they add to overall concentrations. Unlike other metals, lead is not benefitial to the body in minute amounts and is a poison to newborns at extremely low concentrations. We as a nation should strive to keep lead levels as low as possible. Philip Terrell

Posted by: Philip Terrell | February 22, 2010 6:30 AM    Report this comment

I just hope until they find the answer to a fuel that will "definitely" have little to no effect on current engines and by the posts it may be near. That any comparsion including the proposed skewed data that will gained at Oshkosh, will be against industries like coal fire powerplants and other heavy industry. It would be terrible to have some group like PETA throwing pencils at my airplane as I taxi by, which could affect my morale. That act would release large amounts of graphite into the atmosphere...

Posted by: Chuck West | February 22, 2010 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Like digging a hole in the wrong place, if you ask the wrong question you'll never get the right answer. That's the problem I have with this whole thread.

As Lars Hjelmberg has already said, the rest of the world doesn't want to buy leaded fuel -- or engines that are only certified to run on leaded fuel. So the rational, "free market" thing to do is to replace leaded fuel with a competitively priced unleaded fuel available worldwide and certify our engines accordingly.

Or would you prefer to tell the rest of the world they're wrong?

Posted by: JAMES GRANT | February 22, 2010 9:35 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Wennerstrom, go back and read what I said. The first comment I made was that in order ot run the same fuel that the auto world runs would require modernization of the current aircraft fleet with compatible materials and modern electronic controls. I did not advocate dumping 10% ethanol MOGAS in your 172 tanks and going on your merry way. Your quotation of the 1988 study is a red herring.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 22, 2010 10:22 AM    Report this comment

Marcellette Cloche's links to urban soil lead levels were interesting but seemed to verify the obvious, which is that cities concentrate pollutants by the very nature of being packed cheek to jowl with industrial sources compared to kids living in flyover country. What that has to do with lead in avgas or 0.06 point changes in IQ is less clear. Murkier yet is how the referenced studies build on the claim that lead is a childhood boogyman when there are so many octegenarian lead miners and smeltermen still tending their gardens in superfund sites. How are they able to gather their wits and argue intelligently about government follies after 80-90 years of eating lead-tainted veggies and breathing smelter fumes?

Many mine and smelter companies were driven into bankruptcy by environmental lawsuits. Retirements vaporized along with the jobs. As stated previously, poverty affects life span more than heavy metals. Who benefits from these crusades against the producer?

Posted by: Thomas Connor | February 22, 2010 10:37 AM    Report this comment

competitively priced unleaded fuel available worldwide and certify our engines accordingly.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 22, 2010 10:55 AM    Report this comment

To get back on topic "Is lead in Fuel Morally Bad" I think YES. Saying that aviation does not add significantly is wrong. We can remove the lead, have better running longer lasting cheaper to maintain engines if we remove the lead.

The "Market" was against removing the lead from auto engines but the government ordered it out and forced reduced engine emissions. This has lead directly to the advanced efficient engines that are now in automobiles. If the market had been left to its own we would still have monstrous inefficient polluting engines requiring tune ups twice a year and struggling to make 100,000 miles before succumbing.

The piston aircraft fleet is much older than the automotive fleet and that is not accidental. To lower emissions the fleet had to be modernized and it was forced on the driving public. We did not like it but we have much better vehicles now than we would otherwise have had.

As I said earlier, Get the Lead Out NOW it can only be a benefit to everyone.

Bob Parry

Posted by: Bob Parry | February 22, 2010 11:18 AM    Report this comment

If anyone reads through the hole blog here one thing becomes real clear--- to Argue in favour of lead in our fuel is absurd ad best.

Lets get on with it and get the lead out ---

It just makes sense--------

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 22, 2010 11:41 AM    Report this comment

"the number of children with IQs below 80 would rise to 10.66 percent from 10.56 percent if the same air were lead free"

wait... so there would be MORE kids with sub-normal IQs if the lead content of air DEcreased?

For some reason, I was expecting the inverse relationship.

Posted by: Brad Jackson | February 22, 2010 1:02 PM    Report this comment

Surprising isn't it? No only is lead an octane enhance, it also improves children's IQs.

I believe Mrs. Grundy would say the sentence construction is grammatically correct, but not as precise as it should be. It could say..."the number of children below IQ 80 would rise to 10.66 percent from the 10.56 percent expected at the lower lead content."

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 22, 2010 1:37 PM    Report this comment

My last responce on this issue. (I can hear the cheers!). I'm dismayed by the consitration of health issuses with children. Many of us are contaminated adults. WE have accuminating unwanted crap for years. So let's look at OUR health issues for a change. All of our internal organs are failing in unexpected and unexplained frequency. Now let's look at a simple report that looked at reported health cases by geographical perameters. Those who live within one mile of major highways and downwind of toxic chemical releases have significantly more of broad-ranged health related problems. Cancers, and neurologic, plus liver, lung, and heart issuses with older folks are killing us. NOW, let's look a the cost issue if there is one. The cost of prolonging life, for the living, is WAY more than that of unleaded fuel! "THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH"

Posted by: Larry Fries | February 22, 2010 2:20 PM    Report this comment

>>I think a modern unleaded AVGAS could be the catalyst the industry needs to revitalize itself.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 22, 2010 2:43 PM    Report this comment

Paul - where would technology for car engines be if fuel was the same as 25 years ago with lead and sulphur?
For example low sulphur content is actually a must for for the lean burning car engines you find today.
Why should not a gasoline airplane engine be able to have fuel reductions of 20-30 % when we have received that for engines for cars?
And why is there a future of the TSIO-540 engine in its present configuration?
I believe in technology and technical development, and my knowledge is - noone is investing in something that might be dead as early as "tomorrow".

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 22, 2010 2:58 PM    Report this comment

>>One reason that holds piston aircraft engine development back is the lack of a widely available modern unleaded AVGAS. Which engine producer would like to spend money on developing new engines or old engines with new accessories intended for a market with a fuel which in a majority of countries in the world is a fuel which only can be sold with a waivor and may be revoked from the market by an administrative a Friday afternoon?

Posted by: Bob Parry | February 22, 2010 3:11 PM    Report this comment

Reality is an ugly thing sometimes, but I think it's time for a little dose: Is there an available fuel that is lead free and will power high horsepower engines? NO! ! ! So this whole discussion is an exercise in futility. When technology provides a replacement fuel at a cost that is sustainable then and only then will it replace 100 LL. If 100LL is legislated away and no economically viable replacement exists, GA with piston powered aircraft will cease as we know it. I own a beautiful $200,000+ airplane and there is no way I can afford to move to turbine power, and I suspect most you commenting on this subject cannot either. Therefore, if you own an aircraft powered by a large displacement engine you (and I) are joined at the hip with 100LL until a solution appears. And don't hold your breath until the FAA and engine manufacturers agree on a FADEC type engine control system. Also you little engine guys cannot support the current GA economic engine by yourselves. We all live in a glass house and there is a lot of rock throwing going on.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 22, 2010 8:35 PM    Report this comment

When my dad wanted me to hurry he always yelled "get the lead out." I don't why he said that, but I hurried!

Posted by: Phillip Peterson | February 22, 2010 9:12 PM    Report this comment

In my opinion the reality is that sooner or later 100LL is going away for political reasons. General Aviation users can continue to ignore the issue and hope that it will go away. Or proactively attempt to address the problem.

The current highest spec Corvette you can buy from your corner Chevrolet dealer produces 638HP and burns ethanol laced unleaded MOGAS that can be bought at the corner gas station. And it meets EPA emissions standards and can actually get pretty decent fuel economy at that.

So that fact is that the technology does exist to solve this problem. What is lacking is a consensus approach and the resolve to do it.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 23, 2010 12:48 PM    Report this comment

Amen, Burns. The issue for those of us who fly high compression turborcharged engines is not lead but octane. It's not a "moral" question, at least until someone convincingly demonstrates that the 10% of us GA guys who have to have high octane are causing measurable harm to the environment or our babies, a point well made by Paul. It's an economic question - am I going to be allowed to utilize the aircraft I am already obligated to, or forced to sell it for scrap? I can't afford to re-engine it to jet juel, and no one has or conceivably will have an affordable STC for that anyway. If there were a lead-free 100 octane avgas at comparable pricing, I'd happily and preferentially use it...but there isn't one. If anyone in the 90% of GA who fly lower compression engines think they will keep motoring along unaffected by the loss of 10% of GA aircraft (and probably 30% or more of GA activity in dollar terms), then he or she needs a serious reality check.

Posted by: warford johnson 11 | February 23, 2010 1:37 PM    Report this comment

For Mr Burns Moore (?)
The Hjelmco unleaded AVGAS 91/96 UL is OK:d for Lycoming engines up to 260 HP and on Kalisz Radials up to 1050 HP.
It has been calculated that 280 HP with current standard boxer type engines would be the maximum with such octane numbers. Additional horsepowers should be made available with additional technical equipment available in laboratories but not yet certified.
Teledyne Continental have indicated they are testing an unleaded AVGAS 94 with their high bore engines.
The Hjelmco unleaded AVGAS 91/96 UL frequently during the years have held 93,5+ aviation rating so there is a lot of experience in flying many houndred thousands of hours with such a fuel. ( The 91/96 UL fuel exceeds ASTM standard D910 for AVGAS 91/98 but is without lead)

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 23, 2010 1:41 PM    Report this comment

As this blogg is about moral issues -- one can question is it morally right to produce and sell brand new aircraft where the engine MUST have a leaded fuel that might not be available in the near future?
If I fly 200 hours a year and that engine is good for 2400 hours this makes 12 years. But -- is there anyone who thinks that leaded AVGAS will be available for 12 more years?
Put the numbers by yourself what you think - but then you also have write down the engine or entire aircraft to zero to correspond with the date you think yourself the leaded fuel will be gone.

A similar problem exists with an old aircraft when you need a major overhaul of the engine. Take for example a C172 with a Lycoming O-320 H engine that carries a type certificate for AVGAS 100 LL. But here when we are around lower HP:s there are choices. You may convert to a Lycoming O-320-A (burning 91/96 fuel) engine or upgrade with a STC to a Lycoming O-360 180 HP engine (also burning 91/96 fuel). Such upgrades could be more ecomically sound to do than just have an overhaul of the O-320-H engine. Going for the approved 91/96 engines (for Lycoming see their SI 1070)will guarantee availability of a future fuel octanewise (91/96 UL or MOGAS with STC).
So this discussion does the aviation consumer actually have to have already today if a major overhaul of the engine is imminent or in the near future.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 23, 2010 1:42 PM    Report this comment

It seems that some of the posts are filled a combination of wishful thinking, idealism and 'green' brainwashing. I'm willing to change my mind, but I prefer to base my decisions on data and not rhetoric.

My observations are:

The FAA has been given sole responsibility to regulate aviation fuel, not the EPA. Hence we need to ensure their decisions are data driven and not the result of misdirection, politics and 'me too' thinking.

Tetraethyl lead - an organic compound - is toxic, as are most hydrocarbons. Once burned the lead in TEL becomes lead salts. Lead salts are not well absorbed by biological systems. It is not a poison. Notice the difference: Organic vs organic forms: Our bodies lock onto some organics like a preacher-man after a sinner. Inorganics not so much.

The correlation of auto and aero lead emissions on childhood ailments are speculative at best, deception at worst. That it falls near where it is emitted is academic for materials with high specific gravities, and that there are more lead salts where there is more traffic seems intuitive. That it was removed from auto fuel because lead salts are a health hazard is simply false:

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 23, 2010 4:46 PM    Report this comment

"In my mind, the true question of immorality is the imposition of laws at the request of ill-informed or agenda driven crusaders on the hoi poloi regardless of the data, be it lead, DDT, PCB, halon, CO2, cell phone radiation or skin color."

Very well said. Using a claim of "morality" to justify a personal agenda is in itself imoral.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 23, 2010 5:55 PM    Report this comment

It truly amazes me how far you guys are willing to go to justify using poison when there is better technology available.
Attitudes like this are the reason why GA is stuck in the dark ages and dying a slow and agonizing death--
If the great Aircraft builders and designers from the early 1900's would have had the Attitude portrayed in the last few posts there would be no GA period. There is no doubt that the lead in Av gas costs me thousands of dollars in maintenance per year in my small fleet of 4 aircraft alone. That alone is reason enough to get rid of lead, to also loose just one poison in fuel is a benefit for me and my crew never mind anything else. If I could get modern engines that use less fuel and operate cleaner I will be the first one to buy them. All I ask of my fellow Aviators is to support us in building a better future for GA and everyone involved instead of blocking progress . If you don't like progress don't participate but please don't be a burden to positive forward thinking people of this Industry.

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 23, 2010 8:43 PM    Report this comment

I can't believe some of you are claiming lead, in any form, is not toxic. The data is overwhelming and this has been known for decades. The only data in question is how much is too bad to tolerate? If lead, exhausted from an aircraft, and widely dispersed, is above toxic levels, then it is bad. If it is truly below levels known to be toxic, it is not bad. Never mind the other effects (plugs, valves)- that is immaterial to this topic. I don't think those studies have been directly done, though I suspect some careful calculations might give us a clue as to the answer. WHen that is done, I suspect some of us will find out that near airports, lead deposition is an issue; away from it, not so.

Posted by: TOM LUBBEN | February 23, 2010 10:23 PM    Report this comment

"It truly amazes me how far you guys are willing to go to justify using poison when there is better technology available. Attitudes like this are the reason why GA is stuck in the dark ages and dying a slow and agonizing death-"

Strange, but I don't know of any pilot/owners who ever have turned their collective backs on proven technology. If anything we have been willing to test such technology at the risk of our own lives if allowed to do so.

The regulators and agenda driven... not so much. Immorality is what is being done to us; not for us.

Posted by: David Spencer | February 23, 2010 10:36 PM    Report this comment

Regardless of whether lead can be justified in GA ancient engines or not is very likely to be a mute point soon. I have read there is only one plant in the UK that manufactures TEL for the entire market. The owners have said that the cost of manufacturing TEL with the environmental issues and small market is not profitable and they are going to end production before too long. The GA market had better get it act together and come up with a solution as it going to arrive with a thud soon, and there will be no choices left.

Posted by: Bob Parry | February 24, 2010 12:11 AM    Report this comment

OK, I give up and all you little engine guys with auto gas STCs win. Just tell me who to call to convert my Bonanza to run on an unobtainable fuel that is NOT certified. And don't mention switch grass. Due to it's excellent qualities, it makes a tremendous fuel stabilizer to auto gas, and it'll be used in that capacity by the large oil companies. Once production is fully ramped up, it may trickle down to some limited extent, but the solution is in engine management, and that's not available near term either, GAMI not withstanding.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 24, 2010 12:26 AM    Report this comment

In my opinion, Connor and Burns have it right. It is not a question of whether "lead is toxic" but whether the lead salts in aircraft engine exhaust, in the quantities produced, can be shown with any reasonable degree of probablility to have any near or long term adverse effects of the health of plants or animals. ALL chemicals are toxic if ingested in excess quantity - that includes oxygen, dihydrogen oxide, sodium monochloride, and nitrogen. The dirt around my home has lead, iridium, barium, beryllium, and arsenic in it in measureable - but VERY SMALL - quantities. That doesn't keep me from mowing my lawn or digging up a garden, using lead came in my stained glass projects, or filling my muzzle loader bullet mold occasionally, and I defy anyone to show me that my or my grandchildren's health is in jeopardy because of these elements. SHOW ME THE SCIENCE before you tell me it's immoral to keep flying my 1970's 414 that I've been making payments on for the last ten years (and, darn,10 more to go.)

Posted by: warford johnson 11 | February 24, 2010 10:58 AM    Report this comment

Burns, I think you're missing the point. I wont go so far as to say that we have a moral obligation to get the lead out because I agree with Tom Connor that there isnt supporting evidence that says the tiny contribution made by gen av is even measureable, much less a health hazard. I also agree that there is an immoral undertone to buckling under to the imposition of laws and mandates on the basis of poor or no supporting evidence.

On the other hand, I am sure that this is exactly what is going to happen, probably sooner rather than later. Hoping that the FAA isnt going to bend under political pressure is foolish.

Again, my opinion, but now is the time to zero in on an alternative to 100LL and take positive steps to make sure there is an alternative when it goes away.

There are two options. Design a replacement limited market boutique fuel that is unleaded to replace 100LL and retain the 1950s technology that is the basis of current aircraft engines. Or adopt the technologies implemented in the auto industry that makes it possible to acheive high performance and high reliability with available unleaded fuels.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 24, 2010 11:19 AM    Report this comment


It appears that most in this thread who at least recognize the problem advocate the replacement fuel approach. This will work for many but not all current aircraft, specifically the high perf aircraft Burns mentions. In order to fly those airplanes on unleaded avgas there will still need to be some changes in engine design to tolerate the lower octane fuel.

So why not focus instead on updating engine technology to use already available unleaded fuels? You didnt like my Corvette analogy previously? How about this one. The Austro diesel on the new Diamond twin. Modern technology, uses a currently available aviation fuel, and is considerably more fuel efficient than the dynosaur you are flying now. Not enough HP? The technology is scalable.

It astounds me that a community that has so completely adopted high tech avionics over the last 10 years is so adamantly opposed to the same technology revolution applied to their engines.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 24, 2010 11:22 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for the response Mike, but I would argue this is not about "morality" but rather free market economics. Morality has been used as a hammer to achieve personal agendas many times before, as in prohibition, abortions, marital fidelity and many others. But his is a free market/technology issue. If there were an electronic engine management system available today, I promise I would have it installed, and George Braly, I'm watching closely your progress. I DO NOT want some green weanie techno-idiot telling me I can't exhale due to CO2 or burn 100LL because it "clashes" with their personal career goals. If you saw my airplane, you'd see that I embrace technology whenever possible, but I am first and foremost a realist. Again thanks for the dialoge.


Posted by: Burns Moore | February 24, 2010 11:58 AM    Report this comment

Re. Mike Wills' comments above, there may be a misunderstanding of our (at least "my") position: I am ecstatic that researchers like George Braley are working on alternative fuels, and am praying they succeed. I am well aware that the idealogues out there are going to be successful in eliminating 100LL soon, and if I have no alternative fuel I will be the proud owner of a very expensive lawn ornament. The cost of developing and certifying electronic fuel/ignition management systems for a couple hundred Cessan 414's will in all likelihood prevent that approach from ever being financially viable for me. We are certainly not "opposed to the same technology revolution applied to [our] engines", even though I know I will never be able to afford to buy it. I do object vigorously, however, to being thought "immoral" because I'm using "toxic" 100LL while it's still available and there is no alternative.

Posted by: warford johnson 11 | February 24, 2010 12:37 PM    Report this comment

>>It astounds me that a community that has so completely adopted high tech avionics over the last 10 years is so adamantly opposed to the same technology revolution applied to their engines.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 24, 2010 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Mike I totally agree with you new engines are the way to go, I cut my teeth on that one. I did go to Europe on behalf of a aircraft manufacturer with one of there engineers. The goal was to get the new technology diesels in our Aircraft.
It was the FAA and Transport Canada in my case that derailed us.
Approved Unleaded fuel is already available in Europe so it is only a mater of political will to get it here . It is approving one fuel verses hundreds of airframe and engine combinations.
I would consider it a first step to be able to move on to new engine technologies.

A TSIO 540 can run on unleaded Av fuel in Sweden and is approved to do so.
---it is the highest power dinosaur engine widely in use today ---
"30 Years experience with unleaded fuel in Sweden" That makes them the leader.
What other counties over there use unleaded Av ?? anyone have with more info on that?

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 24, 2010 12:43 PM    Report this comment

I agree, I'm off topic as are a lot of responses in this thread. If we are to stick to the topic, I am in total agreement with you Burns. I dont want morality forced on me by legislators based on fuzzy logic.

Going back off topic, it frustrates me that I perceive that the majority would prefer to solve the problem by pursuing development of yet another, potentially very expensive, niche fuel. Rather than using proven technology to address the issues involved with using existing mainstream fuels.

Granted, the new diesels have had issues. But then after 50 years of use, so do Lycomings and Continentals. The difference is that after 50 years of use the issues are known and accepted.

I dont know a lot about the TCM FADEC. I dont know how advanced it is compared to typical automotive engine management systems. So you (and market perception) may be right, it might not be the right answer because it doesnt go far enough.

Addressing the expense of adopting new technology, has anyone actually looked into the cost of doing this versus the cost of burning a niche fuel that may be $2 - $5 more per gallon than fuels available now for the rest of the service life of your aircraft?

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 24, 2010 1:15 PM    Report this comment

If there is an unleaded AVGAS already certified and
used for millions of flight hours and covers > 90 % of all piston powered aircraft in the world and is sold at 10 % lower price than current 100 LL.
Why shall these > 90 % of aviation consumers then pay more than 10 % less than current AVGAS just in order to satisfy those aviation consumers that happen to own aircraft with engines that require boutique fuels costing several dollars more per gallon.
In Sweden as said before - many airports don,t service customers with 100 LL any more. If the 100 LL
customers wants 100 LL or a 100 UL boutique fuel why should the others pay for them in order to have one unifuel?
There are also tremendous economical benefits to switch to diesel engines.
Take a charter company with a Navajo Chieftain flying
500 hours a year.
How would the calculus look like when you burn 30 % less fuel at half the price per gallon (JET A-1 compared to AVGAS 100 LL)
If the diesel engines have the same weight as the gasoline engines, the lower fuel consumption will allow for more passengers.
I have calculated a configuration: 2 pilots 6 passengers. Now with lower fuel consumtion you can add 1 more paying passenger (15 % more revenue) and as said about 30 % less fuel at about half the price of the AVGAS fuel.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 24, 2010 1:39 PM    Report this comment

Lars, your comments on diesel are marvelous, but to be honest I know of no 300 -350 HP diesel engine, and historically diesels are much heavier. There is a perfect fit replacement Allison turbine STC, but it costs a half a million, and I don't know the calculus to make that fly for my CFO/wife. Now if the green weanies are really against lead, they help us all pay for the conversion, right . . . ?

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 24, 2010 1:53 PM    Report this comment

Lar I appreciate your enthusiasm, but after checking Centurion's web site, only the C206 has an STC and then only for Europe (EASA). So we are again back where we started, the reality of making the best of the only thing we have, 100LL. It would be very interesting to what percentage and aggregate total is spent by the different segments of GA. I doubt that Garmin, GAMI, ASPEN, and all the others could/would spend much on R&D if the only market is essentially AVGAS STC powered airplanes. It may just be me, but I still think we all need to present a common united position, and since market forces drive R&D, more potential profit will drive more R&D. Fragmenting our collective efforts will work to the detriment of us all. And with that, we've probably come full circle.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 24, 2010 4:41 PM    Report this comment

Posted by Mr Burns Moore.

( Fragmenting our collective efforts will work to the detriment of us all. )

So why do you argue in favor of lead ---instead of getting on with it and move

our industrie ahead . You do not have to be a green weanie to make sure that

your kids can grow up in a resonably healthy place.

How could you argue against that?????????????

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 24, 2010 5:13 PM    Report this comment

There is quite possibly a language issue here. I am not arguing for poisoning our children with lead. I am merely stating that there is NO currently viable solution for large displacement engines at any price. And then I pointed out that if for whatever reason that same large displacement market segment ceased to exist along with it's economic energy, we all lose, yes even the remaining group because of the then dimenish market power. It really is that straight forward and simple. Your group has failed to provide a solution to your percieved shortcoming in the status quo. I can well understand the frustration (it is coming through very clearly, I don't have to experience your lead fouling issues to sympathise with you)but putting a large hole in the bottom of our collective boat doesn't bring the shoreline (ie solution) any closer. I don't know what the answer wikk be, because if I did, I'd make a fortune, but I do know it isn't here yet. Please don't shoot the messenger.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 24, 2010 5:55 PM    Report this comment

This "discussion" is not about getting on, moving "our" industry or health risk... it is about wealth destruction versus protection. Granted my IO-360-A2B will run CIS unleaded fuel, but only in Europe. Big problem, I live in Texas and fly the lower 48.

I will continue to poison n' pollute until the government eliminates 30-40% of the GA fleet with this no-lead, no substitute approach. Then let's have a look at "your" industry of kites...

Posted by: David Spencer | February 24, 2010 5:58 PM    Report this comment

Paul, you have really struck a nerve here. Is this your longest running topic?

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 24, 2010 5:59 PM    Report this comment

Gerd said:

. . .So why do you argue in favor of lead ---instead of getting on with it and move our industrie ahead . You do not have to be a green weanie to make sure that your kids can grow up in a resonably healthy place. How could you argue against that????????????? . . .


Man, you make good sound bites! It was a good guilt trip but a short one. I'm reminded of an ad with a photo of a forlorn pooch with a bullseye drawn on his noggin and the text: "Renew your subscription now or the neighbor dog is really gonna get it."

Playing the children card is the last ditch argument when logic fails, somewhere around the safety and security argument and the vacuous 'do the right thing' lecture. I've presented data or links to data that represent that the stuff that comes out of exhaust stacks has no measurable effect on the chillin' and the real reason TEL was deleted from mogas. How about we discuss that rather than the neighbor's kid?

And to be clear, I'm not arguing in favor of lead. I'm arguing that the case against exhaust stack lead emissions as a public health issue is weak. If you have data to the contrary please share it with us.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 24, 2010 6:53 PM    Report this comment

I dont know if its the longest blog ever (doubt it) but since we seem to be going in circles it may never end.

I suppose I can let the whole thing drop and feel morally superior since I am currently flying my "little motor" airplane on unleaded car gas.

Posted by: Mike Wills | February 24, 2010 7:04 PM    Report this comment

Let the Europeans worry about AVGAS rules in their countries. I believe in Laissez-faire.

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 24, 2010 8:59 PM    Report this comment

Anyone looking for information about the health implication of lead only needs to do a simple Google search. There have been many in depth studies done. There are also some US studies about the effect on children in particular , they are effected way more so than us adults. If you really need info I can take you by the hand, but seeing that everyone is are able to post here I would expect one could spend a couple of hours doing research on the available information on lead and specifically lead from use in auto gasoline and its effects.
Europe and Germany in particular has some good info.
This is very old news please look into it, you may start to understand my standpoint a bit better.

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 25, 2010 12:38 AM    Report this comment

YOu have already been refuted soundly, and everything you have said about purported harmful effects of lead in AVGAS has NOT been proven. Worry about your county.If the US didn't allow about the pressure we get from "friends" of the earth" and people with financial ulterior motives like you, we would be better off for sure . As it is we plane owners are getting so much flack from all quarters..almost not worth owning a plane..

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 25, 2010 7:27 AM    Report this comment

You think you are the ONLY ones who care about the environment. I have done medical research for years. There is NO proof of what you say. Global warming is a topic still being argued by premier scientists, not just ones who have political goals.
I could tell you that Nordic people eat way too much fish and that mercury is poisoning the people there , causing birth defects and such. We should force all the Nordic people to stop eating all that pickled herring (tastes bad anyway) by banning fishing boats from all your countries from catching fish. That makes as much sense scientifically..

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 25, 2010 8:30 AM    Report this comment

Lars, I have tried to give you the benefit of doubt regarding language or cultural differences when you seemed to drift into personal attack or excessive "evangelism". But I think it really is an issue of circus carney hucksterism. You and several other Europeans, are pushing very hard for a solution that will severely disrupt American General Aviation, with no consideration to consequences. We have shown that there is no workable solution right now to 100LL. If this reality costs you market share or money to wait, then that is an issue you and other evangelists will have to come to terms with. This is apparently a hard concept for Europeans to come to terms with, but (to what extent it still exists) free market capitalism will allow the best solution to reach and then prosper in the market place. Occasionally anomalies such as Betamax vs. VHS occur, but they are really just matters of personal preference, and after listening to the anti 100LL zealots, this is not personal preference, so ultimately, baring any intervention by the Government, the free market will prevail. Early on I learned that life was better if I avoided "fanatics", be they food, health, religious or in this case anti lead fanatics. Free market capitalism is the economic manifestation of Darwinian survival of the fittest, and regardless of what solution evolves, it will have to stand on it's own economic merits. It is not anyone persons fault, it is just what is.

Posted by: Burns Moore | February 25, 2010 9:00 AM    Report this comment

Mr Burns Moore.
I am here under my correct name and I am no fanatic nor an evangelist but a realist.

I am also one of the few in the world still producing leaded AVGAS 108/135, leaded AVGAS 115/145 in addition to leaded AVGAS 100 LL and the unleaded AVGAS 91/96 UL.

I have no interest nor ability to take market share in the US so don,t be afraid. And as said earlier there is not even a patent or our unleaded fuels.

What I have said is that there are already existing solutions the 91/96 UL, the Hjelmco 100 UL and diesels, and they are covered up with a lot of documentation. If you go back in this blogg you have all the references.

Very little of these facts are known to the US GA public and very little has been written or advocated about it.

The US is not my country and perhaps I shouldn,t care about informing you but I think my information are important for you because I don,t think you see the danger.

The 100 LL is a product with a waiver because of its lead content. Thus there is always the risk of an administrative decision which you might not be happy with.
I am satisfied that we already have worked on and are working on solutions avoiding a possible elimination of GA at our market place.

Perhaps our solutions might not suit everyone if such a decision would come but we are constantly working on eliminating risks.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 25, 2010 10:53 AM    Report this comment

I think - in our market place the free market is vibrant and prevails and due to this we can see unleaded AVGAS with uninterupted nationwide distribution now for 29 years together with capitalism --- yes also Shell, BP and Statoil (former Exxon) operate on our market -- and the unleaded AVGAS stands there on its own merits.

Taxes are the same at our market place both for leaded and unleaded AVGAS so there are no subsidies and the customer enjoys a lower price at the pump for the unleaded AVGAS.

At our market place -- the aviation consumer has a choice and he can choose according to his preferences.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 25, 2010 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Looks like we have a lot to learn from the Swedes.

In north America we try to defend not having a choice.

We wait for the government to make decisions for us.

I better get back to work this is it for me over and out .

Back to Ruth and Burns...............

Posted by: gerd Mannsperger | February 25, 2010 11:28 AM    Report this comment

It's a start! Maybe some small part of our parochial ignorance and pride has been cracked! If so, I'm sure I'll get flak for the observation. As we speak, in DC's Blair House, we are getting a taste of the fight for stupid vs. ego. Can there be a winner? Of course not, however MY bet is that BOTH sides will claim victory. The losers are the People! Those guys and gals work so hard to do less, for more pay, it makes my head explode.

Posted by: Larry Fries | February 25, 2010 12:22 PM    Report this comment

I spent a few hours on the hjelmco web site. How is it that unleaded avgas is available only in ONLY Sweden (and maybe Japan too, I cannot tell)? Could there be a tax or political motive?

I haven't seen it so I'll ask: Lars, how much is your 91/96 UL, and for comparison, your 100LL? I guess rack price at the refiner before taxes gives me the best chance to compare to US prices.

I notice it is only available at airports in Sweden. Some carry both, some only one. What's the reason for that?

I took Lars' advice and searched he web for lead/public health research. I must say, there is a lot of rhetoric but not much science.

In 2005 Nascar came under attack for using leaded fuel by a special interest group The Clean Air Trust, who "urged" NASCAR in a Jan. 19 letter to consider the supposedly dire consequences of using leaded fuel: "By permitting the continued use of lead, your organization may be putting millions of spectators and nearby residents at unnecessary risk of suffering serious health effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency."

why use qualifiers like 'may be' if it's a fact? OR maybe it isn't.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | February 25, 2010 1:15 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 25, 2010 2:34 PM    Report this comment

Mr Connor --- I am copying your questions and give answers below:

"I spent a few hours on the hjelmco web site. How is it that unleaded avgas is available only in ONLY Sweden (and maybe Japan too, I cannot tell)? Could there be a tax or political motive?"

It is because our family company took the decision in 1981 to provide unleaded AVGAS for Sweden and our home market is Sweden. Hjelmco is not a multinational company and will never be and will never have the economical muscles as the big oil companies. We also at the beginning decided not to take any patents.
So if the aviation consumer really has an option worldwide - this question should be asked to the
consumers outside Sweden.
The business in Japan -- well Japan approached us - we did not market it there and they procure from us in bulk and take care of the retail themselves.
Regarding taxes -- all AVGAS was untaxed until July 2008 and after that leaded and unleaded AVGAS got the identical same tax per liter.
Yes you could say there was a political motive for introducing unleaded AVGAS. Having such a product in the basked kept AVGAS taxes away until 2008 when the EU commission in Brussels forced our government and parliament to impose the taxes against the will of our country.
By showing our politicians that we did our home work eliminating lead as much as there was possible they did not bother to tax us - and why should they. This compared to central Europe where taxes have been along for a long time.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 25, 2010 2:39 PM    Report this comment

GA in Sweden has been much healthier because of this than the rest of Europe.

"I haven't seen it so I'll ask: Lars, how much is your 91/96 UL, and for comparison, your 100LL? I guess rack price at the refiner before taxes gives me the best chance to compare to US prices."

Prices are always relative due to location of the production site and volumes produced.
You have a big advantage of that in the US with your huge market.
We have competitors in multinational oil companies as indicated before on 100 LL thus our 100 LL price has to be better or equal to match the others. Otherwise we have no market place. The unleaded AVGAS is then about 10 % cheaper than our 100 LL which as said is under competition from the big oil companies. Sweden is a "capitalist" market place.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 25, 2010 2:42 PM    Report this comment

The Warrior can thus maintain 75 % power up to almost 12000 feet. Sadly the aircraft does not want to go faster but you can trottle back and enjoy the same speed with less fuel consumption and the lower fuel consumption is not is the calculus of the 10 % lower fuel price at the pump. It is in additon.
This "poor-mans" turbo charger is fool-proof because it has no moving parts - (except for the standard propeller)

This was a long long reply - perhaps you are the soul that will be convinced?

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 25, 2010 2:46 PM    Report this comment

Thank you TOm COnnor for your comments. Lars doesn't get it. glad he doesn't live in the US, but he somehow thinks he should have a say in how we are regulated. He is wrong but won't admit it..too much

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 25, 2010 2:49 PM    Report this comment

Ruth - you are very personal in your comments.

Moral issues see no borders and I am glad having the opportunity to write freely.

However my time is out and I have to sign off.
Thanks everyone for the participation.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | February 25, 2010 3:23 PM    Report this comment

I've come to the conclusion that whether or not lead is morally right or wrong, it's going to be phased out and we haven't got a choice. That's not to say many stakeholders are fighting against this, but that it seems certain legal processes cannot be deterred from following through with its elimination. Other threats include the lead production facility that seemingly will close in a not so distant future. It's morally right to have a fuel that is safe, reliable, and is approved for the whole GA fleet. How to accomplish that without the lead will be a potentially great burden on the sector from every aspect unless that magic drop-in fuel solution works, doesn't have any other toxic additives, and is able to get expedient ASTM and FAA blanket approval for both the new specification standard and all the type certificates out there. How long and how much will that cost is a concern for us all since we don't want any obsolete aircraft in the meantime. Will the next 94UL standard convince oil companies there is demand large enough to accomodate 80% of the GA fleet to justify putting in a second tank and pump at the airport, next to the 100LL as it's being phased out? cont...

Posted by: Marcellette Cloche | February 25, 2010 7:32 PM    Report this comment


Not until 100LL is actually phased out. 82UL and mogas haven't worked for this same reason (among others). And will the current 100 octane unleaded fuels being tested use the same infrastructure or better yet, the pipeline? We should really hope for that. But I'm not so sure morality makes a difference as does how long type certifcation, changing operating limitations and performance data, or deriving STCs is going to take us while costing us all a pretty penny. Or get a Jet-A capable engine at a mere $80,000+... if it'll go into your aircraft model...

Posted by: Marcellette Cloche | February 25, 2010 7:33 PM    Report this comment

lars should concern himself with his OWN country, or go after China.I am sure the pollution there far exceeds any in the US. Planes are a very small part of the emission equation. We are having enough problems in our country trying to afford flying as it is. He doesn't live in the US and what we do in this country is none of his business

Posted by: RUTH PRESTON | February 25, 2010 8:15 PM    Report this comment

On the "morality" of continuing to burn leaded fuel. Lead has been know to cause illness since the time of Julius Caesar, and all forms of it lead can be absorbed, thought some much more readily than others. Sure the USA is a big place and the AVGAS burning planes are relatively so few. However, if you know your child will drink the water will you still piss in the pool because it will be diluted?

Ruth wants "laissez-faire." Lead-based paint pigments were recognized as toxic to children in Australia in 1897, and so were banned by France, Belgium & Austria in 1909 and the League of Nations in 1922, but not until 1971-78 in the USA. I doubt any US paint manufacturers spent R&D money on lead free paint until they were forced to abandon them by law in the 70's. As mentioned before, unleaded fuel was developed because lead destroyed the catalytic convertors & oxygen sensors of the emission control systems the automakers had develped in response to mandated EPA fleet pollution targets. The law came first, the innovation second. Unfortunately laissez-faire often produces a "lazy fair" because change costs producers in the short term. cont.

Posted by: Lance De Foa | February 26, 2010 2:58 AM    Report this comment

The only laissez-faire that exist in North American aviation is in the experimental market where there is no obligation to install an FAA approved engine to burn FAA approved fuel. All others need an STC, don't pass Go don't collect $200. Want to burn Mogas? Buy an STC. Who controlls STCs? The FAA. Is that the unfettered ivisible hand of the market? Will anyone put serious R&D into FADEC when the "dirty" FAA mandated fuel fouls the sensors? No. Unreliable sensors means unreliable & uncertifiable systems which mean automotive-like lean & clean combustion remains unatainable.

Ruth, I doubt Lars cares much about what happens in the USA, since he doesn't have to breath your foul air. However, what happens in the USA often affects the world (even aside from military misadventures). When the USA still manufactured things it sold Europeans many FAA approved aircraft which have engines certificated to burn ASTM/FAA defined leaded fuel. cont.

Posted by: Lance De Foa | February 26, 2010 2:59 AM    Report this comment

Lars' company was perceptive enough to see the best way to preserve their freedom of flight was to silence the opposition, which meant providing a non-leaded AVGAS alternative and finding ways to reduce aircraft noise. It is the aviation equivalent of "good fences making good neighbours." His company got Ly-Con approroval and EASA approval and has been successful enough that the Japanese buy it from him! I understand they are working on a higher octane fuel that will work in high compression engines. Prices were EUR 0.78/L 100LL vs EUR 0.71/L 91/96UL in Feb 2009.

Does anyone think the USA will be better off if your allies the Brits stop making TEL-B and the Chinese take over (at least TEL-B would be one Chinese product that won't be banned from US markets because of lead content!)? When that happens, the Swedes will stop using any leaded fuel, Lars' company will get their high octane no-lead fast tracked and everyone else will be up a certain creek. Of course you could order a container of 80 or 160 55 gallon drums from Lars (Feb 2009 91/96UL was EUR 0.71/L before taxes, or about USD $2.54). Otherwise, convince a refinery in Texas to make some of Lars formula. But you will probably have to get the FAA to approve it first. Nothing like "laissez-faire". I think it must the the FAA's middle name.

JL De Foa

Posted by: Lance De Foa | February 26, 2010 3:00 AM    Report this comment

Greenie claims about pollution already have a multi-decade record of exaggerations and romantic nonsense. Yes, children might be more susceptible to the ill effects of lead, and yes we know that lead poisoning can happen; but the whole pollution-is-bad "industry" has no credibility after nearly pulling off the biggest university-government-lobbyist scam in history by declaring CO2 a pollutant while they hide data showing the world is cooler.

Clicking on Google just brings up all the crap from special interest greenie groups to gin up more grants for more studies to make more documents for more lawyers to shove in front of lawmakers -- yep, it's a great little incestuous deal the green cabal has developed for itself. But, we observe no ill effects from current lead uses and we trust our senses more than greenie schemes; and we shall continue this way until they develop some credibility -- might take 30 years.

We have asked numerous times for an apples-to-apples comparison of the price of Lars' fuel and other aviation fuels, but I haven't seen a useful answer yet.

DeFoa's comments are classic, greenie bait-and-switch. "Eating lead paint is bad; therefore, keeping lead in avgas is bad." Never mind the many illogical jumps in that argument. I am having trouble making sense of his scattered arguments, too; Then his words predictably devolve into general contempt for American policies, so I am done with him.

Not much more can be done here, I'm afraid.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | February 26, 2010 6:06 AM    Report this comment

If Mr. Hjelmberg is still willing to comment on the thread, I would like to ask him his opinion on the future affordability and availability of tetra-ethyl lead. As far as I can tell, he’s the only person commenting here who actually buys the stuff. There’s been a lot of speculation on an easy production transition to China should the plant in the UK close, but I’m a little skeptical that there’s a large enough market for it to even justify its production in China.
If TEL does go away, Hjelmco will no longer be able to manufacture 108/135, 115/145, or 100LL. I’m sure there’s not much volume in sales of 108/135 and 115/145, but I would suspect the margins are very good. So I would think for purely business reasons, Hjelmco would like to see TEL remain available.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | February 26, 2010 8:13 AM    Report this comment

Lead in fuel is not morally wrong any more than CO2 or methane gas is morally wrong.

The balance between those who rail against the lead in fuel forget that there is a balance to be struck, as in almost all things that are useful or important.

While certainly there is an economic driver to some of this discussion, and earlier removals of lead from Avgas rendered the operation of some aircraft economic or even possibly unsafe.

While no one should ignore that burning fossil fuels, which is a finite resource, must give way to other methods of generating fuels to run internal combustion engines, we must also realize that lead in fuels has a legitimate purpose.

For example, will the complete removal of lead from avgas turn all the flying versions of the piston engine warbirds of history into static displays?

Engines that were designed to run on 115/145 octane fuel will run at reduced power on 100LL. But takeoff and other performance will suffer. It makes one wonder how such engines will operate when they run on fuels with octane ratings in the 80's?

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | February 26, 2010 9:35 AM    Report this comment

I say screw the fuel issue. As long as there is affordable flying, life's good. However I think there is a major moral blunder with Cessna and Piper looking overseas for LSA's. Got jobs?

Posted by: Larry Fries | February 27, 2010 8:33 PM    Report this comment

Greetings, all,

I just discovered this article and thread and read the whole thing in one sitting. (Quite an accomplishment).

I have about 6000 hrs flying Cessna 206s, all of which require 100 octane fuel. I am a mechanic doing maintenance on all those engines. I have never used any kind of unleaded, so don't know how well or bad it would work.

I am an American. By far most of my flying has been in South America where fuel is generally expensive and harder to get than in the US.

I find the extremes of opinion on this (and other list serves) interesting but sometimes distressing. I am no tree hugging 'greenie'. But I find Mr Lars Hjelmberg to be one of the most level headed contributors to this column. He has been civil and honest in all his comments. He has no interest in protecting his market, except in Sweden, where he does it by doing good business. While recommending unleaded fuel, he admits to using leaded fuel in his favorite plane.

Shame on you Americans who have called him names and called his motives into question. It is because of attitudes like yours that Americans a disliked in many other parts of the world.


Dan Rogers

Posted by: Daniel Rogers | March 1, 2010 8:32 AM    Report this comment

An earlier commenter made the statement "over and out" which means continue broadcasting, but my receiver is off. I think this whole thread has assumed this same level of intelligent reception. We have reached a level similar to that in our national dialogue: If one disagrees they are branded as "racist". It is much easier to throw despicable labels on people you disagree with than listen and think. Here some are throwing the label "immoral" on a certain segment of American's who choose not to scrap their large financial investments, or in some cases needed business tools. This discussion has no bearing on European or South American regulatory or economic processes. I asked at the beginning of this thread to name just ONE solution to large displacement high horsepower aircraft that is available TODAY. Now please just think a minute before blindly responding "lead is bad and people who use lead are bad". That is a sophomoric response no more worthy of discussion than labeling anyone who disagrees with you a racist. Now think, what is available now.

Posted by: Burns Moore | March 1, 2010 9:25 AM    Report this comment

>Relax B. I suspect as long as big powerplants are produced which require 100LL or the equivalent, you'll have fuel. If not you may have to put up with reduced power lower maintenance cost. Please save the paranoia and mud tossing for Fox News/MSNBC.

Posted by: Larry Fries | March 1, 2010 11:47 AM    Report this comment

Some authors claim that Charles Kettering originally looked for a fuel additive that boost octane ratings and detonation margins in an effort to head off fuel shortages. Alcohol was the logical choice but had problems with water that TEL did not, so TEL became the additive with the least shortcomings and best economics. One of those attributes was that It allowed the use of cheaper feed stocks.

I said all that to ask this of lars if he's still listening: How can Hjelmco produce 92/96UL for less cost than leaded fuel? Is it subsidized like our mogas/ethanol blend, or is there something else that I'm missing?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | March 1, 2010 3:03 PM    Report this comment

What about jet fuel? why not do like automible industery moveing into something better "greener"?. "Mission Aviation Fellowship" is changing their fleat to diesel Due to cost and availability.

Posted by: Sidney Pool | March 1, 2010 6:39 PM    Report this comment

The green movement likes to claim the high moral ground, calling for taxes and govt. interventions that cause measurably large economic losses with immeasurably small benefits. Some of us have asked for verifiable proof of the harm done by 100LL, and apparently there isn't a solid line of proof that can be drawn through whatever data exists -- at least no one has provided it. Besides, we know how the green movement makes up climate data in order to line its pockets. The anti-100LL arguments have too much of the same smell.

There is ample proof that the world's basic engine of health and longevity is economic growth, not arbitrarily thwarting growth with govt. restrictions. Accordingly, it is immoral to arbitrarily stop the use of 100LL, not the other way around.

We live in times when legalistic pests with specious data try to bully us into doing stupid things. The 100LL "issue" is a good example. It is they who make the accusations, blow them out of proportion, and -- when we resist -- call us immoral and "divisive!" And as govt. schools feminize the country, we grant these pests too much forbearance. If Americans are really "disliked" in the world, why are people of other countries still flocking to get here? The millions crossing the Sonora Desert each year are headed north, not south. Don’t buy the leftist media line. Sure foreigners like to gripe about Americans – but it’s mostly because of jealousy, class envy, and impotent face-saving.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | March 2, 2010 12:47 AM    Report this comment

Sidney Pool... According to their web site, "Mission Aviation Fellowship" is changing their fleet Spelling corrected) to diesel Due to cost and availability "Internationally".

I won't be trading my $50K aircraft for a $1.7M "Green" one because it isn't cost effective as I have to pay my own bills

Facts are sobering things...

Posted by: David Spencer | March 2, 2010 1:14 AM    Report this comment

That is true David nevertheless ( bad word) diesel is also cheaper

Posted by: Sidney Pool | March 2, 2010 2:14 AM    Report this comment

Diesel is lead free rigt?

Posted by: Sidney Pool | March 2, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Diesel is lead free rigt?

Posted by: Sidney Pool | March 2, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Diesel is lead free, but not sulphur free. Refineries go to great effort to remove the sulphur. Some crude is low sulphur, as in sweet Texas crude, some is high, as in North Sea. One potential area of concern is that diesel is normally in higher demand due to jet fuel, heating oil and motor vehicle fuel all basically come from the base stock. There are some developments that may ameliorate the excess demand, algae and biomass among others but today crude is going for just under $79/barrel and jet fuel is just over $86 which results in a $9/barrel crack spread. Two years ago it was as high as $50/barrel. The lower cost today is due to reduced demand, but that will change, so don't count on jet being cheaper in the future. There are no "easy quick" answers, so be careful about jumping on any one solution.

Posted by: Burns Moore | March 2, 2010 11:23 AM    Report this comment

I bought into glossy brochures on the Lasar ignition system from Unison. It is a set of Slick mags with a computer and circuitry that give easier starts and timing advance up to 40 degrees on your Lycoming with either better fuel economy or more power as you wish. I installed a set on an O-360 and when it worked life was good, but it failed often, and I had to be the expert on repairing it because no mechanic would touch it and the factory diagnostics were not that good. The engine also ran higher CHTs as predicted, but it created problems because the engine is an STC in a cowl not well designed to cool the bigger engine with standard mags, so keeping climb CHTs under 450F was a struggle, with resultant cylinder problems. Finally the computer failed and left me stranded. Unison made it incredibly expensive to repair, sending the message that I had done their testing for them and it was time to pull the plug, so I replaced the whole system with standard mags and have never looked back.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | March 4, 2010 11:54 AM    Report this comment

I'm not sure it's fair to damn all new technology efforts on the basis of two specific examples. Particularly when one of them was driven by a crooked businessman, not necessarily by the technology. Because of Thielert's shady business practices we may never know how good their technology was.

I cant speak to your issues with the Lasar. Properly engineered solid state controls should not only provide better performance but also better reliability. Witness the example in the auto industry over the past 20 years where the first tune up is now commonly done at 100,000 miles.

I'll counter your examples with one of my own. Flying with a friend in his Mooney about a month ago. Just past the end of the runway on the takeoff when the engine suddenly began misfiring badly. Switching from both mags to left mag smoothed it out to the point where it didnt feel like it was going to fall apart, but power was noticeably reduced. We made it around the pattern and back to the runway. The right mag was a mess with severe wear and carbon tracking, the left mag not much better. Both mags were about 400 hours since overhaul and both Bendix. You'd think after 70 years of development they'd be more reliable than that.

Interesting article in this months Kitplanes about a WAM diesel installed in an RV-9. Unlike the Thielert and Austro diesels the WAM was designed ground up as an aircraft engine.

Posted by: Mike Wills | March 4, 2010 1:13 PM    Report this comment

And regarding Mac's commentary, following his logic there'd be no glass cockpits, no Cirrus (or Diamond)gen av airplanes, etc... It's a good thing there are some folks within the gen av community willing to take a chance on new technology rather than taking his short sighted, myopic view.

Posted by: Mike Wills | March 4, 2010 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Willis

I didn't think I was damning all technology, just 'splaining that a go it slow approach is probably learned from past mistakes and a healthy case or two of getting screwed. I love my hand held GPS and it is a no-go item. The VOR not so much. An engine monitor is also on my strongly desired list, but I often have to violate those minimums because the planes aren't equipped. (An engine monitor might have disclosed your bad mag far ahead of the event you described). Which raises interesting questions: Why do avionics advance in evolutionary if not revolutionary steps while piston engine advances are incremental if not simply sustaining the herd? Engine advances just don't seem to get the traction that avionics enjoy. I wonder why? Perhaps the apparently defunct Honda piston engine development team has the answer. I certainly don't.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | March 4, 2010 6:02 PM    Report this comment

Over time electronics manufacturers of all kinds have worked toward eliminating as many moving parts as possible. Consider the 12" reel to reel tape player or record player that the iPod evolved from and the solid-state device it has evolved into. The Lasar mags I wrote of ran 100% electronically, but relied on a spinning rotor to trigger the hall effect switch, and though the points did nothing they had to pass self tests for redundancy and wore just like they were actually doing something useful. The Unison engineer I spoke with speculated that conductive wear debris from the points and rotor brush is what shorted the hall sensor to ground and ruined the computer. Said another way, the mechanical redundancy is what ruined the electronics. It would have been more reliable if there was nothing in the magneto housing but the sensor and two electronic systems for redundancy rather than the two mags plus the one computer controlled ignition system. Pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that Unison tried that route but the FAA considered it too revolutionary and wouldn't certify it. There are experimental ignition systems with no moving pars at a fraction of the Lasar cost. Sadly, people yelled at me when I noted such a system will bolt right onto my Lycoming. 'Not conforming' they shriek. Sigh! How did this system evolve from the free-floating experimentation that went on before the 1960?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | March 4, 2010 6:02 PM    Report this comment

OK Tom, I'm with you. The problem with Mac's editorial is that not everyone can go it slow and wait for somebody else to test the waters. If everyone waits and nobody tests then nothing happens. I think thats where we've been for the last 50 years with engine technology.

I cant explain either why the pilot community was happy to embrace the glass cockpit revolution and yet is so resistant to anything other than the status quo firewall forward. To add to your speculation regarding the Lasar, I suspect that even if the FAA OK'd it without the mechanical redundancy, pilots wouldnt accept it. In the experimental world most guys who are running electronic ignitions only put it on one set of plugs and run a standard mag on the other set.

Posted by: Mike Wills | March 4, 2010 7:28 PM    Report this comment

We also have a Lasar ignition on the 0-360 in our Archer. We had the system installed instead of magnetos about 6 years ago when the engine was overhauled. A little over a year after we had it, the computer system failed in flight and it seamlessly reverted back to the mags. And although this happened after the warrantee expired, Unison stepped up and replaced the computer at no charge.
The only other incident happened at the time of annual. When the AI checked the timing with the Lasar “buzz box”, he noticed that it was out of spec. For the next month there were many calls and parts that went back and forth to Unison. To make a long story short, the problem turned out to be not with the Lasar system, but the timing marks that were miss stamped on the “tried and true” Lycoming ring gear. The irony was that without the Lasar “buzz box”, a standard timing check at annual would never have revealed the miss stamped marks, and the engine would not have been making full power.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | March 5, 2010 1:05 AM    Report this comment

We like the Lasar system. It saves us about 1 gallon per hour and has paid for itself though the years. I don’t think I’d recommend it for a flight school because of the extra initial expense. But for an owner flown airplane primarily used for cross countries, it’s served us very well. The tough decision will come when we need to replace it. I’m hopping by then that E-mag or one of the other experimental electronic ignition systems will be certified. Since GE bought Unison, the price for a new Lasar system has gone ballistic.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | March 5, 2010 1:06 AM    Report this comment

"I’m hopping by then that E-mag or one of the other experimental electronic ignition systems will be certified. Since GE bought Unison, the price for a new Lasar system has gone ballistic."

And that really is unfortunate. One of the beauties of going electronic is that it should be way cheaper to manufacture than a fully mechanical system. The only reason I can think of as to why it would be more expensive is lack of competition - they do it because they can.

The ECU that controls not only the ignition but also the electronic fuel injection on my Mazda rotary powered experimental cost $850 with an additional $150 for ignition coils and plug wires. With that I have a customizable ignition advance curve, ability to adjust timing in flight by the pilot from the cockpit, and ability to balance fuel flows between the combustion chambers in flight allowing perfectly matched EGTs and the ability to run lean of peak. Obviously doing something like this in the certified world would cost considerably more, but the added cost as nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with convincing the FAA that its safe.

Posted by: Mike Wills | March 5, 2010 10:33 AM    Report this comment

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