Top Letters And Comments, September 3, 2021

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Is There Room For Two Aviation Fuels?

[…]The market is responding to a very confused end user. Just look at the responses on this thread plus the recent unleaded avgas poll. Some pilots, aircraft owners, and many mechanics swear they can determine “engine damage” in aircraft engines that use non-ethanol auto-gas or mogas. That “engine damage” is never clearly defined. But they swear non-ethanol autogas or mogas is causing some sort of engine anomaly, wear patterns, with their intuition saying it is not good. Sort of an aviation urban myth. No one knows where the myth started. But by gosh, non-ethanol autogas is no good for airplane engines. The hell with the Peterson STC or EAA STC, it don’t matter how exhausting and strenuous the test(s), no matter the accumulated data over the past four decades, non-ethanol/unleaded auto fuel or mogas is no good. Period!

Then there are those like myself, who has been using non-ethanol auto fuel for a long time ( 15 years in two personally owned airplanes) along with dozens of other fellow aircraft owners, who have clean oil, no fouled plugs, clean valve guides, much cleaner valve seats resulting in much improved compression ratios, lower oil consumption, consistent mag checks, easier starting hot or cold, and averaging $1-2.00 less per gallon fuel costs. The total aircraft engine improvements make it very worthwhile to do whatever is necessary to use non-ethanol autogas, purchased locally from a variety of self-serve stations including Walmart. Yes, not quite as convenient as the local self-serve avgas dispenser. The upside is I don’t have to deal with the nuances of the avgas dispenser that seems to have a mind of its own with no guarantee it will dispense today as it might have a week before. Cross county flights take more planning. But for me, a 20-50 NM diversion for mogas still makes it worthwhile. As both an A&P, an aircraft owner using unleaded, non-ethanol auto fuel over a long time, I still have never convinced the naysayers described above of its virtues. Apparently, the long-term testimonies from the EU also do not count to these people either.

Then we have the third end users who are listening to the debate like spectators viewing a tennis match from the sidelines near the net. They watch the volleys between the folks who swear mogas is no good and those who are successfully using the same for decades, being mostly renters who fly airplanes having no choice in what fuel is in the tanks. All they know or want assurance of is the engine run properly throughout the flight. Whatever morning sickness or mag roughness will be fixed by a mechanic. Their hourly rates have not changed no matter what is in the tanks. So why get up in a lather over the debate or invest themselves in learning the science to make more educated fuel decisions. In a practical sense, they have no choice.

The last group is the engine manufacturers. They have a potential liability problem, according to their lawyers, type certificates, the FAA, and many of their engineers. So, they are the last ones to give any kind of blessing using non-ethanol auto fuel, mogas, Swift, GAMI, or anybody else’s fuel outside of 100LL avgas. This provides much cannon fodder for the group that swears anything short of 100LL is causing engine damage, adds confusion to group three watching the debate, and frustrating the hell out of those who have been using it for decades. Hence, “If you can see where this is going, let me know. I have no idea and I don’t think anyone else does, either.”

That leaves the manufacturers of avgas having to guess who will be their most loyal customers will be. No doubt they are keeping an eye out for companies like Swift or GAMI while raising the proverbial finger into the air to see how those competitors financial winds are blowing combined with a distant curiosity to watch their investment into the infrastructure in their attempt to broaden their distribution. All of them know how to make unleaded mogas and non-ethanol auto fuel. It’s just a matter of deciding when it is time to join the party or spoil it.

Personally, I will not discontinue use of my local Walmart’s 91 octane non-ethanol auto fuel especially if my unleaded alternative will be as expensive or more so that avgas. If my airport will stock mogas that is less expensive than 100LL, I will happily use it. I already seek and use airports that have made that investment. But as long as general aviation is as fractured as it is, I see no wide implementation of unleaded fuel for a long time.

When the manufacturing of new airplanes and their engines outpace the use and eventual destruction of the 66-70% of the present 40–80-year-old airplanes that can already use mogas, that is when the debate will be settled. But that means 100LL will be required by the big inch Continental and Lycoming owners because I don’t see those engine manufacturers willing to invest in making those engines work on anything less than 100LL. By that time, the aircraft ranks will have shrunk so much that there will be no financial reason to continue production. The EPA, average non-GA flying citizens, and aviation-clueless politicians already look at any privately owned airplane as an extravagance. Extravagance and “green” don’t mix.

At my age, I have no fear of losing 100LL. I chose to own airplanes that run excellent on readily available non-ethanol auto fuel. That was a driving reason why I bought what I did. I have a solution that is “green,” less expensive, and far better for my engine. It is readily available. And my airplane performs as well or better than the million-dollar airplanes that cannot fly without 100LL.

So, I will let the battle for a “green” fuel be fought by the 200-400 per year new Cirrus owners, the remaining used Cirrus owners, the Lycoming owners who cannot gain an auto fuel STC, Swift, and GAMI. Plenty of potential room for two fuels. However, I see no end to the confusion nor the debate.

Jim Holdeman

There are only 5 refineries brewing 100LL in the US today. It doesn’t typically flow through any of the major pipelines, to avoid contaminating other fuels with lead. Both of the Unleaded formulas (GAMI and Swift) for 100 Octane are “intermixable”, so as soon as a refinery loses access to lead because it is banned and converts to Unleaded 100, they can ship that to airports and it is a drop-in fuel. Converting a turbocharged high-compression engine with magnetos to run UL94 would cost a lot of horsepower, and possibly still run poorly at high altitude on hot day. UL94 really is a “bridge product” to reduce lead and take lead away from airport opponents until the universal UL100 is on the market.

There won’t be a long change-over process. In San Jose, the storage tanks at the FBO’s were allowed to empty, the UL94 was dropped into tanks and pumped into trucks, and aircraft began adding UL94 into fuel tanks the next day. Within a few days, the remaining 100LL was essentially flushed out after a few refuelings. And trust me, the AOPA, NBAA and EAA are all very involved in issues over lead and Avgas.

John McG.

With Roads Largely Clear, No Need For Mass Airlift For Hurricane Ida

Glad to see a “Not Needed” article among all of the “news” stories.

I’m thankful for all of the volunteer pilots–but when NOT needed, best we stay clear and let the professionals do their work.

Jim Hanson

Your article about the roads in NOLA being “passable” is just a tad overly optimistic. Yes, most are not flooded, but many are covered with nails and debris. Spare tires are the order of the day for many ground ops. ACA may call for a “stand down” but there are other organizations that understand the actual picture and are continuing operations.

Alan Staats

Today’s article regarding the support for Hurricane Ida is grossly incorrect. The streets are not open and clear. Many communities have no food, water or electricity. The only help they’ve received is from GA pilots flying into GAO and HUM with donated supplies. Please monitor Facebook pages such as AERObridge and Lafourche Parish Hurricane Ida.

Although roads may be available, most are impassable from debris.[…]

Charley Valera

Poll: Do You Worry About Colliding With A Drone While Flying?

  • Did my master’s thesis on this. So far there’s only been one fatal accident among the 15 or so events involving an aircraft in flight. Low risk, even for general aviation.
  • Yes. I had a collision with a drone.
  • It occurs to me that it could happen but probability is sufficiently remote that I attend to greater threats.
  • My son and I have both had near misses with drones while flying airliners and GA. It’s just a matter of time before the body count starts.
  • I fly planes and drones. Some drone ops scare the life out of me.
  • You don’t see them until too late and I’ve had an encounter as high as 4000 AGL.
  • Saw one over Philly at 3500 some time back.
  • I’ve actually had a close call with a large drone just south of AEG at approximately 1500 AGL.
  • Yes. Just like I worry about colliding with birds.
  • Only slightly.
  • I had a near-collision with one in our King Air–cruising at 24,000′. A small winged object went down our right side, missing us by less than 200′–no time to avoid–not visible to ATC. Filed report.
  • Birds, yes. Drones, no.
  • Have had to avoid a kite at 1000 feet.
  • Yes, a little, and I’ve already had one near-miss.
  • I’m concerned with colliding with anything when flying.
  • Only when there are law officers around…

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