The future of fuels

Fuel is the lifeblood of aircraft and pilots. Most aircraft need it to power their engines; pilots need it, in the form of oxygen and proper nutrition, to power themselves. The November issues of General Aviation News will turn the spotlight on fuels — all kinds — and look at the current state of affairs, as well as what we can expect

As always, we’d love to hear from our readers. Email General Aviation News Editor Janice Wood with your feedback.

How one of our readers makes her living in GA


One of our regular regulars, Brittany Kerr, responded immediately to our call for readers who make their living in general aviation:

“As soon as I got to the airport this morning, I started my day off by reading today’s The Pulse of Aviation from General Aviation News (which has become my daily routine). When I read this, I knew immediately I had to respond!

Since 2010, I have made my living through general aviation in the middle of rural South Dakota.

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Using physics to fuel safely

A few weeks ago I received an email with a cartoon of a mature lady sitting back with a glass of wine. The caption read, “Another perfect day, and I never had to use algebra once.”

I smiled a little, but then got to thinking about how much we use math and science in our everyday life. And I started to wonder why people look down on their time in school taking these courses as a waste of time, because, in actuality, we use math and science many times every day.

For example, when we fill up our aircraft or automobile, we use physics and chemistry to keep us safe.

One of the laws of physics is that when you transfer a nonconductive fluid — read 100LL, autogas, and Jet-A — a static electrical charge builds up. This charge can cause a spark, and we all know that sparks and fuel do not mix well.

So what keeps us from blowing up every time we refuel our planes or car?

The first thing is that all dispensing hoses are supposed to have a conductive strip in them so that the hose will provide a grounding path to dissipate any static build up. The second safety measure is that a hydrocarbon fuel will not burn in a liquid state. It must be vaporized and mixed with oxygen in the air.

There are limits to the air-to-fuel ratio that will burn. For example, if you fill a beaker half full of 100LL and hold a spark plug 5 feet away and spark it, probably nothing will happen because the air-to-fuel ratio is too lean. Now if you put the spark plug just above the surface down in the beaker, (I strongly recommend that you not try this at home, just take my word for it) and spark it, usually nothing will happen because the air-to-fuel ratio is too rich to burn. So when you refuel your plane or car with 100LL or auto gas, the air-to-fuel ratio at the fill neck is too rich to burn.

Conversely, when refueling with Jet-A or diesel, the air-to-fuel ratio at the fill neck is usually too lean to burn. (This is why you should never mix auto gas and diesel because it may put you in an explosive range, but that is another story.)

When you refuel your car, it is usually not in an open area and the fuel door and fill neck are kind of sheltered. But on an aircraft, the fill neck is usually on top of the wing and you refuel in an open area. This can cause wind turbulence that can “lean out” the air-to-fuel ratio at the neck and put it into the combustible zone.

Now add the fact that the refueling rate for aircraft is usually higher, which increases static generation, and many people hold the nozzle to see how full the tank is, you have more potential for problems. This is why we always recommend using a bonding strap to dissipate the static build-up when refueling an aircraft.

We all agree that an aircraft should have a bonding cable attached to it when refueling, but where do you attach the bonding cable?

I do not know of any GA aircraft that has an identified bonding terminal. Some people use the exhaust and others the landing struts. But the big question is, is there conductivity between the place you are attaching the bonding strap and the fill neck?

If you have some time, you may want to see if there is conductivity between your fill neck and where you usually attach the bonding cable.

Do it carefully by always attaching to the fill neck first so that you do not cause a spark — because sparks and fuel are not a good combination.

Insects bring down Tomahawk

Aircraft: Piper Tomahawk. Injuries: 1 Minor. Location: Corona, Calif. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: After flying for about an hour, the pilot entered the pattern to land. During the approach the engine lost power. Unable to restart the engine, or make it to the runway, he performed a forced landing into an adjacent field, where the airplane sustained substantial damage.

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Making a living as an ag pilot

G164 Super B Ag Cat Seeding Rice in Northern California


An ag pilot’s day starts early, just as the sun lifts itself above the horizon. It’s cool in the morning. The air is clean and crisp. Standing on a dew sparkled grass runway watching the landscape emerge into the light of a new day is part of an ag pilot’s daily commute.

The morning calm however, is soon broken by a demanding shout. “Clear!” The ‘tick tick tick tick… whirrrr…’ of a turboprop engine coming to life shatters the serenity and the work day has begun.

All across the country, on air strips in rural valleys and farmlands, the same procedure is repeated. There are millions of acres that need to be planted, treated, and protected. Before most people have had their first cup of coffee, the men and women of agricultural aviation are in motion doing just that.

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