Innovations: Fill ‘er up

Michael Kilcher, a snowbird pilot who splits his time between Winter Haven, Florida, and Old Forge, N.Y., came up with his own solution for refueling his airplane.

“Back in the early 2000s I owned and flew a Skyhawk about 200 hours per year,” he said. “I purchased a Petersen STC for it so IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA could burn auto fuel. I bought a new, steel 55-gallon drum that had a side bung, a 12-volt electric fuel pump and a separate fuel filter and other miscellaneous hardware/fittings. I then built from a wooden pallet a cradle to which I strapped the 55-gallon drum. I ran wiring from the truck battery to the bed so I could power the pump. The connection was made with an SB connector.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I would generally fuel up before flying and would stop at the gas station on my way to the airport,” he continued. “If I were flying far I would buy enough fuel to fill the tanks and, if I were flying into a short strip someplace, I might pump in just a few gallons. I had a couple of wooden sticks that I marked to determine how much fuel I had when done flying for the day so when I went flying next I would know how much fuel I needed to buy.”

“I built a stand that was a tad lower than the open tailgate of my truck,” he continued. “When I’d get home after flying I would slide the tank/cradle off the truck and onto the stand. Easy. Next time I needed to haul fuel I would slide it back into the truck and secure it.

“I saved thousands of dollars using auto fuel for several years while I ownedReadyToDispense that airplane. I never had trouble with lead-fouled plugs and they were very easy to clean at maintenance time. Aside from the occasional smell I had no real complaints about auto fuel. I did keep disposable exam gloves for fuel sampling or any other like activity to keep it off of my skin. It was a slick set-up that saved me a lot of money and I would do it again in a minute.”


  1. Eric Taylor says

    I want aviation businesses to do well, but I have to look out for number one. I save about $22 an hour these days burning 87 octane e-zero mogas at $3.45 per gallon vs $6.25/gallon 100LL. That’s well over two thousand bucks for the average hundred hours of flying every year– and is a pretty high price for restroom privileges & an occasional free cup of bad coffee. For my flying, it just about makes the difference between affordable and unaffordable. If the local FBO’s fizzle out due to not selling me 100LL, I guess I’ll just have to buy my own coffee and pee in the bushes– just like at a no-services-available airport.

  2. Lee Ensminger says

    I have conflicting feelings about this. I’ve thought about trying to do this with my own C-172, which has the Petersen STC. Of course, you have to have the ability to find guaranteed ethanol-free fuel. After using enough fuel to pay for the equipment with your savings, it seems like a great way to save money from then on! But there’s another side to this: Now you’re taking fuel sales away from your home airport FBO. Many of these businesses are barely hanging on as it is. You may think that’s their problem and you’re just interested in saving yourself some money. Okay, did you stop going into the facility to sit around and drink coffee? Use their “free” computer and Internet service to check weather or print out Airnav information on your destination airport? Stop using the restroom, with its associated water/sewer bill and costs for paper products? You may well say that you pay for your ramp space or T-hangar and that should cover it, but in many cases, that money goes to the authority that owns the airport [county, city, etc.] with none of it going to the privately owned and operated FBO. Then when the business closes [even if the airport doesn’t-it can go on unmanned if the owning authority doesn’t want to staff it] pilots stand around and complain that the building is closed and there’s nobody to help them. I’m speaking from experience. I learned to fly during my last year of teaching. When I retired, I did part-time line work for my home airport’s FBO and I understand some of their many problems. So I see this as a plane-owning pilot as well as a former FBO employee.

    What I’m looking for here are reactions from other pilots, whether it’s pro or con. We certainly don’t owe these businesses a living, and everyone wants to save money. On the other hand, the days of all the airport freebies for the GA pilot are over. The FBO’s are unable to give away what they can’t afford since they aren’t making money from the commercial operators the way they used to. So please, let’s hear some responses. How do some of the rest of you feel? Maybe I’m way off on this subject. Thanks!

    • larry maynard says

      You have a good point to a certain extent. I fly an RV8A with an O-360A1A out of 0GE5 which is Mountain Airpark in Cleveland, GA and is located right at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As you probably know my engine requires 91 octane or above ethanol free mogas. I have access to 93 octane ethanol free mogas at a mountain mom-and-pop gas station 22 miles north of my location. My last batch was 3.99 per gallon as opposed to avgas running from 5.50 and above at airports within 40 miles of so from my airfield. This fuel comes from a distributor in mid South Carolina where ethanol free gas is sold at many more locations than they are here in Georgia. A couple of years ago I bought two Dura Max 14 gln fuel caddies which have wheels, a gravity pump, and are light weight and easy to use. They can be easily lifted into and secured with tie-down straps onto the front bed of a pickup truck. Once they are full I just back the truck up near the airplane and then roll them to the back of the truck and ease them down to the ground off the gate of the truck. I can them easily roll them up next to the airplane. I then ground the plane using a grounding rod next to the hanger and an extension cord rigged up with battery cable clamps. I also use six to eight five gallon gas cans secured to the back of the truck bed. I bought the Dura Max fuel caddies at Costco a couple of years ago for $90. Spruce sold them at that time for well over $200 ! Costco no longer sells them. I bought a cheap auto fuel pump and rigged it up to a garden tractor battery. It’s slow but pumps fuel reliably from the fuel caddies and cans on the ground. My problem with FBOs is that they don’t offer mogas anymore in my area or anywhere close. And when they do it is often only 88 or 89 octane. If the FBOs offered 91 or above mogas at about 50 cents or so above my gas station supplier at a reasonable distance from we which would be the North Georgia area to include the northern burbs of Atlanta I would gladly buy it. The FBOs could purchase a used fuel truck, get it checked out and get supplied from the South Carolina supplier. If the supplier can haul the fuel up to the isolated North Goergia mountain location for a retail price of $3.99 for 93 octane then the FBOs shold be able to get it and sell it for $.50 more per gallon. Even a dollar more than the North Georgia location per gallon would work for me. But the FBOs don’t do this. Maybe it’s regulation or legal liability that stops them. Or maybe it’s just that they aren’t willing to take some risks for more possible reward.

      Yes, I would love to support FBOs and I do so whenever I can. But at such a large price delta it just doesn’t make sense for me to buy their avgas. I love mogas for the same reasons you mentioned. It’s not just the price. These old Lycomings seem to love premium mogas. There are several people at my airfield that have similiar 55 gallon tank set-ups like you have. And we have over 50 aircraft stationed at this beatiful grass airfield. Yet our local (within 40 miles or so) FBOs don’t chose to offer mogas.

      The question is why don’t they?

      • Mike F says

        I’m not familiar with your FBO so can’t answer definitive, but I’d guess they don’t feel the amount of Mogas sales would justify carrying it. They’d probably have to buy a substantial quantity at a time, perhaps 8000 gals., to get a decent price allowing them to sell it at a price you’d find reasonable.
        Our FBO incurs costs related to selling fuel many pilots don’t realize, some of such costs automotive sellers do not incur: sumping trucks daily, regularly sumping and checking tanks and tank filters, changing the filters annually or sooner (the cost of filters for a truck alone runs several hundred $$), etc. let alone the cost of trucks, tanks, pumps, electricity, etc. When a tank truck delivers a load of aviation fuel, our personnel check it out thoroughly before the driver is allowed to off-load, checks automotive service stations are not required to do and do not do…. all in the interest of aviation safety.

    • Mike F says

      Excellent points, Lee. Well said. I, like you, am a pilot and after retiring began a part-time line job at my local municipal airport… it’s an eyeopener, gives one a different perspective.
      Many don’t seem to realize the county or city often get the rent money from hangars and tie-downs… yet it’s the FBO the pilots call when they have a problem, and our FBO often doesn’t charge them for such as a jump-start, plugging in their plane, help shoveling out of snow and so forth. You also touched on the free coffee, Internet service, ice, etc. etc. all of which are not free to the FBO.
      That said, I will acknowledge some FBO’s are more pilot friendly than others, some seem only to care about the charter or business jet business, and some will stick it to the little guy every chance they get.

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