What do you get when you combine an industrious chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and a resourceful airport manager? If you are at Grants Pass Airport (S38) in Southern Oregon, you get a fuel truck that dispenses automotive fuel, known as “mogas,” for use in aircraft engines.
The acquisition of the fuel truck makes Grants Pass one of only two airports in the Beaver State that dispenses automobile fuel.
“The idea started as a suggestion by members of the Grants Pass Airport Advisory Board, of which I and fellow chapter member Ken Clark are members, to offer mogas at Grants Pass, even if only in meager quantities,” said Brent Battles, the secretary of EAA Chapter 725. “Speaking with our incredible airport manager, Larry Graves, we began researching the possibility of providing premium auto fuel, which nearly all experimental and a growing number of certificated aircraft are able to use and at a significant cost savings over 100LL.”
Currently, Phillips 66 is the fuel distributor at Grants Pass, supplying the airport with 100LL and Jet-A. Phillips 66 does not offer automobile fuel. Historically, 100LL is $2 to $4 more a gallon than automotive fuel.
There are 175 aircraft based at the airport, doing a mixture of business and recreational flying. The airport is reliever airport for Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (KMFR), which is approximately 24 miles to the east.
As Josephine County Airport manager, Graves oversees operations at both Grants Pass Airport and the Illinois Valley Airport (S34) in Cave Junction.
“I was getting a lot of requests for mogas,” he said. “Our customer base includes pilots with low-compression engines, you know, your Cessna 140 and Citabrias and the like. I would say that approximately 20% of our aircraft can use mogas. These pilots were letting their airplanes sit in the hangar instead of paying the $6 per gallon for the available 100LL.”
Before the fuel truck was on location, pilots who wished to use mogas had to fill up gas cans in town and haul the fuel out to the airport. Leftover fuel languished in the cans, usually in someone’s hangar.
“There was more to this than cost savings and convenience,” Graves stressed. “Dispensing fuel from a truck is a lot safer than pilots hauling gas cans from a gas station in town.We don’t want half-full cans of gasoline lying around in someone’s hangar, so there was a safety aspect that helped me make the decision.”
Graves was fortunate enough to find a fuel truck for sale at a nearby FBO.
“Medford Air Service was liquidating its assets. They had an old fuel truck, a 1965 Chevy Aviation Fueler, they were trying to get rid of,” Graves recalled.
Although the truck needed refurbishment, Graves determined that it could be done cost effectively, and put in a bid for the truck.
“I was able to pick it up for $2,200,” he said.
Graves paid for the truck through a $10,000 discretionary fund he has to cover the cost of necessary equipment. A local trucking service brought the vehicle back to Grants Pass and was contracted to restore the vehicle to usable status.
Unfortunately that company did not make the truck a priority, and the pilots started to get impatient.
“It languished at the trucking company for several months,” said Battles. “And I decided to drive over and ask what was going on with the project. I met apathy and the impression that they wouldn’t be touching it any time soon. So I drove back to the airport and asked Larry if our EAA chapter could take it on as a project. By that afternoon the airport maintenance tech had driven it to the airport and parked it in our chapter hangar. I had barely broached the subject to other members but knew we had enough dedicated folks to pull it off.”
The chapter offered its services restoring the truck in exchange for credit against its hangar ground lease. Graves accepted the offer and the project got underway. Previously, Chapter 725 had built a campground, painted a compass rose, installed an auxiliary wind sock, and refurbished the segmented circle at the airport in exchange for credit on its hangar lease, so there was precedent for the arrangement.
Restoring the truck was a lot of work, according to Battles.
“The truck needed new tail lights and wiring, turn signal, wiper switch, and horn, as well as repair of rusted rain guttering around the cab,” he recounted. “Cosmetically, we completely repainted the body, polished the stainless-steel tank, and procured and applied the required fuel truck placards, along with adding the words, ‘Josephine County Airports,’ in a font tipped in flames —to add a little levity to the project.”
Graves reimbursed the chapter for the cost of parts and materials. Both men say it was a proud day when the truck was inspected and signed off by the state and local authorities for use as a fuel truck.
The truck is parked next to the fuel tanks on the ramp. The auto fuel is supplied by Colvin Oil, a local petroleum company. The fuel is tested by FBO personnel, then put into the truck for distribution. It’s important that the fuel does not contain ethanol, a common additive in automotive gasoline, because ethanol is bad for aircraft engines, airport officials note.
“The truck holds 1,200 gallons,” said Graves, noting that it went into operation in mid-summer, just in time for peak flying weather. “I think the availability of mogas increased our flying traffic a little bit.”
Graves predicts the new fueling option will continue to increase air traffic at the airport, as pilots from around the region fly in to take advantage of the less expensive fuel.