Ada is a pleasant little town in south central Oklahoma with a nice airport (KADH), but there’s nothing obvious to attract pilots to visit there except perhaps to refuel on a cross-country flight.
However, at least twice a year for the past 16 years, aircraft owners from all over the world have descended on Ada to attend the Advanced Pilot Seminar (APS), sometimes described as “the Church of Lean-of-Peak.”
Located next door to each other at the Ada airport, the companies share common ownership. GAMI manufactures GAMIjectors, which are after-market fuel injectors that balance fuel flow and make lean-of-peak (LOP) operation possible. TAT produces turbo-normalizing systems for Bonanzas and other high performance singles and LOP operation of its turbo system is highly recommended.
The APS course germinated on the CompuServe AVSIG forum back in the 1990s, during the days of dial-up modems. After meeting online and learning they shared many then-controversial opinions about proper engine operation, course founders John Deakin, George Braly and Walter Atkinson decided to meet at Oshkosh and camp together in the North 40.
Each of the founders has a unique background. Deakin is a former Air America pilot who retired as a Japan Airlines 747 captain and lives in Southern California. He was already well known as an early contributor to AVSIG and later as author of the monthly Pelican’s Perch column for AvWeb.
Braly, who has run 10 engines to TBO, is a longtime pilot and entrepreneur who was raised on a ranch near Ada. He has dual degrees in aeronautical engineering and law and is co-owner and chief engineer of GAMI.
Atkinson is a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, who now lives at an airpark near Jackson, Mississippi. A retired dentist with ATP, CFII and A&P ratings, he has thousands of hours of flying experience and his computerized course presentation, which has been enhanced over the years, is both informative and entertaining.
“George Braly introduced the GAMI line of balanced fuel injectors in the mid-90s and John Deakin bought the first set,” said Atkinson, who bought set number 3. “Those injectors, along with sophisticated graphic engine monitors, have proven to be the key to successful lean-of-peak operation.”
At about the same time, Braly built a highly-instrumented aircraft engine test facility at GAMI that allows an engine to be run under conditions that would never be attempted in the air.
“We learned how to operate aircraft engines lean-of-peak like the airlines routinely did back in the days of radial engines,” said Braly. “The trick is having balanced fuel injectors and the knowledge to operate the engine properly.”
“It’s amazing how many pilots have no clue about engine management,” added Atkinson, “but it’s pretty easy to win an argument when science is on your side.”
“After we wrote extensively on the Internet about the many advantages of LOP operation, friends kept pestering us to do a live class on proper engine management, so we thought we would give the course one time and shut up,” continued Atkinson.
About 20 pilots attended the first class and several articles were written on lean-of-peak operation, which was then a radical departure from the typical advice to lean an engine gradually until it runs rough and then richen slightly.
Unfortunately, operating that way, typically 50° rich of peak, puts the engine in the now-famous “red box,” where it experiences maximum internal stress.
The APS course does not condemn pilots who choose to fly rich-of-peak for maximum speed. Instead, the advice is to be sure to run rich enough (probably at least 100° rich) to avoid damage to the engine.
According to the APS instructors, operating LOP results in about a three knot speed penalty, but they point out that a destination can often be reached quicker if the reduced fuel burn means a fuel stop can be eliminated.
“For three years we ran a class every 60 days and after 16 years of doing this we’re now mainstream,” said Atkinson, with a laugh. “It was a lot more fun to be renegades, but so far it’s remained enjoyable to share our knowledge and we plan to continue as long as we keep ticking.”
Deakin is 78, Atkinson is 68 and Braly is 67.
The trio has taken the show on the road a few times, including Australia, and they’ve also developed a $395 online course that comes free with the $995 cost of the live presentation.
Although spending almost a thousand dollars, plus travel expenses, to attend the seminar in Ada may seem high, I heard no complaints when I attended last October. For an active pilot, the 20% fuel savings from operating LOP will pay for the seminar in short order. Plus, lower cylinder head temps result in longer engine life.
The next “basic” APS course in Ada is scheduled for March 17-19, 2017. There is also a new “advanced” course for graduates of the basic course, which has been offered once so far and will probably be scheduled again soon.
In addition, the APS course will be offered in Europe for the first time this year. It is scheduled for June 23-25, 2017, in Kortrijk, Belgium.