Plane & Pilot
Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Need For Speed!

The narcotic that pilots will pay almost anything for

Go ahead, admit it. When you read all of those pilot reports, you skim them, looking for the cruise speed, then go back and read the rest. It’s a natural thing. We all love the idea of going fast. But how fast is fast? And is there such a thing as fast enough? " />

If you’re willing to give up those 36 minutes and fly 150 to 160 mph, do you gain anything? The most obvious advantage is that it costs less to get into the game to begin with. Even though the tried-and-true Skylane is probably the most expensive airplane in its category, it’s still cheaper than most of the fast movers, and early square-tail Skylanes are screaming bargains. But what if you desperately want the bragging rights that go with a 200 mph cruise speed? Or what if you really do need that speed on long trips? Is there such a thing as cheap speed and how do we evaluate it?

Maybe what we should be talking about here isn’t raw, dollars-be-damned speed, but miles per dollar—how much does each mph cost us (and the cost has to be defined as not only the gas being burned, but also what it costs to get into that seat in the first place)? Plus, we need to apply some kind of factor for maintenance, which is going to be a pure guess.

True Costs Of Speed When you start talking speeds over 160 mph, you’ve automatically stepped into the land of retractable gear (again, excluding Cirrus, Lancair and homebuilts) and, as you move up past 180 mph, the pickings start to get pretty slim. Let’s look at some candidates and see how they stack up when you compare their stats (see “The True Costs Of Speed” chart). Be advised, however, that there’s some Kentucky windage here in terms of fuel burn, and we’re basing our speeds on published specs that often are questionable. Still, it gives us something that can put airplanes in positions relative to one another.

Notice in the chart how the fuel efficiency clusters around 11 to 12 mpg until you hit the Mooneys, when it jumps up to 20 mpg. That’s because Mooneys give up some cabin comfort to keep the frontal area down, plus they have worked really hard at making themselves aerodynamically efficient at higher altitudes. The net result is that they’re delivering higher speeds with smaller motors (200 hp), which translates to better overall efficiency. In fact, the small, but fast, Mooneys are almost a match for the lowly Taylorcraft (5 gph) in the efficiency department. Additionally, some of the early, small Mooneys are not as fast as the later ones, but are relatively low-priced (Skylane prices) and still deliver 170 to 180 mph on 180 horses with 9 to 10 gph fuel burns.


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