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? " />

Another way to look at the speed is how much we have to pay for each additional mile per hour of speed when buying the airplane. Even when using Bluebook aircraft values as comparisons, which are usually low, it shows that airplanes like the Bonanza, which are much larger and more luxurious, but nowhere nearly as efficient as the Mooneys, command higher prices. Therefore, on a dollar-per-mph basis, they’re much more expensive ($785 per mph versus $400 per mph), plus they’re way down in the fuel efficiency curve. So why do people buy Bonanzas over Mooneys? Probably because they like the comfort and don’t object to burning a little more gas. So, once you’re going fast, other factors apparently count as well.

Range: The Great Equalizer
With all this talk of speed, there’s one other factor that has to be tossed into the decision equation: range. How far will it go without stopping at a gas station? When we’re talking 500-mile trips, that’s not usually a factor because just about everything has at least 500 sm of range, but a funny thing happens when we stretch that trip out to 1,200 miles. Suddenly, haulin’ ass isn’t as important as haulin’ gas.

Let’s say you’re flying a 300 hp, 1980 Bellanca Viking that actually does deliver its advertised 202 mph cruise speed. Its spec sheet says its range is barely 600 miles (and we’ll bet that isn’t at 202 mph). So, to safely make 1,200 miles and still have some reserve, it would have to stop twice to get gas. The actual time in the air would be 5.9 hours (probably longer, since spec sheet range numbers usually are at economy settings, but speed is quoted at 75%). Two fuel stops, however, are going to add 1.5 hours (45 minutes per stop, which is conservative) for a total of 7.3 hours.

Now, let’s say your lowly Cessna 182 is plodding along at 160 mph, but burning significantly less gas. More importantly, it’s a newer model with 88-gallon tanks, which, according to the specifications, gives 913 miles of range. So, it easily can make it with only one stop. Seven and a half hours of flying plus 0.7 of ground time gives you 8.2 hours of total elapsed time. So, the much faster Bellanca Viking only got there 55 minutes faster. But are all of those things a really big deal on such a long trip?


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