Plane & Pilot
Saturday, October 1, 2005

Avgas Alternatives

Is there a solution to skyrocketing fuel prices?

Okay, how about propane? Some of the buses and government vehicles around here run on it. Let me see, I have 24 gallons of storage, the burn rate for propane is much higher than avgas, and I don’t have enough space for a larger tank, so my range may be limited. I crunch a few numbers on the calculator and, voilà, I have the answer: I couldn’t stay in the air long enough to fly out of sight!

When your wallet starts squeezing your brain, it sometimes gets a little goofy as you look for ways around costs. The primary requirement for all fuel is that it has to burn and be plentiful. Hey, how about Listerine? Nah, it just feels like it burns. How about vodka? That, we know, burns. Yeah, but even I have enough pride that I wouldn’t make my little airplane drink $4-a-gallon vodka, and I’m pretty certain Smirnoff or Stoli won’t come down to that level.

Okay, so forget about my airplane. What about a totally different airplane, one with light wing loading and lots of wing area that can get by with less power? Surely someone out there is experimenting with something like that.

The first power source for a super-light airplane that pops to mind is electricity. Huge strides have been made in electric motors—oh, wait, there’s the power cord; maybe it would have to be too long. But what about batteries? My Milwaukee hand drill seems to go forever on one charge. How many of those power bricks would it take to drive a motor big enough to get off the ground? Or maybe we should just line the entire belly of the airplane with easily available D cells. I’m certain that we can get a good deal on them from Costco. I do a few more quick calculations, and it looks as if it will take a dump truck-load of D cells to generate any worthwhile power. Back to the corncobs.

Hey, remember those balsa airplanes from our youth, the ones with a stick for a fuselage and a rubber band running down the bottom? They flew like crazy. Maybe we could just scale that up. In fact, I saw an article on someone who’s doing exactly that. If I remember correctly, he has a carbon-fiber “motor tube,” which is precisely what it sounds like—a long, fuselage-sized tube that has the rubber band in it, and the cockpit, such as it is, is built around that.


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