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EAA Experimenter

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Paul's Pick

Let's Meet the Challenge

Paul Poberezny
At EAA Oshkosh 1982, then FAA Administrator J. Lynn Helms discusses the autofuel STC with EAA President Paul Poberezny. (Read the story of EAA receiving its first autofuel STC approval at Oshkosh in 1982.)

Maybe I am wrong, but let’s try again. Aviation grade fuel is expensive in comparison to autofuel. Most autofuel contains ethanol, frequently a corn byproduct that is not compatible with aircraft powerplants, its systems, or parts of it. Your automobile and mine operate on this same fuel. The question is why can’t the gasoline and 10 percent ethanol that operate the powerplant in our automobile do the same for the powerplant in our airplane? What needs to be changed? It’s a simple question, but not easy to answer. It is well-known that the market for aviation fuel is very small and the cost to get it to the pumps drives the price per gallon up, thus making its future questionable.

When we (EAA) proposed the use of autofuel many years ago for general aviation aircraft, there was a large outcry from both aviation individuals and others that it was unsafe - not compatible for aircraft use for numerous reasons based on individual opinions. I received many letters of protest.

I remember attending a large meeting on automobile fuel for aircraft use with one of our early EAA directors, Harry Zeisloft (EAA 1402), a highly qualified engineer. Many experts from industry and government had little support for the idea, citing safety issues and personal opinions. According to some experts, diesel powerplants were the answer (as diesel fuel will always be cheaper than aviation fuel).

I was not dissuaded, nor was Harry, and we began our first EAA Auto Fuel Test Program, starting with my homebuilt Cub powered with a Continental 85-hp engine as a test aircraft with great success. By using the best information on fuels available, flights to 20,500 feet testing for vapor lock were no problem. Our next test aircraft was the replica Spirit of St. Louis, powered with a 220-hp Continental engine that was being readied for the around-the-U.S. Lindbergh tour, being partially sponsored by a major fuel manufacturer, in part to traverse the Rocky Mountains of the West.

We had on-site the support of FAA personnel in the evaluation of the many types and models of general aviation aircraft over the period of several years of flight testing. Based on our successful testing, the FAA issued to EAA supplemental type certificates for some 312 types and models of aircraft to 24,338 aircraft owners. (Read the story of EAA receiving its first autofuel STC approval at Oshkosh in 1982.)

The question remains: Do we as experimenters have the knowledge, desire, and enthusiasm to improve today’s alternative fuels (that is, gasoline with 10 percent ethanol) while keeping costs in mind for such a variety of aircraft? The possibilities and need for a practical solution lie before us. Changes and solutions are what we are about.

I would be pleased to receive and share your comments with your fellow members. - Paul Poberezny

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