A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

January 2011   

Some Aviation (and other) Observations

By Barry Meek

        The fuel you burn in your airplane is about to change.  Those words, or some similar, were sprung on pilots over ten years ago when the big push to get the lead out of avgas was in its early stages.  Human nature (procrastination) assisted by the lack of regulatory incentive, has held up the big change for over a decade.  In fact it was back in the mid 1980’s when the Environmental Protection Agency outlawed lead in gasoline.  Because of the specifics in the nature of avgas, it’s still around but on borrowed time.  We’re all burning unleaded gas in our vehicles, and now even less of that, as alcohol/ethanol has become mandated in many countries.  But in an effort to clean up the environment, it’s not a simple matter of changing the fuel.   Automobile engines had to be re-thought and engineered to operate without the lead that the old fuels contained. 

           The designers and manufacturers of aircraft engines have seen this coming to our sector, but have more or less been dragging their feet in the designing stage of engine building.  They’ve continued with the technology that was developed in a time before anyone was concerned with the air-quality issue.  Perhaps the fact that in the big picture, aircraft contribute such a tiny amount of pollution into the air, nobody has pressured us enough to force changes.  Now, governments are cracking down on avgas, the final holdout still containing lead.   

            Apparently, the industry has been working on the problem all this time, just not hard enough.  Alternatives to 100LL fuel exists, or are in various stages of development and testing now.  A couple of these are probably already perfect and just waiting for the official stamp of approval.

So there’s hope on that front.  On the other side of the equation is the technology of the engines themselves.  While automotive engine technology has  come a long way, the mainstay in the piston aircraft engines remains about the same as it was back in the 1930’s and ‘40’s.  We now find ourselves on the verge of losing 100LL altogether, and for some owners of the higher performance engines, it means they could be grounded …. soon.  Those with engines that burn mogas look to be in good shape.

              Did you ever wonder how it’s possible that two aircraft can be in the exact same position, at the same altitude at the same time?  Mid-air collisions are pretty hard to believe when there is just so much air up there!  But we all know they happen.  The reality is that airplanes must come down, and when they do it’s usually at an airport.  So it shouldn’t be too surprising that at some point in time, there will be more than one trying to land at the same spot.  Around airports is usually the area where these collisions are going to happen.  

              I don’t have trouble understanding that concept.  But I’m one who doesn’t have much patience and waiting in any line is something that I really prefer not to do.  The reality here is that when I walk up to a bank machine where I don’t see anyone around, suddenly out of nowhere another person beats me by one step to that machine.  Then he’ll tie it up for five minutes or more with his business while I have to wait. 

               The same thing happens when I go for a haircut.  I drive into the lot at the mall where the barber is located, hoping he’s having a quiet day,  jump out of my car and hurry toward the door only to be one step behind someone else.  That one step has just cost me close to a half hour.

                It’s no different in a supermarket.  With a small number of items in my cart heading for the check-out, I always seem to find myself that one step behind the woman with a cart that’s overflowing with food and kids.  She beats me to the lineup, and it’s another 10 minute wait.

                Although this next incident doesn’t involve waiting, it’s a mystery similar to the mid-air collision probability.  I ride my bicycle on a circular route near my home.  It’s about 15 miles of quiet, country roads where  it’s rare to see a car.  But I’m beginning to think that a cyclist is a magnet for all vehicles within several miles.  I can ride for long periods of time in total peace and quiet, when not just one, but two vehicles approach from opposite directions.   We will meet, crammed on to the same narrow piece of pavement at the same moment.   It’s incredible to me that this can happen so often.  I’m left wondering what exactly are the odds?  How do the only two vehicles traveling in opposite directions on a five-mile stretch of road meet at the same spot where a cyclist happens to be?   And it’s not a rare occurrence.   It must happen about 50% of the time.  What are the real possibilities of that happening?  Maybe someone who is good with statistics could figure that one out while I forget about it all for a while and go flying.

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