I got ethanol in my gas… why?

by Pete Schoeninger
© Copyright 2022. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine December 2022/January 2023 Digital Issue

Q) When I test car gas (my airplane has a car gas STC) that is advertised being “non-ethanol,” usually one of the six cans I fill tests positive for ethanol. The others always test negative. The convenience store manager where I buy my gas checked with his sources and they swear up and down that their no ethanol gas really is no ethanol. So why would one, and always just one, of the cans I fill test positive?
A) When you start filling your first can, the gas out of the nozzle is from whatever grade of fuel was sold to the previous customer, thus a good chance of a trace of ethanol. To avoid this possible problem, put the first gallon or two of non-ethanol gas into your vehicle (provided it can run on that kind of gas) before filling your cans.

Q) There was some press coverage recently about a new Cessna 172 flying from the West Coast to Hawaii. I don’t see how this could be done, as fuel required would put the airplane well over gross weight. IF it could be done legally, would you, do it?
A) You’re partially correct. To make the flight you would need to takeoff over legal gross weight. This can be permitted, usually up to 20% over gross with a special permit and restrictions. There are firms on the East and West Coasts that install temporary tankage for long distance flights. They are familiar with getting paperwork approved from the feds allowing flights at over gross weight, with special restrictions.
Let’s play with some hypothetical rounded numbers. Assume an empty Cessna 172S weight is 1675 lbs., and legal gross weight is 2550 lbs. That gives a useful load for standard operations of about 875 pounds. In still air, you would need about 18 hours to travel the distance of 2200 miles at 120 mph. Let’s add 3 hours of fuel to be safe, and let’s assume we burn 9 gallons per hour. Twenty-one (21) hours X 9 gallons per hour is 189 gallons (189 gallons X 6 lbs. per gallon) = 1134 lbs. of fuel required. Add 200 lbs. for pilot and minimal survival stuff and you have 1334 lbs. onboard, plus the empty weight of 1675 = 3009 lbs. at takeoff, or 459 lbs. over gross weight at takeoff. This will be just under 20 percent (510 lbs.) over gross weight the feds often limit you to.
You can do an internet search for a Cessna 172S West Coast to Hawaii, August 2022 for more information on a recently completed flight.
And would I do it? If I was young and single, maybe. But I would not do it today now that I am an old coot and have had to make precautionary landings a few times in my flying career. Besides, I can only swim about 50 feet before sinking. There is NO place to land along the way to fix any minor problem. With a nearly new airplane, and that very reliable IO-360 Lycoming engine, the chance of a problem occurring is very, very small, but it is not nil.

Q) My insurance agent called to ask me to increase the hull coverage on my airplane. His reasoning made sense…the replacement cost of my airplane is probably lots more than what it was 2-3 years ago when I first took out the policy. But that also means an increase in premium. Would you, do it?
A) Yes, for sure.

Q) Recently you stated that you found, among others, the Citabria to be an easy taildragger to land. My friend flies a Citabria and a J-3 Cub and he agrees the Citabria is easier to land. I thought Cubs were drop-dead easy to fly, easier than anything else with wings?
A) Unlike many taildraggers including J-3 Cubs, Citabrias have good forward visibility while sitting on the ground. The wing angle-of-attack is less than stall angle at touchdown, so you can land them three-point not quite stalled. The J-3 requires an almost stalling angle of attack on touchdown and has much worse forward visibility. And now my Cub flying buddies will probably be hunting me down this fall after voicing this opinion, because in their eyes, nothing beats a Cub!

Q) To help the family of a recently deceased friend sell his airplane, I have posted a few flyers at our local airport. A couple of folks have looked at the airplane. Each told me “I want to think about it.” But I never heard back from them. I related this story to a friend who is a car salesman and he laughed and said he hears that line a lot. What would you do?
A) “I’ll think about it” usually means, I am NOT going to buy your airplane at your terms today, and probably not tomorrow either, but I don’t have the guts or the courtesy to tell you. The most common reason, but not the only one for not buying, is that the prospect does not have the ability or the inclination to spend as much money as the seller is asking. Your next job as the seller is to probe a little and find out why. Then, maybe, you can resolve those issues and you have a sale!
Let me get on my often-repeated soapbox for a moment… The chance of selling an airplane locally from a local ad is small. You’ve got to advertise that airplane within a large radius of your local airport, via print and internet advertising (including Midwest Flyer Magazine.) It costs several hundred dollars a month to own an airplane. Spend a few hundred bucks on accurate ads, or hire a sales firm or salesman, and “git’er done!”

Q) Are there regulations that require an airplane be grounded or bonded to the refueling source before fueling?
A) The Bible of aircraft refueling is National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) document 407. As I understand it, it is advisory in nature. But it becomes law if governing bodies of the land you are standing on has made it into regulation. You can locate NFPA 407 online. It is a little cumbersome to read but has good information. Regardless of the law, it is ALWAYS a good idea to bond the airplane and the refueling vessel before refueling. Sidebar, you may note, some car gas pumps recommend touching some metal on your car with the fuel nozzle before refueling, as a bonding effort. (A tip of my hat to my former head lineman, Ray Dalman. Ray later became the manager at the same field he was head lineman at.)

Q) Would there be more value to an airplane which can be approved for car gas vs. a very similar model which could not?
A) To my mind yes, but I have not seen this in the market. If the world situation deteriorates badly, aviation fuel might get awfully scarce vs. car gas being more available. Car gas burning airplanes then would be in more demand. Of course, I wish the best of luck to Swift Fuels and GAMI on their quests to sell airplane fuel to replace 100LL.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger is a 40-year general aviation veteran, starting out as a line technician as a teenager, advancing through the ranks to become the co-owner and manager of a fixed base operation, and manager of an airport in a major metropolitan community. He welcomes questions and comments about aircraft ownership via email at PeterSchoeningerLLC@gmail.com

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