All Aviation Articles By Sarina Houston

General Aviation's Avgas Problem: Low Lead to No Lead?

The general aviation industry is searching for an alternative for 100 low lead avgas (100LL). But it is really necessary?

By now we all know that human exposure to lead is unhealthy – most commonly, exposure to lead causes neurological problems in children and cardiovascular problems in adults. We’ve probably all made sure that our walls weren’t once painted with leaded paint and our lead pipes aren’t corroding and contaminating our drinking water. But have you considered that general aviation aircraft operations are the main source of lead pollution today? Those who work in and around small piston aircraft might be exposed to harmful lead pollution – and the EPA and FAA are ready to do something about it.

"Emissions of lead from piston-engine aircraft using leaded avgas comprise approximately half of the national inventory of lead emitted to air," claims the EPA. The organization estimates that about 41,000 tons of lead from avgas was emitted between 1970 and 2007. And, According to an EPA factsheet, the concentration of lead in the air increases near general aviation airports due to the use of 100LL fuel.

But our air quality is fine, right? And people have been using 100LL for years without adverse health affects…right? This might be true, but general aviation’s lead problem, while seemingly minor, is not a small problem at all.

Lead emitted from general aviation flight operations not only pollutes the air in and around airports, but it’s capable of traveling great distances before accumulating on the ground and in ground water. And, because there is no level of lead that is said to be safe when it comes to human exposure, the EPA and other environmental groups are pushing for the aviation community to adopt a lead-free fuel.

While many in the industry agree that it’s time to make the switch to an alternative fuel, others aren’t quite sure it’ll be worth the price. To the author’s knowledge, there have been no studies regarding the amount of lead in humans that work or live around general aviation airports, nor has there been any actual emissions testing on aircraft that operate with 100LL fuel. The EPA and other organizations have assumed that the hazard exists based on the amount of lead in avgas, and the fact that avgas is the only leaded fuel out there, leaving some people wondering if the problem even exists at all.

Regardless of the lack of information, the FAA has declared its agreement with the EPA and is taking steps toward a lead-free future, noting that general aviation aircraft are the only type of fuel-burning transportation that still uses leaded fuel.

In July 2014, the FAA received nine proposals for alternative fuels that would replace 100LL avgas, including proposals from Afton Chemical Company, Avgas LLC, Shell, Swift Fuels, BP, TOTAL, and Hjelmco. For the next few years, the FAA will be testing and evaluating these fuels during a two-phase, six million dollar per year program called the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI). They hope to have a solution that satisfies the entire general aviation fleet of 100LL users by December 2018.

As an aircraft owner, you might not be worried about air quality around airports or exposure to lead through your own piston aircraft use. But the transition to lead-free fuel is happening, and the bigger problem here is that an alternative fuel will affect all 100LL users in the not-so-distant future. Before long, aircraft owners could be faced with buying a new engine or at the very least, a certification process for a new fuel type. While the FAA hopes to find a fuel that will keep all aircraft flying, there is bound to be a cost associated with keeping 100LL aircraft in the air in the post-100LL days. And if you thought today’s avgas is expensive, a new type will probably cost even more.

Diesel might be the way to go, after all.

What are your thoughts? Is the creation of a lead-free fuel a necessary step into the future for GA, or have environmentalist organizations created a problem that doesn’t really exist? Comment and let us know!

National Aviation Day: A Look Back at Aviation through the Years


Photo: Library of Congress

August 19th is National Aviation Day, a day on which many of us involved in aviation reflect on the past, present and future of our industry. Since it's the past that got us to where we are today - an aviation industry focused on innovation and technology - this year on National Aviation Day, take time to consider how far the aviation industry has come. From the earliest balloons to the Boeing 747, and from the Wright Brothers to the F-35, here are a few aviation highlights that will take you back in time.

Early Flight
Birds and Balloons - Before airplanes, scientists were studying birds, balloons, and other flying contraptions. According to the Library of Congress, the first kite was invented as early as 1000 B.C. in China. The Chinese later used kites to measure distances and for reconnaissance. As kites and other flying wings were being developed during this time, Leonardo Da Vinci was studying the flight of birds and developing designs for flying machines. Balloons became popular in the 1700s, after the Montgolfier brothers powered the first balloon flights.

The First Fixed Wing Aircraft - Balloons were no match for Sir George Cayley, also known as the Father of the Aeroplane, who first noticed and recorded the four forces of flight. Cayley also design the first fixed-wing aircraft and was perhaps the first modern engineer, researching and recording the first theories about stability & control and wing dihedral.

Langley vs. Gustav Whitehead vs. the Wright Brothers - In the early 1900s, Samuel Langley was designing and building the first airplanes with a grant from the U.S. government. Langley was unsuccessful, and during the same time, the Wright brothers successfully made the first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Later, witnesses would claim the Gustav Whitehead had actually successfully completed the first manned flight in 1901, two years before the Wright brothers, but his flight are unrecognized due to lack of proof.

Going the Distance
The 1900s brought considerable advancements in aviation. With two world wars, competition was heavy, bringing many "firsts" in aviation and rapid progression.

Crossing the English Channel - 1909 brought the first crossing the English Channel by a heavier-than-air aircraft - a simple monoplane piloted by aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot.

US Airmail - In 1911, the U.S. started using aircraft for air mail. In 1911, the first U.S. airmail flight occurred. Many more would follow, and in 1914, with World War I about to being, The Benoist Company started the first scheduled passenger airline service between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida.

Crossing the Atlantic - In 1919, the infamous Vickers Vimy made the first nonstop Atlantic crossing while the military developed bombers and fighter aircraft. Charles Lindbergh completed the first flight solo nonstop Atlantic crossing in 1927, becoming an aviation legend.

Barnstomers
The post-World War I era brought a surplus of inexpensive aircraft - specifically the Curtis JN-4 "Jenny" - to the civilian world, and people started flying these airplanes around to give rides and performing air show type stunts. These "barnstormers" as they were named, operated out of fields and traveled frequently.

Modern Flight
Post- World War I and World War II brought even more advancements, like instrument flight, jet engines, supersonic flight and a trip to the moon!

First Instrument Flight-In 1929, Jimmy Doolittle took off, flew and landed without any outside references. Doolittle is also credited with discovering the visual and motion limitations involved with instrument flight, including the idea of trusting the instruments over bodily sensations.

Jet Engines, Supersonic Flight and Moon Landings - The 1930s brought us the first practical jet aircraft - the HE-178 Heinkel - and Chuck Yeager's legendary flight that broke the sound barrier for the first time. By the 1970s, Boeing was making the 747 and the first Concorde entered service, capable of supersonic flight from New York to London in just less than three hours - incredible by anyone's account. And do you think Sir George Cayley or the Wright brothers have ever imagined we'd land on the moon in 1969?

While the supersonic transport aircraft industry didn't take off, today's technology is amazing, nonetheless. With airliners like the A380, capable of transporting over 800 passengers, stealth technology found in the B-2 Bomber and now the F-35, composite materials and electric powered aircraft, the aviation industry continues to advance in fascinating ways.

This year on National Aviation Day, what part of aviation history will you remember and celebrate?

The World of Ultralights, Homebuilts, Experimentals and Light Sport Aircraft

I haven't spent much time around ultralight aircraft, and to be honest, until my recent visit to the ultralight runway at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, I didn't actually know what some of the terms surround the ultralight community meant: Ultralight, microlight, experimental, trike, chute, weight-shift control, hang glider, gyrocopter...the terms are endless!

It only took one trip to Oshkosh, though, to realize why many aviation enthusiasts consider the ultralight category more fun than heavier single-engine general aviation aircraft. And the benefits of an ultralight hobby are numerous - it's simple and affordable, with less regulations.

Ultralight aircraft are actually referred to by the FAA as "vehicles" and they are regulated by FAR Part 103. You don't need a pilot certificate. You don't need a medical certificate. There is no age limitation and no training requirements (although training is highly recommended). Ultralight flying is mostly restriction-free, but pilots are limited to flying in good weather, during the day and over unpopulated areas.

In short, there's nothing to it! Ultralights are simple and easy to fly.

The ultralight category of vehicles is divided into powered vehicles (powered parachutes, rotorcraft, fixed wing) and unpowered vehicles (hang gliders, paragliders, balloons, etc.) Most are single-seat vehicles, but there are some dual -seat ultralights made for training purposes.

Ultralights are also known as microlights in some other countries, hence the confusion between the two terms. An ultralight aircraft can be one of a few different types of vehicles, including:

  • Weight-shift control (also known as a trikes).
  • Powered parachutes
  • Powered paragliding
  • Powered hang gliding
  • Autogyros or gyrocopters
  • Helicopters
  • Hot air balloons

What about Light Sport Aircraft and E-LSA?

Light Sport Aircraft can include airplanes, powered parachute, weight-shift control, gyroplane, balloons and gliders, but these aircraft aren't always considered LSAs. According to EAA, "These aircraft can be certificated in any category, such as standard, experimental amateur-built, experimental exhibition, experimental light sport aircraft (E-LSA), or special light sport aircraft (S-LSA)."

An E-LSA, or experimental LSA, according to the FAA, includes any aircraft that "was built and tested to the applicable consensus standards by the aircraft’s manufacturer, and possesses the manufacturer’s statement of compliance."

Wait, there's more! Amateur and Experimental Aircraft
Ultralight aircraft are often amateur built, which, Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR), part 21, section 21.191(g), notes that, "...a major portion of which has been fabricated and assembled by person(s) who undertook the construction project solely for their own education or recreation."

Finally, the term experimental aircraft is an FAA term that describes an aircraft that is not type-certified under any other category (such as standard, aerobatic, etc).

But then there's this term: Experimental-amateur built (E-AB). What's this mean? E-AB aircraft are also referred to as just "experimental" or "homebuilt" and is described in this GAO excerpt:
"E-AB aircraft can contain previously untested systems, including engines not designed for aircraft use, and modifications of airframes, controls, and instrumentation. The E-AB fleet is diverse, ranging from open-framework designs with no cabin structure to small, pressurized airplanes able to fly long distances...Following a successful inspection of the aircraft and documentation review, FAA issues a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category to the aircraft’s builder and assigns operating limitations in two phases specifying how and where the aircraft can be flown."

A bit confusing, isn't it? Hopefully the explanations above clear up some of the confusion, but an experienced instructor can provide a thorough and proper understanding of all the terms and vehicles, making the idea of ultralights less foreign. I, for one, am encouraged to learn more!

10 Things to Do at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Headed to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year? Here's a rundown of some of the must-see aircraft and events!

  1. View the action on the Ultralight Runway. At the south end of the airport, you can sit back and relax while watching powered parachutes, powered gliders, light sport aircraft and other ultralights fly around each morning and night. You'll also see hot air balloons and home-built rotorcraft.
  2. Help build the One Week Wonder airplane and sign the logbook as a builder. The aircraft, a Zenith CH 750, is a kit plane that Oshkosh staff hopes will showcase how a plane can be built easily and affordably. The aircraft will be built over the course of seven days at EAA AirVenture 2014.
  3. Watch the Rockwell Collins Night Air Show and fireworks display. This one's a no-brainer. Who would want to miss performances from some of the best air show performers in the world, especially when pyrotechnics are involved? There's an impressive fireworks display at the end of each night air show.
  4. Take an EAA Selfie and post it to Twitter using the official AirVenture selfie hashtag, #EAASelfie. And don't forget to tag us @GlobalAir!
  5. Visit the Fly Market for the latest and greatest aviation accessories, gadgets and technology! This is a great place to pick up those flight supplies you've been wanting, grab some swag, and enter to win drawings at the booths of various aviation companies.
  6. Tip your hat to veterans after the Old Glory Honor Flight returns. After the air show on August 1st, a group of veterans will return from visiting memorials in Washington, D.C. on a Boeing 737. This is your chance to stand among thousands of others and salute them as they return "home" - a welcome home party they deserve!
  7. Dust off your flight bag at the "Rusty Pilot" seminar. Don't we all need a refresher? If you haven't flown in a while, chances are good that you'll be inspired to get back in the air while you're at Oshkosh. Naturally, one of your first stops should be the AOPA Rusty Pilot Seminar. It's the perfect way to brush up on your skills, including a rundown of what you've missed and what's changed within the past few years that you've been away. Bonus: Breakfast will be provided!
  8. Learn how to pass your checkride… or how to build an airplane…or how to buy an airplane…or how to build a hangar…or how to lean an engine….or how to take better pictures… you get the picture!
  9. Try your hand at "flying" the F-35 simulator/cockpit display. F-35 instructors will be on hand to demonstrate the abilities of the newest fighter jet with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Cockpit Display.
  10. Stop by the Globalair.com booth! Have we met before? Stop by and meet your hard-working GlobalAir team! We'll be in Hangar D, Booth 4028.

What are you looking forward to most at Oshkosh this year? Let us know in the comments!

Lessons Learned: What Pilots Wish They'd Known

Just for fun, I asked the pilots of Reddit what they wished they'd known as a student pilot. They came through, with answers that were insightful, useful and some of them, funny.

Here's a list of things that pilots wish they'd known during flight training, coupled with a lot of good advice for new student pilots. (To see the full list, check out the Reddit thread here.) According to the flying aces of Reddit, every student pilot should know:

  1. How to get fuel at a self-serve pump: For some pilots, a lesson in self-serve fuel may come long after a private pilot check ride. It can be embarrassing when you realize the FBO is closed and the only fuel option available is self-serve - and you don't really know how to do it. New students can prevent this embarrassment by getting hands-in instruction from someone who's been there before.
  2. What water-contaminated fuel looks like: This one's easy. Just fill up the GATS jar with fuel, then take it inside and add water, and then you'll know! But you'd be surprised at how many pilots have no idea what to look for when it comes to fuel contamination, or what to do when they find water or sediment in fuel during the preflight.
  3. What to do when you have a flat tire: A flat or low tire can be a huge bummer, especially when you're away from your home field. And for some pilots, the first flat tire experience leaves them wondering just what they should do next, and wishing they has asked about this situation before hand.
  4. How to start a hot engine: Starting a hot engine, especially a fuel-injected engine, can be tricky. Hot start procedures are best learned through a demonstration by a qualified instructor or fellow pilot instead of when you're stuck on the ground at an unfamiliar airport.
  5. That you probably won't fly as often as you'd like: With weather delays, maintenance delays and scheduling issues, your flight training might take longer than expected. Expect it.
  6. That you can talk to air traffic controllers like they're human: Yes, there are actual human bodies behind those robot-like voices. Take a tour of your local control tower to see for yourself. And, you don't always have to talk to controllers like they're robots. They speak regular old English, just like you.
  7. That actual IMC experience is invaluable: Get some.
  8. That VMC conditions can look and feel like IMC at night over water: See number seven.
  9. That making friends with an A&P is valuable: Having an A&P mechanic friend or mentor will mean you'll be able to watch them work on airplanes, ask them questions about systems, and learn the ins and outs of your airplane. You'll be a better pilot when you fully understand the airplane's systems.
  10. To make sure the FBO will be open: Almost every pilot has a story to tell about landing at an airport after hours, unable to get fuel or access a computer. It happens to the best of us. Check the hours before you plan a flight. (You can find FBO information at Globalair.com's Airport Resource Center.)
  11. To be prepared to change course, in more ways than one. Be prepared for anything, from unforecast weather, a diversion, a runway closure, and those pesky emergency situations you practiced so much. Your route to becoming a skilled pilot will rarely be a straight one!

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