Tips to improve fuel efficiency in your airplane

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In 1939, a group of scientists at Shell’s Wood River Research lab in Wood River, Illinois, got in a friendly argument as to whose car got the best gas mileage. They finally decided that the only way to settle the argument was to have a contest where everyone got a gallon of gasoline and whoever went the furthest won.

They called it a mileage marathon and continued the tradition until the lab closed in 1975. In later years they added modified and unlimited divisions to the stock rules. The unlimited allowed any modification to the vehicle except that the vehicle had to weigh as much as the original vehicle and had to have an engine that was originally available in the vehicle.

Over the years some employees went a little crazy in their modifications. Being a leading crazy, I set the world record in 1973 at 376.59 miles per gallon, which was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

So, what does that have to do with general aviation? The principals for improving gas mileage in a car also apply to aircraft. The main points are optimizing engine operation, minimizing weight, reducing aerodynamic drag, and improving operation parameters. 

Air BP employee refueling a Cirrus in Oxnard (Photo courtesy Air BP) Optimizing Engine Operation

On the engine operation, the main thing is to make sure that the engine is up to par and all adjustments are correct.

The first item, of course, is timing and mag operation. If the timing is retarded, you will lose a significant amount of efficiency.

The same is true of a fouled spark plug. If you have a fouled plug, the cylinder may still be fired by the second spark plug, but the fouled spark plug will effectively retard the timing and reduce fuel economy.

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