April 2008 Issue
Flight Fuel Efficiency: Is Diesel Really Better?
Yes, but only by a slim margin that fades when diesel is compared head to head with the most efficient gas engines. Jet A availabilty, not cost, is the driver.
Give pilots and aircraft owners credit for one thing: It takes a strong constitution to remain functional and focused when the avgas truck creaks to a halt and you realize that what you thought was a 5 on the price placard at 100 yards was actually a 6. So you whimper softly and pay the man, perhaps salving yourself with the idea that the new Jet-A burning airplanes will make this nightmare go away. But will they really? Are diesels that much more efficient than gasoline engines? Yes, possibly. But it depends on the engines being compared. When it comes to efficiency, Lycoming and Continental are not created equal. But the larger issue—and what’s driving the Jet A piston revolution—is that Jet A-burning pilots (piston or turbine) needn’t get their pants snagged worrying about their fuel being phased out in 10 years. They can also count on it being available in every country on the planet and at ever more airports. And that’s why we write stories about Jet A piston engines, not because they’re cheaper to operate—they can be—and not because they’re more efficient—they are, but not as much as you might think.
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