AOPA Pilot Magazine - July 2013 - 58
PROPULSION / PISTON
WHERE DO WE GO
Our editors explore the future
of general aviation powerplants
are antiquated and poorly
suited to aircraft because
they tend to fire too early
on the ground and too
late at high altitude,
robbing aircraft of peak
BY THOMAS B. HAINES
hile general aviation faces numerous
challenges, arguably none is bigger
than the future of our powerplants.
Today, most of us fly behind, next to, or in front
of engines designed 70 or more years ago. While
dependable, they are not terribly fuel efficient,
many require a leaded fuel in order to achieve the
necessary octane levels, and they are expensive to
maintain. Driven by decreasing availability, increasing prices, and environmental concerns, leaded
avgas will be phased out over the next 10 or more
years—but, thanks to strong advocacy by AOPA,
GAMA, and other organizations, the change will
occur only when we have a viable alternative in
Meanwhile, diesel engines—long dreamed of as
a good solution for GA—are finally gaining a foothold. The ability of such engines to burn Jet A fuel
makes them much more viable in parts of the world
where avgas—leaded or not—is either not available
or astronomically priced.
A third type of propulsion—electric motors—has
been much discussed in recent years, but progress
has been slow. Given today’s battery technology, few
believe that electric propulsion is a viable candidate
in the foreseeable future for cross-country travel,
but for training and local flights in light airplanes,
it may be an option.
These unfolding trends around propulsion are
so important that we turned a team of our editors
loose on the subject. In this issue, Dave Hirschman
uncovers some developing technologies that hold
surprising promise to modernize today’s designs.
Next month, Alton Marsh explores the possibilities
around diesel powerplants. In September, look for a
report from Tom Horne on efforts to leverage electricity to propel GA into the future.
Join the conversation through our Reporting
Points blog and our Facebook page where, in both
cases, you can post your comments on the subjects.
58 | AOPA PILOT July 2013
AUTOMOTIVE SPARK plugs
with larger gaps, and
sparks provide more
They also are
cost far less than
aviation spark plugs.