April 1, 2013
By Steve Schapiro
The Paramus Flying Club keeps costs down by flying a Cessna 182 retrofitted with a SMA diesel engine. Using Jet A instead of 100LL the club has seen a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in fuel costs. An enhanced version of the engine will power Cessna’s new 182 JT-A, which will start deliveries later this year. We spoke with Paramus Flying Club President Chris Howitt to learn why the club put a diesel engine on its 182 and how it has performed.
Why did the club put a diesel engine on its 182?
In 2009, one of the members hit a snow bank on landing that severely damaged the airplane. It was not quite badly damaged enough to write off. The firewall forward needed to be addressed.
At that point we said, instead of getting another Lycoming engine let’s get a diesel engine. [Club Member] Jochen Spengler was the main proponent of this. Coming from Germany he knows a lot about diesel engines. They’ve been flying diesel engines for many, many years in Europe. It’s new here, but it’s not new technology. There were two companies at the time who were offering a diesel engine. One was Thielert, which is affiliated with Diamond Aircraft. The other company is SMA. Taking a look at both, SMA seemed to be the better product.
How much did it cost?
At that time, SMA was offering a conversion. It was about $75,000. They had the STC to do a conversion for a Cessna 182. The insurance money took care of a large part of it, maybe $50,000, and left us with $25,000 or $30,000 to come up with.
Did you finance that with a loan or did you have reserves saved up?
With a loan. It was a mix of a loan and money from members. Sometimes if we need any big upgrades like this, we ask members for payment up front, say two years of monthly dues up front. We’ll give a three percent discount. So it’s not a loan from the members, it’s payment in advance and we give a slight discount. So we covered it with a loan and by doing that.
What are the advantages of the diesel engine?
The diesel engine reduces costs 30 to 40 percent. We’re used to getting 8 gallons an hour instead of 12 gph in our other 182. It’s really great to have a performance like the legacy 182 while getting 40 percent savings in fuel. It’s amazing. It has 88-gallon tanks. With two people you fill those tanks up and you can go forever on them. It’s the safety factor, you can have plenty of reserve in and that’s a big plus.
It’s also easy to fly. There’s no manifold pressure, there’s no prop control, there’s just a lever that’s it. That’s controlled by the (FADEC). To start, all you do is turn the key. You don’t prime anything, you don’t have to push the throttle in, you just turn the key and it just starts up.
How is the performance compared with a traditional 182?
It’s not quite as fast. The performance is slightly less than the normal 182. But at the end of the day, in terms of what you save in fuel—it uses 8 gallons an hour—it’s not significant enough to make a difference. You’re talking about 5 or 10 knots off maybe. The climb rates are good. It always runs at 2200 RPM.
Tell me about the operating costs.
One of the things we did for SMA is we kept data tracking—rpm levels, temperatures at certain altitudes—and we did that for a period of time. Oil usage, how much gas we were using. So we recorded it for a period of time, and based on their figures and what we were getting, we were fully expecting to be able to rent our 182 out for cheaper than our 172. That was our goal. The hourly rate ($145/ hr. wet) is now cheaper than our G1000 172 ($147/hr. wet).
Are there any disadvantages?One thing you think about when you have diesel engines is cold starts. That is not an issue in terms of compression. We found the issue was in the relationship between the FADEC and the amount of electric current. The FADEC is very precise in what it requires to start the engine. So when you turn that key it’s looking for a certain charge. If the charge is slightly below, ever so slightly, it won’t start. It will throw up a fault light.
We weren’t sure what was happening, was it the fuel? It always happened in the winter months. The reason was in winter people are flying less. When there’s a temperature dip that affects the battery output.
If the battery is slightly less charged because of the temperature dip, that would throw the fault light. You can take it out of automatic and start it in manual. There is a certain procedure to do that, it’s not complicated but we were able to resolve the issue to start it in automatic mode.
That was the main reason for the Tanis preheater. It does heat the engine block, but the main issue is it also has a battery heater and that really helps when it’s cold. It really helps the electrical flow.
Can you talk about the maintenance costs?The whole idea of the diesel engine, is it’s a better engine—no spark plugs, there’s less moving parts. So as an engine itself there’s a lot less to deal with. We don’t get some of the typical problems because it’s a FADEC, we don’t get things like fouled plugs and overheating of the pistons. We don’t get that at all. Fuel flow is constant.
It’s not cheaper for annuals or oil changes, but we’re not getting those same kind of problems like cylinder overheating, stuck valves, burnt valves. We don’t have any problems replacing cylinder heads; we’ve never come close to anything like that.
The work has to be done at an SMA-approved shop. We were really fortunate with C&W Aero Services; they have worked closely with us on this project. We went to them first and said we want to buy this, we think it could be of interest to you as well in the future, and they agreed to go and get certified to work on the diesel engine, so we have an SMA-approved shop right at our home airport, which is great.
Have you had do that with the other aircraft?We had all those issues with every other piston aircraft. We had CHTs being too high, stuck valves, burnt valves, all of the above.
What the TBO on the engine?2,000 hours.
What type of transition training did you have to do for club members with the new engine and the new controls?There is one hour of ground school required. And if you haven’t had any high performance time there is 10 hours of flying in the aircraft. Once they do fly it, they all find it very, very easy to fly. There’s no mixture control, it’s just a FADEC and that’s it.
If you did have high performance time is it a regular check out and ground school?Ground school and a check out.
How many members are in the club and how many are checked out in the aircraft?There are 50 members in the club and about 15 to 20 members checked out in the diesel 182.
How does it compare in popularity with other aircraft?Typically the entry-level aircraft fly the most, the 172s. But 68N [the diesel 182] is not far behind. It’s flown just under 200 hours per year.
How does that compare with the Legacy 182?[The diesel] is used more. The legacy 182 will spike when people are either going for their commercial or CFI rating because they need to fly a high performance and complex aircraft. 68N, the diesel plane, is consistently flown. And it’s a lot more accessible to the newer members.
Have you been happy with the engine?If we could buy another we would, there’s no question. We did try to buy another one, but ours is about the only one in the states. All the others have been sold to missionary outfits in Africa. But we would have bought another one in a heartbeat. That’s where we hang our hat right there.
This was a step forward, a step out from what we normally do. It’s difficult for clubs to try and maximize what people want, which is performance and all the new great stuff and be able to make it affordable and make it safe. And I think we did it with this SMA. It’s a great direction.
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