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Cessna 182 crosses country on biofuel

Editor's note: AOPA incorrectly stated the biofuel blend that United uses. United uses 70-30 biofuel blend, which is 30 percent biofuel. We regret the error.
Ross McCurdy and his son, Aedan, in front of the Cessna 182 bioplane they flew across the United States. Photo courtesy of McCurdy.

Ross McCurdy, a science teacher from Ponaganset High School in Glocester, Rhode Island, has flown to Santa Monica, California, and back in a 1980 diesel-powered Cessna 182 owned by a New Jersey flying club using a 50-50 mix of Jet A and Camelina plant-seed oil, also known as the Siberian oilseed. There was little danger; even United Airlines uses a 70-30 biofuel mix (30 percent biofuel) on its flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

McCurdy had his 12-year-old son, Aedan, along for the flight and was joined by other pilots. One of those helped McCurdy with Aspen avionics installed in 2014 in the aircraft that was converted to SMA diesel power in 2009 by the Paramus Flying Club in Caldwell, New Jersey. It uses a 230-horsepower SMA SR305 diesel engine. The fuel meets ASTM standards for aviation use and was provided by the U.S. Air Force. McCurdy returned to North Central State Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, April 25 following 50 hours of flight in 10 days, consuming nearly 600 gallons of fuel.

While the Camelina plant is native to Europe and Central Asia, the seed for the Air Force fuel was grown in Montana by Sustainable Oils, McCurdy said, that was formed to grow and do research on Camelina oil. It has previously been used in U.S. Navy jet fighters for research. It was then processed by Honeywell UOP (Universal Oil Products) for the Air Force, McCurdy said.

McCurdy stashed five-gallon cans of the oil at fuel stops across the nation but had a tailwind on the return trip giving him a ground speed of 160 knots true airspeed that allowed him to overfly some of the stops. He is planning to get the oil shipped back to him for future flights so he can set a fuel efficiency record and/or fly around the world on sustainable fuel. He did not file for national or world records prior to his trip to California and back, but might do so for the fuel efficiency flights.

McCurdy said engine indications were normal throughout the flight. He was accompanied from Texas to California and back by Thierry Saint Loup, an SMA Engines vice president.

Alton Marsh
Alton K. Marsh
Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.
Topics: Single-Engine Piston

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