Dave Hirschman

Propulsion Pushback

June 27, 2013 by Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor

Many pilots are early technology adopters and push the bounds of the possible – so it’s a cruel irony that we, as a group, have been stuck for so long with ancient air-cooled engines that are largely unchanged from the middle of the last century.
The first in our Propulsion series in AOPA Pilot magazine is getting lots of response from pilots eager to move forward.
Commenting on the AOPA Facebook page, Paul Roper puts it bluntly: “One of the most disappointing things I experienced during my foray into general aviation was the ludicrous prices manufacturers would charge for crappy, low-tech, Flintstones-era, underpowered, thirsty, boring engines. Well, not only the prices, but the whole head-in-the-sand attitude to anything invented after about 1950. Carburetors? Pushrod valves? Are we in the Victorian era?”
Others, like AOPA member Terry Welander, have written to take issue with the likely future elimination of leaded avgas:
“Most of the environmentalists have knee jerk reactions whenever the word lead comes up; which is highly ignorant; based on the below facts on the lead and other toxins in the atmosphere from volcanic emissions. There will never be a rational reason to remove the one part per million lead from avgas. Worse, as with practically all past fuel transitions, the increased costs and hidden safety hazards of new fuels not evident until substantial use has been accomplished will likely result in a temporary to intermediate degradation of aircraft safety which is completely unnecessary.”

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the July kickoff article in AOPA Pilot.
Share your thoughts by commenting here.

Dave Hirschman
Senior Editor
AOPA Pilot magazine

6 Responses to “Propulsion Pushback”

  1. Frank Henderson Says:

    This topic has been discussed since I began flying in the ’80’s. The fact that no new advances in piston aero engines has come along while other engine markets have developed requires us to look deeper for explanations. The people to ask are those who are in the business: Continental and Lycoming. If prodded, I bet they will reluctantly offer this primary reason: legal liability — a sad and sordid commentary on the state of our society.

    Dave Hirschman asks why we haven’t adopted electronic ignition in production engines yet. The answer is liability. That’s also why these technologies are prevalent only in the experimental market.

    Of course, aero engines absolutely must adhere to weight and reliability priorities above all else. Simplicity equals reliability…and light weight. Electronic gizmos which cannot offer both are a step backwards. While, as Hirschman says, the easiest technology to adopt is electronic ignition (but only those which offer full electrical redundancy), other systems such as electronic fuel injection can be problematic. This is due to the high pressure fuel hoses and pumps required, and they absolutely must be electrically redundant. Better balancing of fuel/air ratios thru such devices as GAMI injectors and tuned induction manifolds are simpler.

    Porsche’s ill-fated attempt to build an aero piston engine based on the air-cooled 911 sports car engine in the late ’80’s is a cautionary tale. That engine was simply too heavy and threw “engineering solutions” at problems which should have been avoided. The beauty of simplicity and light weight reveal themselves in the practical engines we continue to use today. While they can be improved, a hostile legal climate must always be acknowledged.

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