We are a society that lives and dies by oil and gasoline. Nearly every American has a car, if not two or three, and very few cities have what can be called a robust public transportation system. We think nothing of filling our gas tanks and driving aimlessly or wastefully. This concept also applies to the way in which we fly.
The airlines long ago perfected the art of only carrying enough fuel to get from the point of departure to the point of arrival while landing with the IFR fuel reserve of 45 minutes. In the general aviation world, though, we tend to top off and go. When is the last time that you really made an effort to see how much fuel you burn?
Many of us fly the same routes fairly commonly on our cross-country flights, which means that we are in a good position to get some solid data on our fuel burn habits. Those data should be based on altitude, weight, wind, and temperature.
It’s one thing to guesstimate your fuel burn, or to rely on the numbers in your pilot’s operating handbook (POH) or in the computer software you use for flight planning. But what about keeping more accurate data based on your airplane, and your engine, and your leaning habits? How closely do you maintain the book power settings? Speeds?
I used to flight plan for eight gallons an hour in a Cessna 172, and that was pretty accurate, but I also know that when I paid closer attention to what was going on, or flew a longer-than-usual flight, I could get as much as a gallon an hour more out of the tank—and in the end, that means money in your tank. The difference in total travel time wasn’t enough to worry about, but the efficiency can be nice. It can get you several miles farther down the road or buy you some time to spend loitering over a picturesque area where you just want to sightsee.
Consider creating a table that you can use to more closely track your actual fuel habits, and see if you can’t “buy” fuel simply by changing your habit patterns. For instance, if your tailwind will be greater near your destination, consider delaying your descent a bit. If there is warmer air somewhere, try cruising at that altitude (if the ride is smooth). Get wind reports at various altitudes as you fly. Even if you rent, you can try this across various ships in the fleet to find the one that is best (and worst). These are tricks that the airlines and corporate flight departments use to maximize fuel efficiency and minimize costs, all with little impact on the overall bottom line. Fuel in the tank, after all, is money in the bank.—Chip Wright