The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Yes, AVGAS still has lead in it

MSNBC is scandalized that 100-octane low-lead aviation fuel (AVGAS) still exists, but as usual for general stories about technical topics, they miss a few important details:

While leaded gasoline was fully phased out in 1996 with the passage of the Clean Air Act, it still fuels a fleet of 170,000 piston-engine airplanes and helicopters. Leaded aviation fuel, or avgas, now makes up “the largest remaining aggregate source of lead emissions to air in the U.S.,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For now, leaded aviation gas appears to be caught in a bureaucratic limbo: stuck between not meeting the environmental demands of the EPA and the commercial realities of the aviation community. It is the primary viable option for this type of aircraft, as the general aviation community argues it remains critical given the needs of the current fleet.

“Fuel and emissions are governed by the federal government,” said Eric Peterson, county airports director with the County of Santa Clara, which owns Reid-Hillview. “So until they come up with an alternative fuel, there is a limited amount the county can do to address that.”

But why, oh why, do piston airplanes still use leaded gas? MSNBC doesn't spend a lot of their article explaining that it's so the airplane engines don't just stop suddenly during flight. Lead reduces "knock," which can annoy you if it happens to your car's engine, but which can kill you if it happens to your plane's.

Also, lead boosts octane, and for high-performance aviation piston engines, nothing less than 100 octane will work.

Alternatives are coming, soon, but it will take some time. The FAA explains what needs to happen before they can approve 100-octane unleaded fuel:

The FAA requires the fuel producers to complete the following "pre-screening" tests prior to a candidate fuel formulation entering into more extensive testing through the PAFI (Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative) program:

  1. Successful completion of a 150 hr. engine endurance test on a turbocharged engine using PAFI test protocols or other procedure coordinated with the FAA;
  2. Successful completion of an engine detonation screening test using the PAFI test protocols or other procedures coordinated with the FAA
  3. Successful completion of a subset of the material compatibility tests using the PAFI test protocol or other procedures coordinated with the FAA.

Development and pre-screening testing is taking place at both private and public testing facilities across the country. The FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center is providing engine-testing services through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) with the individual fuel companies. While COVID-19 has delayed the completion of the pre-screening tests, the tentative schedule is to re-start formal PAFI testing in 2021.

So, yes, I and every other private pilot out there wants to use unleaded fuel—or, really, a completely different power source. But as long as the consequences of sudden power loss remain different for aircraft than for any other type of vehicle, we have to keep using the only safe (for the airplane, anyway) fuel that remains widely available.

Sure Happy It's Thursday! Earth Day edition

Happy 51st Earth Day! In honor of that, today's first story has nothing to do with Earth:

Finally, it looks like I'll have some really cool news to share about my own software in just a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Biggest aviation news since 1903

This morning, around 2:30 Chicago time, we flew an aircraft over an alien planet:

At about 3:30 a.m., the twin, carbon-fiber rotor blades began spinning furiously, and the chopper, called Ingenuity, lifted off the surface of the Red Planet, reaching an altitude of about 10 feet, where it hovered, turned and landed softly in an autonomous flight that lasted just 30 seconds, the space agency said.

Inside the flight operations center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, engineers broke into applause when confirmation of the flight arrived, more than three hours after the flight, in a data burst that traveled 178 million miles from Mars to Earth.

To make the brief flight, Ingenuity’s technology had to overcome Mars’s super-thin atmosphere — just 1 percent the density of Earth’s — which makes it more difficult for the helicopters’ blades, spinning at about 2,500 revolutions per minute, to generate lift.

As President Biden once said, this is a big fucking deal.

The world keeps turning

Even though my life for the past week has revolved around a happy, energetic ball of fur, the rest of the world has continued as if Cassie doesn't matter:

And if you still haven't seen our spring concert, you still can. Don't miss it!

Good morning!

Now in our 46th hour above freezing, with the sun singing, the birds coming up, and the crocuses not doing anything noteworthy, it feels like spring. We even halted our march up the league table in most consecutive days of more than 27.5 cm of snow on the ground, tying the record set in 2001 at 25 days. (Only 25 cm remained at 6am, and I would guess a third of that will melt by noon.)

So, what else is going on in the world?

And now, back to work.

Waiting for one CI build, then another

It's every other Tuesday today, so I'm just waiting for the last continuous-integration (CI) build to finish before deploying the latest software to our production environment. So far, so boring, just the way I like it. Meanwhile, in the real world:

  • In a symbolic but meaningless vote, all but 5 Republican members of the US Senate voted to let the XPOTUS off the hook for inciting an insurrection against, well, them, as this way they believe they get to keep his followers at no cost to themselves. If this past year were a novel, the next sentence might begin with "Little did they know..." Which, you know, describes those 45 Republicans to a T.
  • Dutch police arrested more than 180 people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam for rioting against Covid-19 lockdowns: "A leading Dutch criminologist, Henk Ferwerda, said the riots involved 'virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild – all three groups came together.'"
  • Air travelers across the US can rejoice that CNN Airport News will go away on March 31st.
  • Over 1 teratonne of ice melted over each of the past few years, increasing concerns about global sea level rises.
  • Two mathematicians argue that time-travel paradoxes don't exist, because the universe routes around them.

Finally, snow continues to fall in Chicago, so far accumulating to about 100 mm by my house and as of noon about 125 mm at O'Hare. Calling this a "snowstorm" seems a bit over the top as it's coming down at under 10 mm per hour and forecast to stop before too long. Plus it's barely below freezing for now—but forecast to cool down to -11°C by Wednesday night before creeping above freezing Friday and Saturday. So we might have a blanket of snow for a bit. Still, it's the most snow we've gotten all season, with less than 5 weeks to go before meteorological spring starts March 1st. I'm OK with this mild winter, though it might presage a very hot summer.

Man caught living at O'Hare for three months

Aditya Singh never left O'Hare after arriving on October 19th:

Singh, 36, lived in the secure area with access to terminals, shops and food at O’Hare International Airport until his arrest Saturday after two United Airlines employees asked to see his identification, prosecutors said. He showed them an airport ID badge that an operations manager had reported missing on Oct. 26.

Police said Singh told them that the coronavirus pandemic left him too afraid to fly and so he instead remained in the airport, often relying on the kindness of strangers to buy him food.

Singh completed a master’s program at Oklahoma State University and had been living since summer 2019 in Orange, California, southeast of Los Angeles, in the home of Carl Jones, who said he offered Singh a place to live in exchange for helping him care for his elderly father and other odd jobs.

Jones told the Tribune that Singh’s visa was expiring, so he planned in October to return to India, where his mother lives. Jones described Singh as a “very gentle soul” who often volunteered helping the homeless. The two last spoke Oct. 19 when, Jones said, Singh confirmed he had arrived safely in Chicago and was on his way to India.

Singh faces two felony charges, but I can't imagine a jury sending him to jail.

Good morning!

Just an hour or so into the first business day of 2021, and morning news had a few stories that grabbed my attention:

Finally, don't eat icicles. They're basically frozen bird poop.

Statistics: 2020

What a bizarre year. Just looking at last year's numbers, it almost doesn't make sense to compare, but what the hell:

  • Last year I flew the fewest air-miles in 20 years; this year, I flew the fewest since the first time I got on a commercial airplane, which was during the Nixon Administration. In January I flew to Raleigh-Durham and back, and didn't even go to the airport for the rest of the year. That's 1,292 air miles, fewer than the very first flight I took (Chicago to Los Angeles, 1,745 air miles). I did, however, make an overnight trip to Wisconsin in November, easily breaking the record for my longest travel drought but making it shorter than never. 
  • This is my 609th post on the Daily Parker in 2020—an average of more than 50 per month. This new record blows away the one I set just last year by 10.5%. (Imagine how much I'd have written had anything newsworthy actually happened in 2020.)
  • The pandemic let me spend Parker's last eight months with him nearly every day. Despite his age and discomfort, we managed to go for almost 241 hours of walks (274 annualized), a whopping 29% (46% annualized) more than in 2019.
  • Including today, I got 4,848,171 steps, averaging 13,246 per day. This is 5.7% fewer than last year. I missed 10,000 steps on seven occasions—five this month. Without a daily commute or a dog, not to mention the cold weather, I have struggled since Thanksgiving to get motivated enough to get longer walks in. That said, I hit a new record of 312 consecutive days over 10,000 steps, a record I don't anticipate ever breaking. I also got 56,562 steps on September 4th—another record I don't expect to break soon.
  • I once again read more than the year before, with 39 books started and 37 completed. (I'm still working on The Power Broker, which I started 18 months ago...) On the other hand, I watched 59 movies and 79 TV series, compared with 56 and 38 respectively in 2019. Of course, almost all of that was streaming on my home computer while programming on my work computer, but it's a lot.

I can't even predict what will happen in 2021. I expect fewer steps, more books, and actually to start traveling again. Here's hoping for a speedy vaccination.