Why does 100LL Cost so Much?


The petroleum  refining process starts by boiling  and pumping the hot solution into a distillation column. The solution has differing temperature ranges at each height. Off the top, (the coolest part), they pull the Liquefied Petroleum (LP) and butane. Below that is gasoline, also called straight run. However, at this point, the octane is usually too low, but through catalytic reforming or alkylation processes, the octane is boosted.

The next range of products from the column are called middle distillates – the Jet A and diesel products.

Lower still – the hotter and heavier fluid is used for fuel oil. Even the dregs of the column are used to make asphalt or coke.

JET A – A Relatively Simple Process!

Jet fuel is simply streamed off the column, and its sulfur content is lowered. That’s it. It is now ready to be shipped.

100 LL – The Problem with Lead

To make 100LL, the refinery takes the alkylate and re-distills it. Then, it’s pumped into a separate tank where they add 2.0 grams of lead to each gallon of fuel.  The lead and the equipment needed for the injection is very costly. There is only one plant in the world now producing Tetraethyl lead (TEL), so there is no price competition. Another problem is the health hazards associated with pure TEL, which must be handled in dedicated systems.

The 100LL batch is tested and if the octane does not meet the 100/130 levels, they add an expensive component called Toluene concentrate to increase the octane. Once the batch meets all of the requirements, it’s ready to ship.

Liability costs are factored into every aviation product on the market today and 100LL is no exception. For example, some companies just add the cost of the leading facility, the increased value of the high octane alkylate product, the liability risk factor, and other factors to the overhead cost of the refinery.

 Shipping from the Refinery is Expensive

Jet A is shipped in large volumes to all parts of the country through pipelines. For example, the airports in Chicago use about 4 million gallons every day, so all of the terminals have a ready supply. It costs a few cents to ship (via pipeline) 8,000 gallons of Jet A 500 miles.

100LL is a specialty product because it contains lead and US pipelines won’t allow it to sully their pipes. 100LL must travel by truck or rail and It costs about $2,000 to ship 8,000 gallons of 100LL 500 miles.

An FBO can shop around for the best price on Jet A, because almost every distribution plant in the country has it. For 100LL, the marketplace is brutal. Less than than 10 refineries produce 100LL in the US and most FBOs cannot afford to buy large quantities. To make it even more con-competitive, in the non-metropolitan areas, FBOs must buy from a single fuel distributor, while in metropolitan areas there might be two distributors. Either way, it’s a seller’s market.

It Gets Worse

The FBOs set their prices based on their situations. For example, some FBOs try to cover overhead expenses through fuel sales. Others want to be GA Friendly, so they lower the price of their 100LL.

Clearly, the industry needs to develop simpler and cheaper fuels for our Mooneys and GA. Perhaps the solution lies in Diesel engines or an unleaded fuel that will safely power the Piper Cub and high performance models. For now, we must be smart about where we take of business and buy fuel from airports that support GA through affordable fuel prices. We can try to encourage our airport managements and local FBOs to find a  fuel price that’s good for everyone. There must be a price sweet spot that will benefit the FBO and encourage the growth of General Aviation.

Fly safe and stay out of trouble! JD  http://jdpricecfi.com/

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When the Belly Scrapes the Runway

gearupIt doesn’t matter if you are a 16 year old student pilot or a gray haired and experienced ATP. Military pilot, airline pilot, instructor or Mooney owner – even some of them have landed gear up. No one is immune from making mistakes, but I sometimes wonder why pilots ignore the gear warning horn. 

An Air Force pilot who landed gear up was asked, “Didn’t you hear the controllers yelling at you on the radio to go around?”

He answered that he couldn’t hear the radio because of a loud intermittent horn blaring in his ears.

Here’s a video, shot from a Cessna cockpit. The Cessna pilot manages to ignore the blaring landing gear warning and lands gear up. CLIKE HERE FOR THE VIDEO.

You’ve all heard the phrase, “There are those who have and those who will – land gear up.” That’s a load of horse pucky that somehow makes those who have landed gear up feel better about themselves. Folks, we all don’t have to land gear up. We just need to be pilots!

Here are a few Mooney pilot cases, where they were distracted and found themselves outside the place in the pattern where they normally extended the gear. See if you can find a common theme.

Focused on Sequence – Bypassing the Normal Gear Extension Point

Butler, PA – MOONEY M20J,

The pilot stated that, when he returned to the airport after a local flight, two airplanes were in the traffic pattern and a third airplane was inbound about 10 miles east. To sequence with the two airplanes in the pattern and the third airplane on the extended downwind leg, the pilot did not enter the traffic pattern at the midpoint of the downwind leg, but entered the traffic pattern closer to the approach end of the intended runway. He lowered the flaps, but did not lower the landing gear. He turned onto the base leg, extended full flaps, and then turned onto final approach. While on final approach, the pilot had a sense that the airplane was fast and that the “sight picture” was lower than usual, but he did not detect that the landing gear was retracted or recall hearing the landing gear warning horn.

Focused on Avoiding a Mid-Air – “Where is that guy?”

Clearwater, FL – MOONEY M20M

According to the pilot, after entering the traffic pattern for landing, he noted that there were two other airplanes in the traffic pattern. As he announced his position on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, he heard another pilot also announce his position at the same location. The accident pilot visually identified the other airplane, and that pilot reported that he would proceed behind the accident airplane to the runway. The accident pilot stated that he became preoccupied with locating the other airplane during the downwind leg of the traffic pattern and forgot to lower the landing gear.

Focused on Spacing – “After you, Sir.”

Willmar, MN – MOONEYH M20K

The student pilot extended the downwind leg of the traffic pattern on his third solo landing to provide spacing for another airplane. He said that he forgot to lower the landing gear and inadvertently landed with the gear up.

What can you do to avoid a gear up landing? You can start by promising yourself that you’ll always:

–          Be consistent about when and where you extend the gear. Sometimes that’s not possible, so you’ll need to check your gear down at least three times. Do it on downwind, base and final

–          Use your before-landing checklist and employ a GUMP check (Gas-Undercarriage-Mixture-Prop).

–          Check the gear indicator for “down and locked”.

–          Talk to yourself. It’s a healthy way to stay safe in the air! Make it a habit to physically touch the gear indicators and say out loud “gear down”.

–          Get your flying partner/spouse involved in checking that the gear is down before you land.

I don’t know about you, but I think losing my Mooney for several months while the engine, prop and belly are repaired is – unacceptable! Fly smart and be safe

Stay out of trouble! JD  http://jdpricecfi.com/

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My Aspen

aspenI have wanted an Aspen for a long time, so after months of thinking about it, I chose Arizona Air-Craftsman in Prescott, AZ for the installation. They have a wonderful reputation in the Avionics field and the flight from Chandler (KCHD) to Prescott (KPRC) was short and simple. The Aspen 1000 Pro costs $9,500 and Arizona Air-Craftsman estimated that it would take 50 man hours to install.  My wife encouraged me to add the Synthetic Vision upgrade for $2,900 (no labor required). Alright Dear, if you insist! The Garmin 430 upgrade to WAAS was $3,200 plus two hours of labor to install the new WAAS antenna.

Small Lettering?

I had heard stories about the small lettering on the Aspen,  but I disagree! I suppose that some people just like to complain. For me and my young 66 year old eyes, the lettering is very easy to read. The Vref and stall speed writing on the airspeed tape are in a tiny font, but these speeds are not meant to be in a font that jumps out at you. Rather, they are there in case you have a sudden onset of dementia and can’t remember your aircraft’s customary approach speed. Now, where was I?

The GPS Steering (GPSS) is a wonderful feature and when it is coupled to the autopilot, it brings you into the world of glass cockpit automation. GPSS and Aspen’s Auto Course, when enabled, allows you to sit back and watch in amazement as the course changes automatically and the Aspen computes a lead turn to the next flight plan course. (No waypoint  overflys).

It has an assigned altitude window above the altimeter tape, complete with aural and visual warnings that alert you when you stray.

Barometric pressure, speed bugs and approach minimum altitudes – they are all easily set on the Aspen.

Yup, there’s an app for that

If you are worried about learning a new system and you think a glass cockpit is daunting, stop it right now! The manual is very good and for those who like courses, Sporty’s has an iPad app and a DVD course that covers everything. Cost is about $32. After a few trips through the course, you’ll be quite comfortable when you pick up your aircraft.

aspen2Steam Gauge Weaning

It’s been seven years since I retired from flying A-320s. I found myself “cheating” and looking at the steam gauge airspeed and altimeter instead of the Aspen’s tape display. Slowly, I’m weaning myself from the steam gauges. If you want to be stern with yourself, you can wean yourself “cold turkey” by placing “failed instrument covers” on the airspeed, altimeter and VVI.

Panel-Mar2013My panel configuration.  With just the 1000 Pro, one must keep the attitude indicator in case the Aspen loses power. The Aspen comes with its own battery to provide 30 minutes of power should you lose aircraft power.

Stay out of trouble! JD  http://jdpricecfi.com/

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Aspen is expandable in steps. If you just want to start with a Primary Flight Display (PFD), that’s great. If later you want one or two Multifunction Displays (MFD), add those. The MFDs can display weather if you install an Aspen SiriusXM receiver and government published instrument approach plates.

The Aspen 1000 Pro has so many nice features. Resale value may or may not increase, depending on the market, but your aircraft will have great cockpit appeal!

I could not be happier with the installation.

Windshear and Dew Point

We all know that a very small temperature/dew point spread creates the perfect conditions for low visibility. However, did you know that  . . a very high temperature/dew point spread associated with convective activity can be an indication of an imminent danger to light airplanes.

Wet microbursts are normally associated with heavy rain.

Dry microbursts are associated with Virga.

When the spread between the air temperature and dew point is between 15 and 30 degrees C and convective storms are in the area, that’s a recipe for wind shear.

There is a good chance of wind shear from microbursts associated with thunderstorms, even if the storms have passed.

windshearMany major airports have LLWAS (Low Level Wind shear Alert Systems) and Terminal Doppler radar to help detect microbursts. These warnings are very accurate and pilots should not take these warnings lightly.


There are no wind shear FAR restrictions (Part 91 or Part 135). As always, your good judgment is the key to survival. If ATC issues a Wind Shear alert or another pilot reports encountering an airspeed loss on takeoff or landing, then you should consider delaying your takeoff or approach until the wind shear situation is no longer relevant.


Airlines have wind shear rules to help their pilots make approach and landing decisions. The report of a 15 knot airspeed loss on takeoff or approach is a show stopper. Subsequently, if a GA pilot PIREPs that he or she did not experience wind shear, or that the airspeed loss is less than 15 knots, airline approaches can resume. Other clues that wind shear is about to bite you in the empennage are:

Groundspeed variations (decreasing head wind or increasing tail wind, or a shift from head wind to tail wind)

Vertical-speed excursions of 500 fpm or more

Pitch attitude excursions of five degrees or more

Glideslope deviation of one dot or more


PIREP wording is important when it comes to wind shear. Avoid the phrase “Negative wind shear on final”, for that could also mean “none”. More appropriate wording would be, “Mooney 257 Kilo Whiskey encountered wind shear, loss of 10 knots at 800 feet.”


If you don’t have personal limits when it comes to wind shear, consider adopting those developed by the airlines. When you notice wind shear clues such as a high temperature/ dew point spread, consider delaying your takeoff or landing to give the wind shear time to dissipate. It might save your aircraft and your life!

Fly safe and stay out of trouble! JD  http://jdpricecfi.com/

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Useful Aeronautical Terms

soLAMEAIRSPEED – Speed of an airplane.  (Deduct 25% when listening to a retired fighter pilot.)

BANK – The folks who hold the lien on most pilots’ cars.

CONE OF CONFUSION – An area about the size of New Jersey located near the final approach fix at an airport.

CARBURETOR ICING – A phenomenon reported to the FAA by pilots immediately after they run out of gas.

DEAD RECKONING – You reckon correctly, or you are.

DESTINATION – Geographical location 30 minutes beyond the pilot’s bladder saturation point.

ENGINE FAILURE – A condition that occurs when all fuel tanks mysteriously become filled with low-octane air.

FIREWALL – Section of the aircraft specifically designed to funnel heat and smoke into the cockpit.

FLIGHT FOLLOWING – Formation flying.

GLIDE DISTANCE – Half the distance from an airplane to the nearest emergency landing field.

HYDROPLANE – An airplane designed to land long on a short and wet runway.

MINI MAG LITE – Device designed to support the AA battery industry.

NANOSECOND – Time delay between the Low Fuel Warning light and the onset of carburetor icing.

PARASITIC DRAG – A pilot who bums a ride and complains about the service.

ROGER – Used when you’re not sure what else to say.

SECTIONAL CHART – Any chart that ends 25 nm short of your destination.

SERVICE CEILING – Altitude at which cabin crew can serve drinks.

SPOILERS – FAA Inspectors.

STALL – Technique used to explain to the bank why your car payment is late.

STEEP BANKS – Banks that charge pilots more than 10% interest.

TURN & BANK INDICATOR – An instrument largely ignored by pilots.

USEFUL LOAD – Volumetric capacity of the aircraft, disregarding weight.

YANKEE – Any pilot who has to ask New Orleans tower to, “Say again.”

Fly safe and stay out of trouble! JD  http://jdpricecfi.com/

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Another Impossible Turn

impossible1The morning of July 17th, 2011, Brian Hayes, 35, and his girlfriend Nicole Anderson, 32 landed at Lindbergh Regional Airport in Winslow, AZ. According to FlightAware, this was the first leg of their cross country flight from Colorado Springs.

The Mooney M20F was based in Chino, CA and owned collectively by Brian and his partners.

Brian and Nicole were police officers in Southern California and were on their way home in N3534X.

Loss of Engine Power – No Big Deal

Brian’s partners reported that he had issues with what he believed to be water in the fuel tanks. He had reported that previously he had a loss of engine power during takeoff but was able to restart the engine. Brian thought that if the problems continued, he would install new fuel cell bladders.

After adding 41 gallons of 100LL and stretching their legs, Brian and Nicole departed on runway 11 at about 10:20 AM, MST.

A witness said that a short time after taking off, Hayes transmitted that he was returning to the Winslow airport due to a rough running engine.

According to the NTSB report, witnesses on the ground saw the plane in a steep turn and then saw it descend in an uncontrolled spiral. No one saw the plane actually crash.

Inverted, the airplane impacted along the right side of the approach end of runway 29, killing Brian and Nicole.impossible-crash

The Effects of Water in the Tanks

The fuel injection servo was opened for examination. Investigators observed debris and corrosion within the servo fuel inlet filter screen, internal diaphragm cavities and mixture control mechanism bore, which appeared to be consistent with previous water contamination. The fuel injector servo was disassembled and examined. This confirmed the servo had rust and corrosion present throughout the unit.

How Can We Keep the Water Out? Perhaps We Can Comply With the Appropriate Service Bulletin

In 1986, Mooney published Service Bulletin M20-229A, “Fuel Filler Caps, Inspection and Adjustment. [See http://www.mooney.com/images/pdfs/sb-pdf/sbm20-229a.pdf ]

Exposure to fuel fumes, fuel and weather has a deteriorating effect on the fuel cap O rings. In addition to replacing the cap O rings annually, the mechanism and the O ring need to be lubricated occasionally with Tri-Flow oil. You can find this at a bicycle shop. This will keep the mechanism lubricated and prevent O ring cracking. M20-229A also has instructions for your mechanic to test the cap adjustment to ensure that moisture stays out of your tanks.

Did this Mooney have M20-229A accomplished at the last annual? I’m not privy to the logbooks, but if there was water in the fuel, there’s a good chance that the owners and or the mechanic were unaware of the Service Bulletin.impoossible3

The Big Push and Straight Ahead!

We don’t know the altitude at which the engine roughness and subsequent failure occurred, but it was “a short time after takeoff” from the Winslow airport. Winslow’s field elevation is 4,941 feet MSL and even a t 10:00 am, the temperature was a hot 91oF (33oC), driving the density altitude to 8,180 feet.  These conditions probably reduced their aircraft and engine performance during climbout.

What if it Happens to You? Forcing the Big Push

Logical thought would be screaming at you to pull back on the yoke to stop the descent. But you need to do the opposite! You need to immediately push the nose over! This forceful push forward on the controls reveals a frightening nose-low attitude in order to keep the airplane flying. However, if you don’t immediately do “THE BIG PUSH”, your nose up climb attitude will put you in an almost immediate stall/spin.

You’ve done “THE BIG PUSH”. Now what? The nose is very low but the airplane is still flying with at least a small margin above stall speed. If you were really low when the engine failed (at or below 300 feet), there is no question about what comes next. The airplane is descending rapidly and the ground is coming up equally fast, so the only option available is a slight turn if necessary to avoid any serious objects directly ahead of you, followed by a flare just before hitting the ground or at least try to cushion the force of the impact. While the landing gear may be damaged or even collapse, odds are that you and your passengers will have few if any injuries.

What if You are Higher than 300 Feet AGL?

Assuming you manage to avoid an immediate stall by getting the nose down quickly, you would typically start hearing little voices telling you to get it back on the runway. It seems so close!

impossible-devilDon’t Do It! It’s a Trick!

Trying to turn back to the runway is so dangerous that there have been many fatalities involving pilots who have tried it from 500 feet. Instructors and their students, with perfectly good engines, practicing the turn back to the runway, have had accidents.

 Different Day – Same Stuff

The day after the Winslow accident, on July 18, 2011 in Augusta, GA, (KAGS), a pilot in a 1979 Mooney M20K, (N777CV), tried to turn back to the runway after experiencing a prop loss after takeoff. The flight was captured by a school’s webcam and I’ve included a link to the tragic video.

Watch it on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/26640491

You’ll see the Mooney appear just above the trees  six seconds into the video. Eight seconds after that, the prop falls off and he initiates a left turn. Three seconds later, the pilot is in a steep left turn and has not lowered his attitude.

Two seconds later, the Mooney stalls and it only takes three more seconds to hit the ground.  Eight seconds from prop loss to the crash site – still in the airport boundary. Fatal.

What if You Have a Few Thousand Feet to “Play With” and You Just Can’t Resist Going Back to the Airport?

As you make your turn to the departure airport, to keep the airplane from stalling, the nose has to be kept even lower, so what we are talking about is a steep turn just above the ground in a rapid descent of more than 1,000 fpm. This would be a difficult maneuver even for a pilot who has experience flying near the ground. For most pilots, seeing nothing but the earth rotating only a few hundred feet in front of the windshield while the stall warning is blaring would be terrifying. Few would have the willpower to avoid pulling back on the yoke, but to do so leads to an immediate accelerated stall.

Decide Now!

Before every takeoff, prepare yourself for a possible engine failure with a short briefing stating out loud what you will do if the engine fails on the runway, below your minimum turnaround altitude and above that altitude. Then make a quick callout as you climb through your minimum turnaround altitude. That way, if the engine fails on takeoff, your decision is easy. If you haven’t made the minimum altitude call, you don’t even consider turning around. Your conditioned response, without thinking, must be:

  • Get the nose down (The Big Push),
  • Keep the airplane flying, and
  • Look ahead within about a 60-degree arc for the best place to set the airplane down.

Someone will most certainly need to call the insurance company. However, the good news is that it probably won’t be your next of kin. That’s because you will have flown the aircraft all the way to the crash site and survived to make the call!

impossible-swearNow, raise your hand and repeat after me:

“I swear on my Mooney’s Operating Manual, that:

  • “I’ll listen to my aircraft and get it fixed immediately”
  • “I’ll fly enough to stay proficient”
  • “When the engine quits, the airplane belongs to the insurance company.”
  • “I’ll always put my life and the lives of my passengers first because the plane is always a distant second.”

Fly safe and stay out of trouble! JD  http://jdpricecfi.com/

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En-route Flight Advisory Service (EFAS), or “Flight Watch”

Flight Watch is the primary collector of pilot reports (PIREPs). They are there to provide pilots with en route weather updates. (Don’t ask them for a full route briefing or to accept your flight plan.
EFAS can provide weather updates, PIREPs, and advisories. Call them on 122.0 (below 18,000 feet MSL). Use the ATC facility’s name, “Los Angeles Flight Watch”, not the Flight Service name.  EFAS is available:

  • Above 5,000 AGL to 17,500 MSL. (In many areas, it’s possible to make contact well below 5,000’ AGL. Give it a try before you start a climb).
  • 7 days a week, 6 am to 10 pm local time.


Flight Watch staffing is a direct function of demand. If there is a great deal of convective weather in Arizona and New Mexico, for example, they would be sure to have additional staff on flight watch at Albuquerque and Los Angeles Center.  On a very challenging weather day throughout the U.S., you can anticipate 20 flight watch specialists on duty – that’s  one per Center.

Conversely, during the late evening hours or when the weather is generally tranquil and the air traffic is less, Flight Watch may drop down to as few as five specialists to cover all 20 centers in the U.S.

Travel Tips when calling Flight Watch:

  • Reference them by the name of the en route center you are located within.
  • State your location in reference to a NAVAID on the initial call. For example, if you are 20 miles north of the Grand Canyon VOR (Arizona), you are within the Los Angeles Center airspace. You would say, Los Angeles Flight Watch, Mooney 257KW, 20 north of the Grand Canyon V-O-R, over.” This allows the Flight Watch specialist to use the best remote outlet to reach you.”

In addition to 122.0 MHz, each Center has a dedicated frequency for high altitude Flight Watch. These frequencies are listed on the inside-back cover of the green Airport/Facilities Directory (A/FD).

Providing a PIREP to EFAS, 122.0

The Required Stuff for a PIREP:

  • LOCATION (Nearest VOR or Airport).
  • TIME—ZULU or minutes ago.
  • A/C TYPE.

Optional Stuff for a PIREP:

  • CLOUD COVERAGE – (CLR, FEW, SCT, BKN, OVC), TYPE – (Cirrus, Cumulus, Stratus), & HEIGHT – (Bases & Tops should be expressed in feet MSL).
  • VISIBILITY – (in statute miles), & RESTRICTIONS – (Haze, Mist, Fog, Dust, Sand, Smoke, Spray, Volcanic Ash).
  • PRECIP TYPE – (Rain, drizzle, snow, and hail), & INTENSITY – (Light, moderate, or heavy).
  • TEMP – (Celsius).
  • WIND – (Direction & Speed in knots)
  • TURBULENCE – (Light, light chop, moderate, moderate chop, severe, or extreme).
  • ICING – (Trace, light, moderate, or severe).
  • Then, add your REMARKS.

Fly safe and stay out of trouble! JD  http://jdpricecfi.com/

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