LearJet May Fly By End Of 2008
Sir Richard Branson plans to fly a
Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam on a biofuel mix derived from
soybeans or algae, sometime later this month. But a US pilot and
entrepreneur has set his sights on a much bigger achievement.
Douglas Rodante and his team from the Green Flight project plan
to fly a Bombardier business jet around the world on used cooking
oil, as soon as the end of this year.
"It's a personal goal of mine to implement biofuels into
mainstream aviation and mainstream transportation," Rodante told
The Canadian Press in a recent interview. "I think it's necessary
that we do this first and foremost for environmental reasons."
Rodante and his chief pilot, Carol Sugars -- with consulting
help from Bill Lear, Jr., of LearJet fame -- want to fly with used
Canola oil, like you'd use to cook french fries. They've already
made it work, in a Czech Aero L-29 jet trainer over the Nevada
desert last year... but using the fuel for the round-the-world
flight poses added challenges.
For one thing, the Lear cruises at 45,000 feet, where
temperatures can be expected to drop to -55 degrees Fahrenheit or
colder. Fuel made from animal fats turns to a thick jelly which
won't burn at those temperatures. The city of Portland, OR found
that out in embarassing fashion early this winter, when its
biodiesel-fueled snowplow trucks stalled and blocked intersections
the first time they were brought out on a cold day.
Also, biofuel is still a fairly new concept, so it's hard to
find throughout the world, and costs as much as three times as much
as petroleum-based Jet-A fuel. Finally, the FAA and other
regulators have yet to satisfy safety concerns.
"The FAA is as conservative as they can be," Rodante said.
"They're gonna be as careful as they can possibly be, and that's
fine with us because we're keen on safety, too."
But Rodante and Green Flight are attacking the problems
methodically. Satisfying the FAA will just take time, and more test
flights in the L-29. Keeping the fuel in a combustible form will be
solved either with heated tanks, or by using a biofuel-kerosene
mix. To meet to multi-million-dollar cost of the trip, sponsors
will be enlisted.
Rodante, a television producer who started flying in the 1990s,
says it's important to advance biofuel technology, since it could
reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 80 per cent compared to
petroleum-based jet fuel. He promises he'll return with footage
documenting the flight, and create a movie for the rest of us.