Sunday, April 04, 2010
The answer is that I've wanted to fly since being a small child and thus I acquired my Airman Certificate ("pilot's license") in 1981. In 2001, well before I began to concern myself with energy related matters, I acquired the airplane. I've been all over the country in it, and have flown it for around 500 hours.
As transportation security measures have increased, the attractiveness of driving to the hangar, performing the preflight inspection, taxiing out and flying to the airport nearest my destination (as opposed to an air carrier airport) becomes more and more attractive. This increases the range I'm willing to fly myself. There are drawbacks as well: I don't have the weather capabilities of the airlines; outside of about 650 (nautical or 748 statute) miles I'll need to stop for fuel; adverse winds have a huge effect on ground speed; and it's quite costly. For very long distances, the airlines are significantly faster though with the hub and spoke system, one hour early arrivals, waiting for baggage, and other delays, the distance at which airlines become faster door to door is longer than one might think. Also, for business meetings, having my transportation ready when I am means that I don't have to leave early to catch my flight.
Parsing the model number, PA stands for Piper Aircraft, it's the 32 series (no significance to that), R indicates that its landing gear is retractable (chicks don't dig fixed gear), 301 is the maximum continuous horsepower of the Lycoming TIO540-S1AD engine (actually, it's one more for some obscure reason), and T indicates turbocharging. As to the engine, T is turbocharged, I is injected, O is (horizontally) opposed (cylinders), 540 cubic inches is the displacement. It's a "dash S1AD" variant, the nomenclature has no obvious significance.
So I have a turbocharged aircraft capable of developing about 300 horsepower. This power is only used on takeoff and initial climb, typical cruise power is about 70% of this number or about 210 horsepower. Just for fun, if I assume that the engine efficiency at this power setting is 25% and that there are about 125*10^6 joules in a gallon of avgas, my airplane should burn 18.04 gallons/hour. I actually run at a flow of about 18 gallons/hour as shown on my fuel flow meter (pilots, obviously continuously concerned with fuel, think in terms of pounds or gallons per hour). As I've repeatedly stated, I just love it when calculations and data or two methods of calculation agree.
These 18 gallons at 13,000 feet will typically take me about 168 nautical miles or 193 statue miles (the "knot" is one nautical mile or 6080 feet per hour). So, in terrestrial terms, I get 193/18 or 10.7 m.p.g. Not really so good. The Saratoga is known as a bit of a sky-borne SUV, it has six seats and three baggage areas. It's a little draggy and a bit heavy in comparison to piston single engine airplanes.
For a given amount of shaft power, the airspeed achieved (at any particular "density altitude") is controlled by propeller efficiency and total drag. I can increase my range and consequently my "specific range" (miles per gallon) by flying at slower airspeeds. At about 140 knots (a bit over 160 m.p.h) I can reduce the fuel flow to around 10 gallons/hour. This works out to 16 m.p.g., more along the lines of what you might expect for a fuel thirsty road vehicle.
But one of the main reasons people buy airplanes is to go fast, and so I rarely use this method. It can, however, result in a quicker trip if the extended range results in the elimination of a fuel stop. Such a stop typically adds about 45 minutes to a trip. But really, by the time I've been in the plane over five hours, I'm ready for a stop.
Finally, if I put passengers in three of the five seats remaining (more than that results in the need to fly with partial fuel loads, thus reducing range) I can achieve a reasonable figure for "passenger miles per gallon" of 42.8. To be candid, that rarely happens though. No amount of mental gymnastics can make N8409Y a fuel efficient way to travel.