In the L-29, fuel is stored behind the cockpit seats rather than in the wings. "With fuel behind the canopies where the pilot sits, it stays at a more or less constant temperature," Rodante says. He plans to use this same fuel storage strategy for the Learjet flight in 2009.
One of Rodante’s chief advisers is Institute For Air Science at Baylor University, whose ethanol-fueled Pitts S-2B Velocity will be donated to the National Air and Space Museum. Ethanol’s virtue as an environmentally friendly fuel Tim Searchinger, whose data suggest that the clearing of forest land to grow crops for ethanol could erase any benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
But airplane operators and manufacturers—both civilian and military—will keep up the search for cheaper and cleaner fuels. The U.S. Air Force is the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, spending $6.6 billion on aviation fuel in 2006, the latest year for which figures are available. Last March, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne told the Air Force Energy Forum that each increase of $10 in the cost of a barrel of oil costs the Air Force another $600 million per year.
On Dec. 17, on the 104th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight, the U.S. Air Force flew a C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft across the country powered on a mix of 50 percent jet fuel and 50 percent synthetic fuel derived from coal. In September of 2006, a B-52H Stratofortress made a similar flight on the same fuel. The Air Force has set a goal to certify its entire fleet to fly on the blend by 2010.