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We're perfectly fine with saying that lead in avgas is harmful

CAAPSO, and many pilots have heard your concerns over it. Now more than ever we all have been working relentlessly to transition all of the aircraft on the field to the new unleaded AvGas (UL94) created by Swift Fuels. Just because we have this new "Unleaded AvGas" does not mean that all aircraft will be able to use it. For example, UL94 has an octane level of 94 as the name suggests, and most modern engines such as All Rotax engines and a few Lycoming and Continental engines are approved to run on it. With the lead being taken out of UL94 AvGas, it is better for most of these modern engines. But because UL94 has an octane level of 94 this fuel can not be used in high compression engines. These are engines that run with a horsepower above 180 and any aircraft that run with turbo charges. This means the need for a higher octane level of 100 is detrimental to operating correctly in a safe manner. The reason we haven't seen an unleaded fuel with a 100 octane level is having to reach a very high level of octane which is very difficult to be accomplished without the utilization of tetra-ethyl lead. The simple answer to the question of why we can't just get rid of tetra-ethyl lead altogether in airplanes is because we haven't found a way to reach that high level of octane yet without it.





Unlike a car, where we are mostly driving around at sea level with gradual changes in pressure and temperature, a plane will experience different changes in altitude, temperatures, and pressures all of which change in a relatively short amount of time. Additionally, a car can pull over at any time, while airplanes overfly large populations and inhospitable terrain, where it would take time to reach a safe landing site. Because of the harsh operating environment, engines can experience something known as "detonation," or "engine-knocking," which occur when the fuel is ignited before the full compression cycle is completed. In an internal combustion, like those used by the aircraft at Reid Hillview, the power is generated by the ignition of a fuel air mixture, which has to burn continuously, and push the piston all the way to the bottom of the engine cylinder; almost like the smooth compression of an accordion. When detonation occurs, rather than a smooth movement, the force of the quite-literal explosion, shoves the cylinder down abruptly, with pressures the cylinders are not designed to take, as if a sledgehammer were slammed down right on the aforementioned accordion. Usually felt like a bang on the engine when you are sitting in the aircraft, this can be very damaging to the engine itself potentially causing engine failures to happen mid-air. To prevent the fuel from doing this, the fuel providers who manufacture 100LL adds the tetra-ethyl lead to prevent knocking and detonation.

As most might think that Pilots are out to hurt people that live around the airport, it is actually the complete opposite. Pilots and mechanics don't like the lead anymore than you do! It's actually a bit of a necessary evil. Yes, it eliminates detonation but lead actually cause fouling of the spark plugs, the devices which actually ignite the critical fuel-air mixture, in which the lead deposits onto the spark plugs, preventing them from firing. Additionally, the lead can corrode the engine components, such as the piston heads, cylinders, and valves. While these are problems, they could be fixed with regular and costly maintenance, and their threats were not nearly as hazardous as detonation. However, now that UL94 has been introduced in the market, and detonation is solved, all of the previous problems with lead, are gone! If you talk to any pilot, instructor, or mechanic on the airport who has experience working with UL94, they will all say switching to UL94 has presented itself with benefits rather than problems. benefits that include easy installment, cleaner engines, healthier engines, and most importantly the absence of lead in the exhaust air after being burnt. All of these are without the concern of performance degradation. 

An animation of the internal combustion process of a piston driven engine, like those in the airplanes at Reid Hillview. The yellow colored flow represents the fuel-air mixture entering the cylinder, which is compressed by the large piston, and ignited by the sparkplug. Notice how there is only one initial spark but the reaction is carried all the way to the bottom of the piston? That's because it is burning, not exploding. The opposite occurs during detonation, and is very dangerous to engines.


A Reid Hillview pilot filling up the tanks of a Cessna 172P "Skyhawk' at Reid Hillview-based FBO, AeroDynamic Aviation with UL94 for a sunset flight on December 20th, 2021.




HEY PILOTS, Aircraft Owners, & Mechanics! We Have A New "Unleaded Fuel" Available To Use!

As aviators, we all know the good old 100LL, the pilot's morning coffee, but fear no more we have an all-new top-of-line energy drink for your aircraft that is guaranteed to get them up and running in the morning. But in all seriousness, if your aircraft isn't running with a horsepower of over 180 or is turbocharged why haven't you made the change yet? UL94 will clean your engine, and it puts us one step closer to being on equal grounds as cars these days. we're not just talking to pilots at the Reid Hillview Airport but all around the world. A handful of flight schools in the San Francisco Bay Area have already made the switch and they are running these aircraft with absolutely zero performance changes when they fly. The faster we can get this new fuel in our aircraft the better off we will all be. Once a chain reaction has been started other airports will follow suit and we will soon be working toward a fully unleaded sky. Think of UL94 as the dream drink that doesn't have coffee breath or yellow teeth all with an extra cost of 4 cents a gallon what can be better than that!


A 1985 Cessna 172P based at RHV bears the supplemental placard that accompanies the Supplemental Type Certificate, approving the aircraft for use of the unleaded avgas, UL94.

Image by Pawel Czerwinski





Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do about the noise...

Along with safety, it is the priority of pilots to be good neighbors to our surrounding airport communities. As such, we follow noise abatement procedures to ensure that aircraft noise is minimized, and operations are limited to certain times of day. 

As it stands, the following are prohibited at the airport:

  • Repetitive flight operations between 9:00 PM and 7:00 AM

    • This includes activities like long-lasting flights in the traffic pattern, or conducting touch and go's.​

  • No turns below 500 ft, except to avoid school properties off of the departure end of Runways 31R/L.

Additionally, pilots are instructed to make a slight right turn to avoid overflying schools that are off the departure end of Runway 31R.  When pilots are flying in the vicinity of Reid Hillview, it is also standard procedure to climb to the "Traffic Pattern Altitude," which is 1000' above the communities of East San Jose, to ensure that there is a safe distance to maneuver for landing, and to minimize the amount of noise. At this altitude, the airplanes will also throttle back to about 75% of full power to ensure that they do not gain an excessive amount of altitude or speed, which can obstruct a stabilized landing. In doing so, they substantially decrease noise.

Due to the high standard of safety, airplane engine exhaust cannot be muffled, or have catalytic converters. However, the majority of noise you does not actually come from the combustion of the engines but rather the propellers themselves, as their tips approach the speed of sound. We do however hear your concerns over noise, and commit to doing our best to honoring the wishes of the East Side to fly as quietly as we can.



Fly Quietly!

When you're at Reid Hillview, be sure that you do all that you can to fly as safely and considerately as you can.  Read up on the Reid Hillview Noise Abatement procedures listed above, and become familiar with the airport before arriving so you know what areas to avoid while arriving or departing.

One pilot at the airport has made the suggestion to climb at best angle-of-climb speed, (Vx), to ensure that you are as high as possible before clearing the airport fence. Be sure to visit your aircraft procedures, and see what you can do to maximize the climb performance of the airplane when departing the runways, be it through a short-field takeoff, or reducing your fuel payloads.

Image by stevosdisposable




When folks talk about closing the airport, something that always comes into conversation is the possibility of, "planes falling from the sky," of course referring mostly to airplanes having off-airport landings. In this history of Reid Hillview, there have been several instances of aircraft landing off airport; often on roads. The most recent incident occurred on July 4th, 2020, when a small aircraft suffered an engine failure while on climb out from Reid Hillview, resulting in a safe off-airport landing in Hillview Park. Another severe incident that occurred was when a Cessna 172 suffered an engine failure, and landed atop a home.  While there is some risk, something to remember is that is each of these instances, the only parties injured were those aboard the aircraft.

Since 1964,  within a 5 miles radius of Reid Hillview, there have been a total of 5 aircraft accidents at Reid Hillview, resulting in 11 fatalities, of which, thankfully none of which were from those on the ground. The current general aviation accident rate is 3.10 accidents per 100,000 flying hours. At Reid Hillview, it is 1.46. Its important to note that this figure also includes off-airport AND on-airport events, which of course, the latter, would pose minimal danger to our neighbors. The opposition has cited that there have been 37 incidents in the past 40 or so years at Reid Hillview but its important to remember that the majority were landing in a controlled manner at relatively slow speeds.

What do we owe this to?

General Aviation aircraft are built with an incredible amount of redundancy and safety in mind. For example, many ask why pilots have not switched to unleaded fuels sooner, the simple answer is they legally could not. Yes, it has been in the works for 10 years but that is how long it's taken to fully convince the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that this new avgas would meet the same standards as 100LL. Any inherent risk, however small, comes under immense scrutiny when proposed to the FAA. 

The engines in airplanes are very similar to cars but there are some key differences, which can be summed up with the following: General Aviation engines do NOT require batteries to run! The aircraft can suffer a complete electrical failure, and still land with almost no significant threats to the safety of flight! How is this possible you ask? The engine does not depend on electronics! Car engines normally use computers to control the engine operation but not with airplanes. Our fuel injection systems all use mechanical linkages to meter the fuel required for operation, and for our older airplanes, they simply use a carburetor, which controls the fuel-air mixture via a plunger in the cockpit. As for the spark required for ignition, that is generated by what are called magnetos. These units are geared to the propeller shaft, and use the spinning action from the propeller to generate a current that is sent to the spark plugs. And if you're worried about one of them failing, let us ease your mind. There's always two! And both power one of the two sparkplugs in the cylinder, ensuring a high degree of overall safety.

Beyond the engine, airplanes undergo rigorous inspections compared to most cars. Before every flight, pilots are legally required to inspect the aircraft to confirm its airworthiness. This procedure consists of visually inspecting the whole aircraft exterior, confirming functionality of all flight controls, lighting, and electrical systems, and examining oil and fuel quantities. On the larger scale, aircraft must go through an incredibly detailed inspection, appropriately called an "Annual," every 12 months. During these checks, aircraft have they inspection plates removed, and qualified mechanics must scrutinize all aspects of the airplane, checking for even minute damage. 

Additional inspection requirements exist for various operations as well. Airplanes that are operated for hire, such as those at the Reid Hillview flight schools, must be inspected every 100 hours of flight time; an inspection while not of the same caliber as an annual, still goes quite in depth. Additionally, airplanes must have instrumentation checked, and manufacturers can release Airworthiness Directives, which list additional inspection requirements for certain parts of applicable aircraft.

Of course, a machine is only as safe as the person operating it.

Luckily, ALL pilots are held to a vigorous standard outlined in a document called the Airmen Certification Standards (ACS). The journey to become a pilot culminates in a final flight known as a "checkride," where student pilots meet with a federal employed "Designated Pilot Examiner," to participate in a practical examiner where they must demonstrate their abilities and knowledge to earn their certificate. Failing on just one maneuver, like just banking by more than 5 degrees, can result in an immediate failure, depending on your examiner. However, at the end of the day, if you're an unsafe pilot, you most certainly will NOT pass.

Before they even get to the checkride, they need to practice a series of maneuvers, and meet a certain set of aeronautical experience requirements. One of the more common, and basic certificates earned at Reid Hillview, is the Private Pilot Certificate, which requires 40 hours in the airplane, at a minimum before you can be signed off. Even then, the current national average has crept past 60 hours for most pilots in the last few years. Here are some of the maneuvers they need to learn and master:​

  • Steep Turns

  • Ground Reference Maneuvers (Rectangular Course, S-Turns, Turns-Around-A-Point)

  • Takeoff, Departure, and Approach-to-landing Stalls

  • Short Field Takeoffs & Landings

  • Soft Fields Takeoffs & Landings

  • Crosswind Takeoffs & Landings

  • Simulated Engine & Electrical Failure

  • Emergency Descents

  • Simulated Instrument Flight

  • Tracking Navigation Aids

And there's even more! Flight schools can train student pilots in whatever method they want, meaning even more maneuvers can be added. At Reid Hillview Airport, because of its close proximity to dense neighborhoods, one flight school, AeroDynamic Aviation, has student pilots demonstrate power-off landings before they can solo. This maneuver is conducted by simulating an engine failure, and using no power at all, the student must manage the energy they have to make a safe landing back to the airport. That's a skill that isn't required until your commercial pilot checkride, where you need 250 hours of experience!

Even still, that's not to say every pilot at the controls of the airplanes at Reid Hillview are handled by 60 hour Private Pilots, or even lower time student pilots.  With the exception of solo flight operations, student pilots are always accompanied by Certificated Flight Instructors, who have hundreds to even thousands of hours. They can be piloted by folks with Airline Transport Pilot Certificates, a credential which enables you to fly for major air carriers, like United and Southwest. To get there, you need 1,500 hours! 




Regardless of what certificates we hold, from Sport to Airline Transport Pilots, we hold a responsibility of tremendous weight that few else bear. Some of us may not don the storied epaulettes of our airline brethren but the weight that they place upon our shoulders is no less there. Every time we take to the skies, we are entrusted with the lives of our passengers, and those underneath our aircraft; in this case, the residents of East San Jose.


Thankfully, our airport safety record reflects the talent of our pilots and mechanics who operate here but complacency is the enemy of our industry, With great power, comes great responsibility, and thus, we must take it upon ourselves to uphold a high regard for safety. When operating at any airport, not just Reid Hillview, remember to employ you skills of Aeronautical Decision Making. Review your procedures regularly, and be thorough in your pre-flight actions. Ensure that the machine you're climbing into is fully airworthy, and ready to fly. 

Additionally, Reid Hillview is a special instance where it is so densely surrounded by neighborhoods. Thus, it may prove wise to practice your emergency engine-out maneuvers regularly, so as to ensure that you can always make a safe landing.  You can even take a page out of our resident AeroDynamic Aviation's book and ask your CFI if you can practice accuracy landings, even at the Private Pilot Level. There's a saying in the industry that even after the dreaded checkride, a pilot will forever remain a student pilot.  If you're feeling rusty, or its been a while since you've last done maneuvers, call up an instructor and bring yourself up to ACS standards. 

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