First flight for biodiesel

By Jerry W. Kram | November 20, 2007
Bearing the name Bio Jet I, a 39-year-old jet manufactured in Czechoslovakia climbed 17,000 feet over Reno, Nev., in early October fueled on B100. The test of the L-29 military aircraft is the first known flight by a biodiesel-fueled jet.

The test was conducted by Green Flight International, a promotion and marketing organization founded by Doug Rodante in 2006 to promote the adoption of environmentally friendly fuels in aviation. "It is a company based on my personal concern for the environment," Rodante said. "The goal of the company is to reduce the amount of carbon and [nitrogen oxide] emissions, and the biodiesel industry is something that does that. I know there are a lot of people out there trying to do these things, but I really feel it needs to be done a little faster with a little more urgency. That's why I think our example with the Bio Jet made a pretty fair impact so far."

The L-29 military trainer was chosen because it was originally designed to operate on a variety of fuels, including petroleum diesel. Rodante said the plane's design included a fuel tank in the fuselage rather than in the wings and a fuel warmer, which helped prevent fuel gelling. Rodante and Carol Sugars piloted the craft first on jet fuel and then on gradually increasing biodiesel blends. He said there was no change in aircraft performance when using B100. "The aircraft we fly is built for the fuel instead of the fuel being modified for the aircraft," he said. "The motor we are using in the L-29 is a pretty tough engine. You can put just about anything in it, and it will run as long as the systems will support it."

The next challenge for Bio Jet I will be a transcontinental flight at the end of November. The plane will fly from California to Florida, but since the plane only holds 90 minutes worth of fuel, the flight will be broken up into one-hour, 300-mile segments. Biodiesel Solutions Inc. in Sparks, Nev., will supply canola-based biodiesel at airports along the jet's route. Biodiesel Solutions also provided the biodiesel made from recycled vegetable oil used in the test flight.

Rodante said the Federal Aviation Administration office in Reno helped to certify the plane for the flight. "They did require that we test some of the rubber components and are still working with us on this," he said.

In 2008, Rodante plans to modify a Lear jet to run on biodiesel and make the first round-the-world flight powered by biofuels.
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