Local Pilot Plans Historic Flight Using Plant Oil-Based Biofuel
March 23, 2016
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  • Three years after he made the first flight in a small aircraft from Rhode Island to North Carolina using aviation biofuel, pilot Ross McCurdy is taking to the skies again, this time on a historic transcontinental flight.

    The Smithfield resident and Ponaganset High School science teacher plans to fly a certified light aircraft 5,000 miles round-trip from Rhode Island to California, using biofuel made with renewable Camelina plant seed oil.

    “This will be the first transcontinental flight using aviation biofuel in a certified light aircraft, and will combine the excitement of aviation with renewable energy and sustainability,” according to the chemistry and alternative energy teacher known for his innovative renewable energy projects.

    McCurdy, who is the project leader and primary pilot on the trip, tells The Valley Breeze & Observer that he plans to leave from North Central State Airport in Smithfield on Saturday, April 16, in a four-passenger, single-engine Cessna 182 equipped with an SMA aviation diesel engine.

    “This is the finest, most fuel efficient and best general aviation engine out there,” he said, adding that SMA Engines creates aviation diesel engines with 30 to 40 percent more fuel efficiency than traditional lead fuel-burning engines.

    With six stops along the way to refuel, McCurdy says his plan is to land in Santa Monica, Calif. and be in the state for Earth Day on April 22.

    While the biofuel – a 50-50 blend of Camelina plant seed oil and petroleum Jet A – can last approximately 1,000 miles, McCurdy said, “It’s better to keep (the engine) topped off.”

    The longest leg of the trip will be about 500 miles. Stops include State College, Pa.; Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright brothers; Walnut Ridge, Ark.; Grand Prairie, Texas, home of SMA Engines; Santa Teresa, N.M.; and Phoenix, Ariz.

    At each stop, McCurdy, who holds a commercial pilot’s license and instrument rating, hopes to speak with people who are interested in aviation biofuels or intrigued by the project, he said.

    The goal of the flight, he says, is to demonstrate the potential of aviation biofuels and all renewable energy, as well as high efficiency aviation diesel engine technology. He also hopes to promote aviation, renewable energy, and “real-world science education,” he added.

    One advantage to using biofuel is a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, McCurdy said.

    “Right now, aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases,” he said. “Anything we can do to reduce that is a good thing.”

    Based in New Jersey, the Cessna 182 that McCurdy plans to fly is “very rugged,” he said, as is the Camolina plant, native to Montana and the northwest United States.

    Joining him on the flight will be his 12-year-old son, Aedan. For part of the trip, his friend and fellow pilot Tomoharu Nishino, of New Jersey, will be present, McCurdy said, adding that he hopes another pilot, Thierry Saint Loup, will fly with him from Texas to California.

    Aedan, who also went on the North Carolina trip, “is enthusiastic about flying and being on the trip,” McCurdy said.

    In March 2013, McCurdy was part of a team that flew 500 miles using aviation biofuel from Rhode Island to Kittyhawk, N.C., the site of the Wright brothers’ historic first flight in 1903.

    McCurdy received his pilot training at Air Ventures Flying School in Smithfield and is a member of the Paramus Flying Club in New Jersey, one of the oldest flying clubs in the country, he said.

    With just three weeks until the flight, McCurdy said, “I’m really excited that things have come together after so many years of work and planning. I think it’s going to be an awesome trip.”

    Because “aviation is an expensive endeavor,” sponsorship opportunities for the flight are available, he added.

    He also wants to thank his students at PHS for helping him research and plan, he said. One student, 12th-grader Kyle Corry, helped him develop a website where people can find more information about the project: .