Fuel Economy
Experiences With The
Challenger At The Pump
by Bryan Quickmire

The image below represents the ultimate in fuel economy - zero dollars per hour. This is achieved by staying at home and running Microsoft Flight Simulator on your computer.
While that's a terrific way to spend an evening when blizzards rage outside, it's not quite what we envision when looking up at puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky! So, given that we would actually prefer to actually fly, what does actually flying the Challenger actually cost?

Webmaster's Note: This article assumed that Regular 87 octane car gas was $1.25/litre.

Rising fuel prices are on everyone's mind including my own! I've been thinking about the impact on my favorite activity - flying Challengers. Step one is to figure out my cost per hour.

Over my years with the Challenger in the real world I've experienced a range of 8.5 litres (2.25 USgal ) to 17 litres (4.5 USgal) per hour of operation. The low end was the Trumpter Swan Migration Project flying for many hours in formation with the birds at 40 mph. The high end was max cruise racing the setting sun to get somewhere before dark. Neither are typical missions!

In normal day-to-day flying I use 12-16 litres (3-4 USgal) per hour of operation. This includes taxi, takeoff, climb, cruise, descent and landing (usually multiples of each!) plus motoring around on the water or snow. The 12-16 range is puttering about vs going places.

Assuming $1.25/litre for 87 octane regular car gas that's $15 to $20 per hour for an average of $17.50. For that amount of money I can have an hour in my Challenger on wheels, skis or floats.

Now that I have the cost from step one, step two of the cost/benefit analysis is to figure out the benefit. The benefit is harder to quantify, or to even be objective about. The experiences flying has to offer - the sights, sounds, feelings, people - are to me priceless.

One way to compute a benefit number is to compare what you can do in that $17.50 Challenger hour with what you can do for $17.50 in a rented Cessna 172. For $17.50 I could have 8 minutes in a Cessna 172 on wheels ($135/hour) or 5 minutes in a Cessna 172 on floats ($210/hour).

What can you do in 8 minutes in a rented Cessna 172 on wheels? If you're real efficient you can start up, warm up and taxi into position for take off. Beep! Time's up! In 5 minutes Hobbs time in a rented Cessna 172 on floats you can't even get the engine warmed up.

What can you do in an hour in a Challenger? Here's a flight last spring that logged 0.9 hours:

How does today's $13.75 compare to the actual cost last spring when fuel was cheaper?
It's about 10% higher which means now I'm spending an extra loonie or toonie an hour.
How will I ever afford that? One less Timmie's per day?

What if you take the worst case and compare this spring to last fall when gas had dropped for a while due to the loonie's spike through the US Dollar? In that case we're talking 20% higher which is maybe an extra loonie plus a toonie more per hour. Two less drives through Tim's?

Now that my calculator is warmed up I'll take several previously published Challenger flights from a couple of summers ago and figure their cost using today's fuel prices. Just for fun,
I'll also calculate how much Cessna time you could rent for the same amount of money:

- July 7: Passing through Barrie on my way home from a family function the weather is too good to resist. Detour to the airport and mount up. Take off from the runway and hop over to Little Lake for a landing on the water. Troll around enjoying the breeze through the open cabin. Check out three swans a swimming. Do a couple of water takeoffs and landings using the GPS to measure the takeoff distance of the 582. Answer around 250 feet with the mercury reading 28C! Head back to the airport. Do a couple circuits from the runway.

      Time Logged: 1.0 hours / Takeoffs & Landings: 3 Land 3 Water
      Fuel Used: 11 litres / Cost at $1.25/litre = $13.75
      (= 6 minutes in C172 on wheels or 4 minutes on floats)

- July 8: Dave & Mike fly into Barrie in their Challengers. I fire up XSL and we head to Lindsay for brunch with Brent, already there in his Challenger on amphibs. Bill and his son join us in their Challenger. We all land on the paved runway and take off from the grass. The flock heads over to Greenbank to see the Penfound family with their Challenger. Land and take off from grass. Then all go to Baldwin to see Jack Cowan's latest pro build. Another grass strip. Dave, Mike and Bill are based here so they stay. Brent and I go for a water landing in Little Lake to check out the swans. Today four are a swimming. We motor about for a while shooting digital film then take off from the water and head back to Barrie for a landing on the paved runway.

      Time Logged: 3.4 hours / Takeoffs & Landings: 4 Land 1 Water
      Fuel Used: 46 litres / Cost at $1.25/litre = $57.50
      (= 26 minutes in C172 on wheels or 16 minutes on floats)

- August 5: Alison and I decide to lunch at Lindsay. We fly over to Lake Simcoe and follow the coastline a few feet off the water until abeam Lindsay then climb and head inland. Dine with Niall who is enroute in his Challenger from Kingston to a fly-in west of Barrie. After lunch Alison and I fly GPS direct back to Lake Simcoe then fly coastline indirect around the rest of the lake, completing our counterclockwise circumnavigation. Zillions of cormorants up by Orillia! Land in Little Lake - no swans a swimming today - back to Barrie. All at the max cruise power setting.

      Time Logged: 3.1 hours / Takeoffs & Landings: 2 Land 1 Water
      Fuel Used: 54 litres / Cost at $1.25/litre = $67.50
      (= 30 minutes in C172 on wheels or 19 minutes on floats)

These all seem like reasonable cost/benefit trade-offs to me! At the risk of beating this point to death, here are two more Challenger experiences - then I promise to put the calculator away:

Rising fuel costs are putting a serious pinch on flying rented and owned Cessnas and such. This writing is really a long rambling way of saying that if you own a Challenger you'll use so little fuel that whatever the price at the pump becomes it will have no meaningful influence on your ability to go flying whenever you want for as long as you want.

As Warren Buffet said: "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." Right on Warren!

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