Don't underestimate the speed of sorghum

COSTA MESA — Never underestimate the speed of light — or the properties of grass and vegetables.

A biofuel made from sorghum and sugar beets helped propel Orange Coast College aviation instructor Richard "Smokey" Young, 50, of Chino Hills, to a new world record, where he was clocked at more than 260 mph in a piston-fired aircraft at the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal, southeast of Palm Springs, over the weekend.

"I think it was really neat getting the opportunity to do this," Young said. "This fuel was fantastic. It worked great."

It took place inside Young's Formula 1 Race plane. The high-octane biofuel is relatively new on the market and is being developed by Indiana-based Swift Enterprises in partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. It's called 100SF fuel; it contains no lead or ethanol.

Normally, general aviation aircraft piston engines run on fuel referred to as 100LL.

While lead was removed from auto gasoline decades ago, a small amount of the metal has remained in the fuel supply for aviation piston engines, sometimes causing "vapor lock," which is when an engine stalls in mid-air.

Not a good thing.

The 100SF fuel, however, helps prevent such vaporization at higher altitudes, said OCC spokeswoman Mary Rhoda.

So far, the fuel has shown promise. In Federal Aviation Administration tests, a new engine was put through a simulation of the typical lifespan of the motor's "time between overhaul," as it's known in the aviation community.

The company hopes to have the fuel certified by the FAA within the next two years so it can be used in piston-powered aircraft, Rhoda said.

Swift, based at Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Ind., will be building a pilot plant this fall and says 100SF should be at least cost-competitive with existing fuels, and hopefully cheaper down the road (or runway).

"I love to fly. I've gone this fast before, but what was different was I ran it at full speed for 25 minutes, and that's a long period of time," Young said. "I had to pay a lot of attention to the engine and the power settings."

Before joining OCC's faculty in 2008, Young served in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot.

Following his military service, he flew 727s and 757s as a commercial pilot.

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