To Do, or not To Do, that is the question
The following is offered as set of factual experiences and observations, and is not intended to either endorse or cause dispersion on the products mentioned. All of the events stated herein happened exactly as stated. Let the facts speak for themselves. While the main point of this dissertation is to cite the positive results I had using Slick 50 and Lenckite in my airplanes, autos, boats, lawnmowers, etc., I do add in a few flying stories to make the reading a little more interesting.
There have been many additives for automobile engines placed on the market probably starting the day after the first car was sold. We have all heard the stories of how most of them were “snake oil” that did little to improve anything, and in some cases, actually caused harm to the engine. I remember 60 years ago watching my father flooding a running engine with a product named Shaler Rislone. My dad would start by pouring a quart of it into the carburetor and after the engine would quit from being flooded out, he would let it sit for about ½ hour. The ensuing re-start would produce great clouds of white smoke from the exhaust (before the days of the EPA). This treatment was supposed to loosen moving parts from residue and re-oil them. Rislone is still on the auto part shelves today. See:
An interesting aside on the above website is a part referencing Bobby Unser winning the Indy 500 in 1968 and using Rislone in the race car's engine. I was there! I had met an USAC official who was not a pilot but for some reason had bought a rather strange airplane that was located in Seattle. He made me the deal that if I would fly the airplane from Seattle to Dayton at his expense, then he would get me a gold pass to the Indy 500. I only saw a picture of the airplane and didn't realize just how small it was. The bubble canopy did little to shield me from the sun and I lost 10 pounds on the trip from L.A. to Dayton at the end of May!
A complete website devoted to nay saying the use of additives is found on this site:
If you read the entire website which gives every detail of tests run in labs that show that additives actually hurt engines, and that engines not treated in the lab tests were in better shape than the treated ones were after the tests, then my experience was some sort of fluke. Now let me point out the opposite side of the coin in spades.
It is a fact that airplanes crash every year (often with fatal results to persons onboard and on the ground) because of engine stoppage caused by loss of oil, usually to a broken oil line. This fact is indisputable. I haven't kept newspaper and magazine clippings to prove that fact herein, but please accept my statement as being fact as I spent some 45 years of my life being involved with aviation. As such I read and researched crashes in detail.
So if there were a way to prevent the engine stoppage, would it not seem desirable to take advantage of it? During my banner towing days I knew personally of three forced landings by my competitors caused by loss of oil. Fortunately in each case only damage to the aircraft resulted from the crashes. I would like to state a fact, and that is that with my business the total number of hours flown (not by me, but by the fleet) is estimated at around 15,000, and that was done without a single loss of an airplane.
When I started in the banner tow business I became acutely aware of the danger involved in flying an airplane at near to it’s stall speed and low to the ground for hours on end. Most of the banners were flown along the SoCal shoreline from Malibu to San Clemente where almost 100 miles of continuous populated beaches are found. The airplanes were normally flown at as near to 60mph as possible and at a typical altitude of 300’ over the water. Under normal circumstances an airplane flown at near it’s stalling speed will be unstable, but with a huge banner trailing the airplane it becomes stable to the point of being difficult to turn sharply. A typical towrope is 200 feet in length and a typical banner would be some 150 feet in length, so this tail of the kite is some 350 feet overall, or more than 10 times the length of the airplane. The usual power setting to tow a typical banner will require as much as 75% of available engine power. This huge amount of power combined with the long tail of the kite makes for a very stable platform. That’s the good news.
Now for the bad news. In this position of flying so low and at such a high power setting, any decrease in engine power will result in an immediate and violent stall. Unlike an airplane with no external load where chopping the power will let the airspeed bleed off, with the load on, the airspeed drops instantly; the load just yanks the airplane backward instantaneously.
So one day when the elderly gentleman visited me at Meadowlark and demonstrated his little Briggs and Stratton engine with a see-through plastic side case, I saw something I thought would be of value. His test papers reported that a Cessna 172 had been able to fly a FAA witnessed test of 45 minutes without oil in the engine. My conclusion was that if it bought my pilot just 5 minutes, that would be sufficient time to probably save both the pilot and the airplane. I always instructed my pilots that their first responsibility in the case of an emergency was to save themselves. Their second consideration was to try and save the airplane, and if the first two were assured, then to try and save the banner. I lost a total of three banners in 15 years of operation. One was a faulty repair of a grapple hook line done by myself; one was a pilot error, and one was a broken tow rope.
I might throw in a side story here to place emphasis on the reaction of the airplane at a high power setting. There was one banner tow pilot from another organization who was flying an overloaded airplane in a high humidity situation to where his maximum altitude attained after banner pickup was the length of the towrope, i.e., 200 of so feet. Coming out of Chino on a very hot day he obviously expected to hit some cooler air as he proceeded toward the coastline, but this didn't happen because even at Meadowlark close to the ocean we were experiencing unusually high temperatures and humidity. Obviously he was at maximum power when he realized he was not going to cross some upcoming power lines in Santa Ana canyon. When he released the banner, the stability he was getting from the banner drag was suddenly gone, and being at full power and at the stall, the airplane violently snap rolled into the ground.
In the webpage cited above it is stated that the Briggs and Stratton people found that their “untreated” test engine also ran without oil. That may be a nice thing to find out on a test bench, but I found out the hard way that an aircraft engine will not run without oil of a sufficient density. One of my tricks I used to do with a car engine, especially when I had just bought an old Junker, was to mix auto oil 50/50 with diesel fuel or kerosene and run the engine with that mixture to clean out the engine. And it seemed to work. I tried that once with a Cessna 150 I had purchased and the engine jumped and knocked so hard immediately after starting that I shut it down as fast as I could. It had the sufficient amount of oil in the case except that it had been diluted to probably ½ of the required viscosity. So I can say with great certainty that aircraft engines untreated will not run without oil. That is a fact based upon my own experience and my years of being in the airplane business and reading the crash statistics.
Now for the actual case histories to prove my contention that some additives did provide both protection and extended engine life, at least in my experience.
(1) This is probably the most impressive test I have ever heard of to tout the statement that an engine treated with Slick 50 will run without oil. The date was 8/23/85. I was involved in the development of a giant beer can to tow behind an airplane. In this case it was a 33’ long by 15 ‘ diameter replica of a COORS LIGHT beer can; a very giant drag chute!. Gasser Banners of Nashville Tennessee told me they could build one for $2,000. It lasted all of 5 minutes before it tore itself to shreds on the first flight. I had never seen anything in the air gyrate so violently. It would compress itself and then get a ring of air swelling like a donut inside the can. The donut would then travel from the front of the can to the end and expel itself in an incredibly loud fart or super shotgun sound! It did that until it exploded. There were horse stables directly in the flight pattern between the shoreline and the airport and the story got back to me that it really spooked the horses terribly. I had already booked the summer contract with COORS and it was a large one for $60,000. With help of Bob Goubitz to do the flying and Conrad Nielsen to do the modifications we managed to get a somewhat flyable “CAN”. While ours was better than Gasser’s, it still wasn’t stable. We needed a large airport to run tests out of and had one day decided to go all the way to Brown Field in San Diego and make some tests. The trip would require two airplanes to carry enough persons and equipment to meet our needs. Conrad (Charley November or just CN) and I flew down in my Citabria 7GCBC (N9640S). We would use it for the tug. I had my eldest son Craig (Charley Charley or just CC) fly our #1 Tripacer (N1926P) with all of the equipment we would need; pick up poles, hooks, lines, the CAN, etc. Craig was a low time student pilot so this would be good experience for him; after all, he couldn’t get lost because we were going to fly in formation. We flew multiple tests the entire day with Craig doing the ground control work and CN and myself alternating flights and observing. The results of the flights were very disappointing as while the CAN survived it did the most unsightly twists and turns while in flight.
It was dark by the time we were airborne and headed home. I think I always enjoyed flying at night when it was clear and the winds were calm better than any other time. The visibility is better, the colors with all of the lights are more impressive, and there is a peacefulness of it all that can only be explained by being there. The calm this night was suddenly broken when Craig’s voice came over the radio: CC: “Where would you land at night if you had to?” was not a subject I wanted to talk about, but CN answered: CN: “I’d probably try to use the freeway”. We were over La Jolla and close to the freeway so that made some sense. I made my call back hoping the question was hypothetical as: BC: “I think being this close to the beach and having the moonlight as it is that I would go for the shoreline”. More silence and then from Craig: CC: “How long has the oil pressure gauge been broken on this airplane?” EGADS! BC: “You know it wasn’t broken because you did an engine check before takeoff!” CC: “Well it’s not working now”. BC: “What is the oil temperature?” CC: “Its down to nothing”. Well, that makes sense because if you have no oil running over the sensor, it isn’t going to show any oil temperature. BC: “What is the cylinder head temperature?” CC: “Its cooler than normal” BC: “How does the engine sound?” CC: “Its smoother than normal!”. BC: "Okay here are your instructions: Don’t touch anything and head directly for Palomar, which is about 15 minutes ahead of us. I’m going to Banzai ahead of you and get on the ground. Fly directly over the approach end and start a circle descent keeping in mind that the engine may quit completely. Palomar is pretty long so just stay in close to where you can make it to the runway."
Since the end result is now known, it was not without a lot of concern that I watched things happen. Craig did all of this and then after landing perfectly and turning off of the runway radioed: CC: “Do you want me to shut down here or taxi in?” I asked him how the engine sounded and he again said it was like a little sewing machine. I told him to taxi on in and agreed with him listening to it when he taxied in. After my experience with the diluted oil in the Cessna 150 I found it hard to believe, but seeing is believing! It only took a few moments to find out what had happened. I had replaced all oil lines when I placed the airplane in service, BUT I had omitted the little 6” line that connects the oil pressure gauge line to the engine. Even though the hole in the tube is no more than 1/8th inch, when it ruptured it let all of the oil spew out. The right side of the airplane was covered with black oil. I placed my hand on a cylinder head and it was cool enough for me to not have to jerk it back as would be normal. So all I can say to make an impression is that this Lycoming 0-320 was running without oil and was smoother and cooler than normal! Just the facts.
The next day I flew the airplane home (with a new replaced 6” oil line), drained the oil and inspected the oil screen (I also replaced that line on my other 6 airplanes with the same engine type). I found no evidence of metal to suggest any damage to the engine parts (if you read the reference website about "snake oil" you will see the exact opposite report from their testing. I then took it up and flew it for 5 hours and repeated the process; again nothing to suggest any damage. That was 1985. That engine was removed in 1990 with 770 additional hours being logged on it. Total time on the engine was 2385 hours. It was in perfect running condition when removed for an upgrade; oil pressure still holding normal, etc. Think of the numerous fatal crashes that have occurred because of loss of engine power due to a broken oil line. What can be the only difference between those dramatic crashes and this dramatic experience. Believe me when I state that having my son, a low time student pilot, flying solo at night and to have lost oil pressure was a rather unnerving situation. I thank the use of Slick 50 for saving a lot for me!
(2) The following is hearsay, but it fits in. The Lycoming factory field representative used to make visits to my operation and one time I told him of the above incident. He then told me this story. He had been at the factory when the Slick 50 people came to show off their product. They had flown into the factory airport in a Piper Twin Comanche that they then proceeded to drain the oil from both engines in front of the Lycoming Engineers. They then flew around the airport and came back in for the Engineers to look the airplane over. This person verified that he had personally seen the test flight. My question is this: How can the two incidences mentioned here be disclaimed? I will go on.
Just to make a point I will relate this unexpected occurrence. I had just initiated a new airplane into my fleet (it was the Citabria shown above) and had finished my very first task and that was to change the oil and add the Slick 50 additive. In all of my vehicles I have always chosen to make this change just before a hard workout is about to happen. In this case I was sending up Bob Posey for a personal banner. One of the things that I now enjoy is that I have kept a flight record of every airplane I operated. So I can say that on 4/29/85 I sent Bob Posey to fly a banner for McPeek Auto, it is what my books say. On 4/29/85 the oil change was completed at 1150.8 engine hours. A one half hour flight was made and then Posey (now an airline Captain) took the banner. I was in radio contact with him when he called and said: BP: “ Bob, you are not going to believe this, but this engine just got incredibly smoother!” He had no knowledge that I had just changed the oil and added Slick 50. If I had done so and told him in advance that he might notice a change, then I would write off his comment as being pre-suggested. But this was absolutely not the case. So how do you explain the change noticed by Posey? Posey was a very experienced pilot with flight time spent in Viet Nam.
Another short story: I had a nice Ford camper Van that needed a new water pump. I instructed my local mechanic to replace it, and the hoses and clamps. When the bill was presented I asked him about the cost of the hoses. He replied that the hoses looked so good that he did not replace them. This is a rule I never break; I do not re-use old hoses regardless. So I took a trip to the Colorado River anyway (this takes place before I got my sun allergy). On the return trip I was coming up the long steep grade out of Needles with the temperature over 100 when the “good” old hose broke at the seam where the first clamp had been. I had an emergency 5-gallon jug of water in the Van, and when the engine had cooled down I refilled the radiator and traveled as far as I could go before it overheated again. This time I sat for 4 hours and no one stopped. What is it they say?: Where is a policeman when you need him? Finally I said to myself: “what the hey? Lets just drive this “muther” and get to somewhere. I was making enough money that the cost of a new engine was peanuts.” So I took over driving upgrade on one of the steepest climbs in SoCal on a very hot day, and with no agua in the engine. At first I could drive about 35mph before I heard a very slight “ticking” in the engine. I know that was just a valve lifter that had no oil, but I just slowed down about 1 mile per hour until it went away. I kept this up continually slowing my pace until I could only go 15mph without not get the "ticking". Anyway I finally made it about 60 miles into Ludlow where I got the owner of the gas station there to open up for me and get a new hose. I was lucky enough that he had one. The engine had already cooled off and with a full radiator I re-started my trip home. It was still a nice warm night but the engine ran fine. I kept on driving that Van for quite a while without doing anything more to the engine. Try that on your untreated engine!
It may seem like I have bad luck on radiator hoses but yes, this did really happen a little later on. I was driving my humungous Cadillac to Mexico when a perfectly new radiator hose just broke in the middle. This was just a case of a manufacturing flaw in this one product I had installed. After all, with the experiences I had had, I always replaced all hoses with new whenever I got a new piece of rolling equipment. I thought this one over and then remembered my Van and continued my drive into Tecate Mexico, sans agua. I went into a “parts store” that was smaller than most shoe shine parlors I have seen, but low and behold, the Mexican emerged from behind the rear room with exactly the proper hose for this classic 74’ Caddie that I had bought from an estate sale. Only 38,000 miles since new and at a bargain price of $1450!! I always kept a small tool kit in every car I drove and all that was needed was a screwdriver and I was on my way (after the usual taco, almejas cocktail, and a cerveza). I kept that car for several years after moving to Oregon and again, absolutely no problemas with it regardless of the drive into Tecate with no agua. Try that in you untreated engine.
By now, if you have read this far, you must believe I have a jinx about cars and radiators. The fact is that besides my 28 airplanes and helicopters I have owned, I have owned several hundred autos. Okay, so that makes me a nut! But it is just the odds as far as I am concerned regarding failures. In this case I was driving a Datsun 280Z (I have had four of them) down the Long Beach freeway when all of a sudden there was a monstrous spray of white smoke exploding from the engine. I looked at the water temperature and it was pegged. I took the very first turnoff only to find that I had nowhere to pull over to. I had to go what seemed like a mile before I got to city streets where I immediately pulled over to the curb. The minute I did that the engine seized tight. I hit the starter only to find the engine was solidly locked. I went into a nearby restaurant to wait out the hour before anyone could come and tow me home. After an hour I went back to the car and tried the starter and this time the engine started and hummed! I drove across the street and filled the radiator only to find that it was spewing a nice ¼” stream of water three feet in front of the radiator. Maybe I had hit a rock, maybe even a bullet, or maybe it was just a flaw that came out after 10 years of use? In any event I made it back to Meadowlark with only a couple of more stops for water. I replaced the radiator with a used one from a junkyard and continued to drive that car for a time more; but absolutely no bad after effects of the engine seizing. Try that on any Jap tightly fitted aluminum engine without the additive!
The above-cited actual events that I have experienced are in direct opposition to all of the statements contained in the first web search I made regarding engine additives. First off, I totally dispute the findings of Briggs and Stratton that their little engines run without oil. Not from my experience, or at least not for an extended time. Secondly, ignoring my experience with autos, I ran a fleet of hard working banner tow airplanes and never had any kind of shortened life; exactly the opposite. So here I am working these engines in the harshest work style; hours of tugging at slow speeds and high power settings, and never having a failure. The air-cooled aircraft engines are designed for cooling at cruise airspeeds, not continous flight at high power and near to stall speeds. I only started replacing engines out of the embarrassment of asking these young pilots to fly airplanes in a hazardous environment with engine times exceeding the manufacturers suggested life by hundreds of hours.
So I find my actual experience seems to be in direct opposition to what you will find on the web, and in most maintenance publications. I have written quite a few articles to flying publications about my experiences and the typical rebuttal as one editor put it, my experience was likening my experience to George Burns smoking cigars and living to be 100 years old (quote)! I flew my combined flight hours somewhere around 15,000 total hours on all airplanes combined without any kind of engine failures. Additionally, I ran the engine times up considerably beyond the manufacturers suggested limitations. I had one oil line rupture that if you compare it to the headlines that normally exist, there would have been at the least a crash of some sorts, if not worse. I had engine over heat problems in several autos that in my opinion would have caused severe damage to the engines, but didn’t.
I have one other short story to tell. I bought a new Ford Aerostar in 92’ and yes, of course, after the proper break in period (about 15,000 miles for me) used Slick 50 every 25,000 miles. At 103,000 I was side-swiped and the Van was considered a total by the insurance company, except that it drove fine, and still did not burn any oil between changes. The Insurance Company was going to take it for $500. I got out my video camera and started my own test. First I drained the oil. Then I ran the engine at high enough RPM’s (3,000 to 4,000) that would tax a normal engine. After 30 minutes of this I finally started to hear the same ticking noise I had heard in my Ford Van 15 years earlier. I videotaped the episode but I guess it proves nothing as long as smoking cigars occasionally extends your life to 100?
Along the way I was also introduced to a product called Lenckite. Ironically this product was introduced to me by the local owner of the largest Funeral Home in Huntington Beach. Why this guy found it necessary to devote his time to selling a product and not tending to his Funeral Home business escapes me, but I bought into his story. He was using this product and extending the life of his hearses by a factor of double. In the first place, I never imagined that a hearse would pile up very many miles since it wasn't that far usually from the Home to the Cemetery. But according to his statistics, by using Lenckite he was able to extend the life of his hearse's from 75,000 miles to 150,000 miles. He was using it in the transmission, power steering unit, radiator (for the water pump), engine, everywhere a liquid was flowing. So I started using the product with each oil change in my airplanes and cars. The written testimony about the product was that a Hiller helicopter had gone through 7 major engine overhauls without replacing the usual worn-out parts. I have no idea as to the worth of this product other than I never wore anything out. My Van that was wrecked had Lenckite in everything and at 103,000 miles everything was performing like new. Does that prove anything? Not really; could just be coincidence.
So whatever, Slick 50 and Lenckite, I flew a fleet of 8 airplanes for a number of years under what is considered "hard duty" without either a failure or the need for overhaul, premature or otherwise. So go figure! I've said my piece and will let it lay.
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