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Starting fluid

Hand starting an aircraft can be hard work, particularly on cold days.

Is it advisable to use starting fluid to help start an engine? Are there any pitfalls such as flames being more likely to go back up the induction system and not being able to deal with the fire by continuing to crank the engine? I suppose one disadvantage is that you can’t carry it with you should you fly away anywhere.

Hand starting an aircraft can be hard work

It shouldn’t be, even on cold days. Unless the spark plugs have frozen. But then the engine should be pre heated.

I’ve never heard of ‘starting fluid’ (outside of starting old car engines that have been idle for years) and perhaps there may be a Darwinian reason in aviation.

Enstone (EGTN), Oxford (EGTK)

I have a Turbulent with recently serviced mags. However, neither has an impulse coupling. It’s reasonably easy to start whilst warm, but much harder when cold so I was assuming the volatility of the fuel was the explanation. I have bought a little hairdryer to heat up the carb, but wondered whether there were any simpler solutions.

What do you mean by frozen spark plugs?

Last Edited by kwlf at 01 Dec 09:13

kwlf wrote:

I have bought a little hairdryer to heat up the carb, but wondered whether there were any simpler solutions.

You can get heat pads you can fix on any engine. Electrical heating. During the winter here (Norway), we keep the engines heated all the time. It keeps them at around 10-30 degrees. Good for the engines in all respects, and they start easily, although starting difficulties is really something that IME happens below -20 or something due mostly to poor battery capacity. If it’s not electrically heated, a hair drier might do, but something more powerful is preferable, or it takes all day. Choke and/or primer should make it start, but it is very hard on the engine to pump all that thick oil around. Starting fluid, I guess that is what we call “starting gas”, is something clueless people use to start their lawn mover

But then again, hand propping… Maybe starting fluid will do the trick, if you don’t have choke or primer ? but maybe it can backfire as well?


It’s easy enough to turn the engine over at any temperatures we get in the UK so whilst thick oil may not be great for the engine, I doubt it’s a reason for the difficulty in starting.

The turb has no choke, but you can use the accelerator pump to do much the same thing. Typically from the point that I get any firing at all, I can get it started relatively quickly by playing around with the accelerator pump to get the right mix.

The other day I had trouble even smelling fuel at the air intake which was why I thought it might be having trouble vapourising. This summer it was starting very happily.

Incidentally, I understand that the Tiger club changed all its Turbulents over from magnetos to Leburg electrical ignition to improve their startability. I have considered this but in the interim
I also changed the spark plug leads from carbon to copper core and used resistorless spark plugs. Initial impressions were that this improved summer starting. Radio reception has not been improved, unfortunately.

If my experience starting the aircraft is unusual and may be a sign of something sinister then I’d be curious to hear what.

This happens when an engine only fires a few revolutions and then quits. There has been sufficient combustion to cause some water in the cylinders but insufficient combustion to heat them up. This little bit of water condenses on the spark plug electrodes, freezes to ice, and shorts them out.

Hopefully this explains how your spark plugs might get frosted-but unlikely in the UK.

Allowing the fuel to atomise after priming might help. A couple of minutes usually is enough. The baby Continentals are very easy to start. My VW 1300 always starts in all conditions on the first turn so perhaps an air cooled VW specialist might take a look at how your engine is set up.

Enstone (EGTN), Oxford (EGTK)

Thanks, that’s interesting. What carb and magnetos do you have, and do you have a choke?

With a good battery, but out of practice in cold starting the O200, I gave up without flattening the battery. Next day, same conditions, I was very careful not to flood the carb, and easily started.
I keep carb heat on after starting with the O200 – much longer in the Bolkow Junior than the DR 1050.
By “starting fluid” do you mean a petroleum ether aerosol? I’ve never used one but kept one on my no-sail diesel engine boat for emergency use.

EGPE, United Kingdom

We always joked that engines get addicted to ez-start: after a few uses you simply cannot start it without (one glider club’s bus actually had the intake hose routed to the cab so you could squirt the ez-start in while cranking!)

I’m not sure I’d want to get a plane addicted to ez-start!

Andreas IOM
29 Posts
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