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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
SW Aviator Magazine is available in print free at FBOs and aviation-related businesses throughout the Southwest or by subscription.
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By Bill Coleman

Lubricating oil can cause a lot of friction among piston engine aircraft owners. Oil myths and legends abound. The slippery stuff has been blamed for everything from a ruined engine to post-nasal drip, while other pilots brag that it gets their airplanes 500 hours past TBO.

Most pilots prefer a specific brand, however, they can’t always defend their oil choice with logic and reason. That’s why it’s so difficult to consider another brand — even in a situation like this:

It’s getting dark and you’re still three hours from home on a long cross-country flight. On a fuel stop, you discover your engine is two quarts low. Your favorite brand of oil not is available, they only have brand XX. What to do?

We asked the pros — FBO operators, engine overhaulers, oil experts, and others who care a lot about protecting their customers’ aircraft. All advocate taking the safety-first approach and adding the needed oil, even if it isn’t your brand.

For Walt Silveira, Phillips 66 Aviation Oil Product Technical Manager, the answer is simple, “Stick with a brand you when you can, but use any approved aviation piston engine oil brand for emergency top-offs. Topping off your oil level is much better than flying low on oil, even if it is not your brand or the right viscosity.”

Silveira says the proof is printed on the container’s label. All aviation OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) — including Lycoming, Continental, and Pratt & Whitney — use the same SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) tests and specifications to assure that approved oils meet the stringent standards to protect their aviation engines.

“All aviation piston engine oils are compatible,” Silveira said. “Whether mineral-based, synthetic blend, straight grade or multigrade, all aviation oils are compatible and can be mixed without harm to the engine.”

“I’m not recommending that owner/operators make their own oil by mixing a quart of one type of oil with a quart of another type oil during oil changes, but rather when a situation arises where you are down on oil, the decision to add a different brand or grade is a good one since this will not cause any engine problems.” Silveira said.

Can you mix an Ashless Dispersant (AD) oil with a non-AD oil? According to Richard Fowler of America’s Aircraft Engines in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the answer is yes. Both types of oil are very compatible since similar base stocks are used in both types of oils. AD oils are not designed to clean up deposit and sludge buildup that is already in the engine.

Fowler’s customers also asked if they would see any performance difference on an engine if they totally switchover from a non AD-mineral oil to an AD mineral or semi-synthetic oil. Fowler answered, “There will be no negative effects to switching from a straight mineral to an AD oil, regardless of the number of engine operating hours accumulated. AD oils will not remove past accumulations of lacquer and Varnish or hardened sludge. All oils will not cause sludge to move, blocking the oil galleys.” Fowler added, “When switching from mineral to AD oils, a quicker than normal darkening of the oil may occur on the first oil change. This poses no danger to the engine and means the oil is suspending a small amount of deposits that have not solidified yet.”

“Of course it’s a good idea to plan ahead and always carry a spare bottle or two of your favorite brand. That way, you won’t have to worry about mixing oil,” Fowler said.

“I try not to mix oils,” admitted Jim Peterson, retired Navy and corporate pilot and technical editor for Cessna Owners Organization and Piper Owner Society. “That’s for no scientific reason whatsoever, but I always carry a supply of my own oil — just in case.”

If you do have to decide about adding oil, rely on common sense. Use oil as much like your own as you can find — a similar viscosity range multigrade, similar single-grade weight, and similar mineral or synthetic composition.

“Pilots should be confident that all approved aviation oils are compatible,” Silveira concluded. “They all meet SAE aviation specifications, and all have been approved by aviation engine manufacturers. As long as they are aviation-approved, they have demonstrated compatibility.”
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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
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