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Assuming ISA, sea level, no wind, max gross weight, what speed would be most fuel efficient per 1,000 ft of climb?

Alternatively, if that converges to the most fuel efficient cruise speed, when there's no time and/or distance limitation for completing such a climb, please explain why this is so.

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  • $\begingroup$ The purpose in climbing is to get there so you can get on with the rest of the flight. What practical purpose could possibly be served by optimizing fuel in a climb? Especially at max weight?? $\endgroup$ – Douglas Held May 3 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DouglasHeld Several scenarios, in my case. One is the need to climb to a certain altitude ahead of increased underlying terrain elevation or cloud tops in VFR. If such an obstruction is, say 50nm ahead, it makes no difference if I make the climb over 2 miles or 40 miles, and the important thing for me is to minimize fuel consumption. $\endgroup$ – GJ. May 3 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Actually it does, and GJ. comment below tells why. Range in ALL aircraft improves with altitude. This is why one climbs at Vy and then cruises more efficiently at a higher altitude. Slow climb does not take advantage of greater GROUND SPEED as well. KTAS formula shows this by factoring in pressures. I would try both and compare, nothing wrong with slow climb if you enjoy it. At reduced power settings, I would keep carb icing in mind. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni May 4 at 0:57
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First consider the four forces on the airplane in the cruise:

          ⇧
        Lift
⇦ Drag    .  Thrust ⇨
       Gravity
          ⇩

Drag is a function of the airframe, attitude, and airspeed. If the airplane can fly, then drag is more then offset by thrust. The lift is generated by a component of the forward motion when the flying surfaces convert the horizontal force to vertical force. And finally, the lift force is equal to the force exerted by gravity.

Now let's talk about fuel efficiency. That is how much you can do with a quantity of fuel, and you didn't specify whether you're interested in fuel for time (endurance) or fuel for distance, or something else. But let's discuss the major components of fuel usage:

  1. Engine motion. The engine is more efficient in terms of power at its higher rated power setting. So, you would think efficiency would be gained by selecting a higher power (assuming you could also climb with less than 100% power).
  2. Heat. I guess a typical heat engine like a piston engine consumes about 50% of fuel energy to heat (rough guess, it's prob. in the range 35% - 65%). But the heat engine is more powerful the greater the difference between inlet temperature and exhaust temperature. So, the greater time you can spend at higher altitude is probably more efficient in fuel for power.
  3. Cooling. Sometimes you need extra unburnt fuel for engine cooling. For example during climb, when the engine is at higher power and the airflow is reduced.

Now let's discus climbing. During a climb the aircraft has (in theory) to produce all the power necessary for level flight, plus a little extra for the change in elevation. I would posit, without any evidence, that the fuel spent on the elevation change is insignificant compared to the fuel required to stay aloft. (I will gladly accept a reference or metrics if someone has them). But think about it, if you put the aircraft in an elevator powered by a similar motor, it would take a few drops of fuel to raise a few feet. That's a thousand drops for a thousand feet - it is nothing versus constantly offsetting the the weight constantly as it does in flight.

So what is the more fuel efficient climb procedure? It is the technique using:

  • Higher engine power
  • Maximizing time at higher altitude; minimizing time at lower altitude
  • Balancing the mixture to keep the engine as hot as its design will allow. (you said fuel-efficient. You didn't say cost-efficient. Don't violate your POH!)

In summary, to expend the least fuel, climb as early as possible, as quickly as possible (e.g. Vy) and with minimum acceptable richness.

And as long as we are talking efficiency, please also run the tanks dry at your final cruise altitude. This will maximize the most fuel efficient part of the cruise, when you are carrying less fuel.

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  • $\begingroup$ A lightly loaded Cessna 172 needs 30hp to climb at 500fpm which is not insignificant. Also, your guess for engine efficiency is way off - 35% efficiency is actually typical. $\endgroup$ – Sanchises May 4 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ I couldn't remember offhand if it is 40% efficiency or 40% wasted. I thought instead of looking it up I would use half. $\endgroup$ – Douglas Held May 4 at 18:40
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It seems to me that whatever cruise speed was chosen, the most fuel efficient climb given that baseline fuel consumption in cruise, would be to keep the same power setting and climb in the slowest rate acceptable.

E.g. if cruising at 90 kts and a climb of 3,000 ft should be completed within at most 30 NM, then climb at 150 fpm.

This should result in about the same fuel consumption per time relative to staying at that same cruise speed and only slightly more consumption per distance since the ground speed will be minimally reduced (and even that may be compensated for by the increased TAS under such power setting due to the increase in altitude).

If the baseline cruise speed was chosen to be the max endurance speed, then such a climb should also be more or less the all round most fuel efficient.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hope you get good results. As a final thought, climbing slowly through airspace that has even and odd direction of west/east traffic may introduce a safety issue. This is why "jetliner style" Vy climb to cruise may be preferred. But your inputs and the "Carson Cruise" question are appreciated. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni May 5 at 7:38

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