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Aircraft Fuel Systems

Business and Commercial Aviation Magazine

An aircraft's fuel system has a more
profound effect on aircraft performance than
any other airframe system. Without fuel, the
mission inevitably comes to an abrupt stop
and, unless the flight crew is very, very lucky,
the ensuing forced landing will cause severe
or catastrophic aircraft damage. ~ Fred
George, 6/20/06
The aircraft fuel system consists of the fuel
storage area and the components within that
storage area, the system ends at the fuel low
pressure cock.
The fuel system is required to supply the
main aircraft engines with sufficient fuel at a
given pressure under all operating conditions.
It also supplies fuel to the aircrafts auxiliary
power unit.
Fuel types
There are two types of fuel currently used in
AVGAS Aviation gasoline for use in
conventional piston engines with ignition
Avtur Aviation kerosene for use in gas-
turbine engines and the new diesel engines
that are being developed and licensed for
aircraft use.
Aviation gasoline having a low density
(compared to kerosene) is volatile and has a
high vapour npressure. Gasoline easily
vaporises (evaporates) at sea level on an ISA
standard day.
As the ambient pressure decreases, the
volatility of the fuel increases and is said to
be boiling off (e.g. at 10 000 ft, the ambient
pressure has dropped by approximately 31%
of the sea level value).
Aviation turbine fuel was developed from
paraffin for use in gas-turbine engines. This
fuel has a greater density than AVGAS and a
lower vapour pressure (about 0.14 psi), so it
is less
The fuel has to be chemically stable.
However, if it is stored over a long period in
conditions where oxidation can occur, soluble
gums and insoluble particulates form which
clog filter units and pipesolatile.
Fuel Table
Flash point the temperature at which the fuel will
readily ignite.
Freezing point the temperature at which the fuel will
start to solidify, crystals will form within the liquid.
S.G. (specific gravity) the ratio of the density of the
fuel compared to the density of pure water. Fuel is lighter
than water so the figure will be a number less than one.
FSII (fuel system icing inhibitor) a fuel additive used
to reduce the freezing point of the fuel.
Volatility is the measure of a fuels tendency to change
state from a liquid to a vapour.
DISSOLVED WATER :Water that is absorbed into a fuel from the
water vapour in the atmosphere has been broken down into minute
particles. When passing into the fuel, the particles are supported by
the fuel due to their size.
FREE WATER : Dissolved water that has precipitated out as the fuel
cools (saturation point), or water that has entered the fuel on mass,
due to its greater mass, collects at the bottom of the tank.
FUNGAL CONTAMINATION : An airborne fungus called
cladisporium resinae can contaminate fuel tanks. The fungus exists
in the fuel/water interface living in the fuel and deriving food from the
hydrocarbon fuel.
Clear refers to checking the fluid for traces of
sediment, particulates, and other solid matter.
Bright refers to checking the fluid for traces
of free water and dissolved water, which can
also be termed entrained wate
Typical Fuel Tanks

Rule of Thumb for max. fuel volume: 85% for wing
tanks and 92% for fuselage tanks, measured to the
external skin surface (exception: bladder tanks, 77%
and 83%, respectively)

Externally Mounted Rigid Fuel Tank
The rigid fuel tank and the extra strengthening required adds to the
overall mass of the aircraft and reduces the useful load of the
As they are built as a separate structure, if they are large, they have
to be built up in situ as the aircraft is manufactured, making
maintenance replacement awkward.
For practical and economic purposes, rigid tanks can only be fitted
where there is sufficient space available for a large uncomplicated
shape to be manufactured.
They have to be tied to the aircrafts structure. This requires the
surrounding structure to be strengthened to support the added mass
and cater for the acceleration/deacceleration loads imposed by the
fuel tank and its contents.
Flexible Fuel Tank

Flexible Fuel Tank
There is no guarantee that the bottom of the tank is flat. It can be
rucked, causing ridges that trap water.
The fuel from a leaking flexible tank can run down the internal
structure before showing on the exterior of the aircraft.
The areas in which they are fitted have to be lined with tape to
prevent any sharp edges from puncturing them.
They have to be clipped or tied to the surrounding structure to
preventing them from collapsing as the fuel is used.
Once used with fuel, the tank must not be allowed to dry out as it
can split and leak.
Over a period of time, these tanks can become porous, so they have
a finite life.
Integral Tank made by sealing the joints and fastenings of
wing's structure
The system has the advantage of being lighter and making use of
structural bays that would otherwise be left as voids.
The disadvantage, as with the flexible tank, is that the rubberised
sealant must not be allowed to dry out. Otherwise, it can crack and
cause the tank to leak.
This weight reduction in turn allows either more fuel to be carried to
extend the aircrafts range or more payload in place of the extra fuel.
For modern turbine-powered air transport aircraft with thinner wing
sections, the utilisation of the wet wing system allows fuel to be
stored further toward the tips.
Increasing the weight at the tips, counters the upward bending
action created by lift
Fuel distributed around center of
Tank components
Check valves
Temperature sensor
Suction valves
Vent system
Relief valve
Maintenance panel
Fuel drain
Water drain
Contents measuring devices
Float type gauge (On-Ground)
Contents measuring devices
Manual measuring
Magnetic Float Level Indicator

Contents measuring devices
Manual measuring
Dipstick and Tabs for Light Aircraft
Contents measuring devices
Float type gauge (Light Aircraft)
Simple Float Type Gauging System
Contents measuring devices
Float type gauge (Light Aircraft)
Simple Float Type Gauging System
Contents measuring devices
Contents measuring devices
Capacitance type fuel gauging systems
Simple Float Type Gauging System
Fuel Pump
Fuel Pump
Fuel Sytem Twin Light
Venting Suystem
Some (main) fuel tanks are fitted with an
Automatic top-off unit
This unit consists of a float valve set at a pre-
determined level that initiates feed from an
auxiliary or subsidiary tank
The feed may be either a gravity or pump
feed and will maintain the main tank at the
pre-set level
Fuel Dumping Systems
Needed to meet landing weight limits of
landing gear or runway length
System of fuel pumps and valves
Usually ejected from wingtips
Sometimes from aft-most point of fuselage
Usually designed to allow the plane to go
from max take-off weight to max landing
weight in 15 minutes or less.
777 Fuel Dumping
In-Flight Refueling
Original motivation: endurance records
Currently used only in the military sector
Two main types:
Boom and Receptacle
Probe and Drogue
Fuelling zones should be established before fuelling commences.
These zones should be regarded as extending at least 6 metres (20
feet) radially from the filling and venting points on the aircraft and
fuelling equipment.
Within this zone, smoking, use of naked lights and operation of
switches which are not of the approved pattern should be forbidden.
A. Unless fuelling takes place in a designated a no smoking area no
smoking signs should be displayed not less than15 metres (50 feet)f
rom the fuelling equipment and a/c tank vents
B. APUs which have an exhaust discharge into the zone should, if
required during fuelling,be started before filler caps are removed. If
APU stops,it should not be restarted until refuelling has ceased.
C. GPUs should be located as far as practical from a/c should not be
connected/disconnected during fuelling.4. Fir extinguishers should be
located so as to be readily accessible and preferably be of the
CO2and/or BCF types.
The aircraft should be connected to an effective earthing point and to the
fuelling equipment.
This is always achieved through the undercarriage.
When overwing fuelling, the nozzle of the hose should be bonded to the
aircraft structurebefore removing the tank filler cap.
When fuelling from hand-operated equipment, including pumping from cans
or drums, similar precautions should be taken to bond equipment, hoses,
nozzles and containers.
If funnels are used, they too should be bonded to the nozzle or can and to
the aircraft.
If a chamois leather filter is used, the funnel and all metal parts securing the
leather should be included in the bonding circuit.
When pressure fuelling, the fuel tank pressure relief valves should,if
possible, be checked for correct operation and the bonding lead on the
nozzle should be connected to the receptacle, located adjacent to the
fuelling point,before connecting the nozzle.
Aircraft should not be fuelled within30 metres (100 feet)of radar
equipment, under test or in use, in aircraft or ground installations.
When any part of an aircraft landing gear appears overheated, the
fire service should be called and fuelling should not take place until
heat has dissipated.
Extreme caution should be exercised when fuelling during electrical
storms. Fuelling should be suspended during severe electrical
disturbances in the vicinity of the aerodrome.
The use of photographic flash bulbs and electronic flash equipment
should not be permitted.

Any Questions?