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PMDG 737NGX GroundWork


Fuel System

Lesson Introduction

Welcome to the Fuel System lesson in the PMDG 737 Next Generation GroundWork, from
Angle of Attack.

This lesson will cover the following topics:

- An overview of the fuel system and its configuration,


- Fuel Parameter Indicators,
- Fuel Types used in the system,
- Fuel pumps and their power sources,
- Fuel valves and their power sources,
- Integrated safety measures and redundancy,
- Lesson summary.

Fuel System Overview

So, what is a fuel system and what are the nuances and specifications of the 737NGs fuel
system? Its maximum capacity is quoted by Boeing as 46,063lbs, but the aircraft can in fact
carry 470lbs more than this. Youll learn how shortly.

As well as its obvious purpose of containing and distributing fuel though, the system also has
the auxiliary purpose of cooling hydraulic fluid. Each main fuel tank contains a heat exchanger,
and both units are identical. Although this arrangement is very effective for cooling hydraulic
fluid, the fluid does not carry the sufficient thermal energy to heat the fuel in any significant
manner, so it is important to emphasize that the fuel system does not heat the fuel. Conversely,
the engine fuel feed system, discussed in the engines lesson, features heat exchangers to cool
oil from the Integrated Drive Generators. These however intentionally heat fuel.

Fuel is typically stored in either two or three tanks, however, contrary to popular belief, the
737NG is actually fitted with five tanks! Each tank is integral to the airframe, thus is made of
exactly the same aluminum alloys as parts of the aircraft surrounding it:

QUICK TIP: Each fuel tank is made up of alloys of aluminium, zinc, copper and
magnesium, in different proportions.

The five fuel tanks in the 737NG are:

- Main tank (1),

- Center tank,

- Main tank (2),

- Left surge tank,

- Right surge tank.

Main tanks (1) and (2) are located in the wing boxes, with main tank (1) on the left and main
tank (2) on the right, also corresponding to the way both engines are numbered. They each
contain up to 8,630lbs of fuel. The center tank is located largely in the fuselage, but does extend
into the wing root, and it carries 28,803lbs of fuel, but is only filled after the two main tanks, and
when filled, it must be consumed first in flight.

The primary reason for this is to reduce airframe stress; fuel in the main tanks provides ballast
for the wings, holding them in position when the great stress of the aircrafts mass is placed
upon them shortly after take-off, preventing a large change to the wing dihedral angle. This

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effect is so great on the Boeing 747, that if only the fuselage tanks were to be filled leaving the
wing tanks empty for a high gross weight take off, they would simply snap.
The two surge tanks are located directly outboard of the main tanks, containing up to 235lbs of
fuel each. They are not counted towards the total fuel capacity of the aircraft, but instead
provide a precaution in case any form of tank overfilling was to occur.

As well as the fuel tanks themselves, the 737NG fuel system has three other primary elements:

- Fuel Pumps,

- Fuel Valves,

- And fuel quantity indicators.

To interact with the fuel system, the pilot uses the following panels in the flight deck:

- The fuel system panel on the overhead panel,

- The overheat/fire protection panel,

- And the control stand, specifically the engine start levers.

Each will be discussed in significant detail as we move along in this lesson. Lets talk a bit about
the fuel quantity indicating system.

Fuel Indicators

This section of the lesson is about all aspects of the aircrafts fuel system, which display and
monitor its parameters, based on the FQIS, or fuel quantity indicating system, as well as the fuel
temperature indicating system.

The FQIS measures the mass of fuel in each tank in either pounds or kilograms and relays the
information to the common display system, which processes de information and sends it to the
flight deck display units (DUs). As well as the DUs, this fuel mass information is also sent to the
fuelling panel, located on the right wing, several feet outboard of the number 2 engine. The
fuelling panel will not be covered in this lesson because it has no incidence in the PMDG
737NG. The flight management computer (FMC) also receives this fuel information, not from the
FQIS, but instead directly from the data source via the fuel quantity processor unit, or FQPU.

The FQPU is always connected to two DC power sources, however, only one needs to be
powered for the system to be active. Despite being powered from up to two sources though, it
can draw current from three:

- The 28v DC battery bus,

- The 28v DC hot battery bus,

- And the 28v DC bus no. 1.

The FQPU calculates a mass figure for each tank by using either two or three devices:

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- Fuel units,

- Compensators,

- And if purchased as a customer option, a densitometer.

The fuel units measure fuel weight. The compensators correct for differences in fuel properties
and the densitometers, as the name suggests, measure density. The reason that the
densitometers are a customer option, is because the fuel system is still very accurate without
them, however, when fitted, FQIS accuracy is within 1%.

The common display system (CDS) has the fuel information which is needed by flight crew most
often, for example, what is displayed on the upper DU. CDS is likely an unfamiliar term, but a
good one to get to grips with as it is to the DUs and DEUs as what FMS is to the FMCs and
MCDUs. The CDS is capable of displaying several configuration errors, should the fuel system
be running abnormally.

A LOW warning will be displayed on either main tanks gauge when its quantity depletes to
either 1,000 or 2,000lbs as selected by the customer, the tank must however meet this condition
for 30 seconds before the warning is triggered. The warning will disappear when tank contents
rise to 2,500lbs if the 2,000lb trigger criterion has been chosen or 1,250lbs if the 1,000lb
condition is set up.

An IMBAL warning will display to indicate an imbalance between the main tanks, the quantity
difference required to trigger this is 1,000lbs. This difference must remain for 60 seconds before
the warning is triggered. To get rid of the warning, the differential quantity must reduce to 200lbs
or less. The message will only be displayed when airborne.

The final configuration message which can be displayed is the CONFIG warning, which refers to
the center tank. This will display when all of the following conditions are met:

- There is more than 1600lbs of fuel in the center tank,

- Both boost pumps display low pressure warnings,

- One or more engines are running.

The CONFIG warning will disappear when one of these conditions exists:

- center tank quantity is 800lbs or less,

- Both engines are shut down,

- One of both boost pumps provides regular pressure.

The fuel temperature indicating system is another important indicator of fuel parameters. It is
powered by 28v AC transfer bus no. 2, which is in turn powered by the 115v AC transfer bus no.
2, so the latter must be powered for it to be functional. When depowered, the needle will go off
the scale on the negative side, thus will rotate fully anti-clockwise.

The fuel temperature probe is located in main tank (1), as it theoretically contained the coldest
fuel, and yes, contained was meant to be in the past tense. This is for a reason which dates
back to the 737NGs great grandfather, the 737-100/200 variants, which had a slightly larger
heat exchanger for hydraulic system B than system A; the system B heat exchanger was and is
located in main tank no. 2 which thus had slightly warmer fuel. There was no reason to change
its position and so Boeing did not. You may have noticed that there are no limitation indications
on the fuel temperature gauge; this is because different types of fuel have different freezing
points.

Fuel Types

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This is a short, but very important section and will teach you a fundamental but simple rule for
knowing the limitations of your fuel. In civil aviation, only three forms of JET fuel are used, each
made to standard specifications across the world.
These are the following:

- Jet A,

- Jet A1,

- Jet B.

Jet A and A1 are far more common types and they consist of longer chain hydrocarbons than
Jet B, between 8 and 16 carbon atoms long. Jet B on the other hand is comprised of chains
between 5 and 15 carbon atoms. Jet A and A1 are known as kerosene type fuels, whereas Jet
B is a wide cut, naphtha type fuel, wide cut fuels are not permitted for use in the 737NG, with
potential results being defined by Boeing as engine flameouts and significant power loss.

Jet A fuel is used almost exclusively in the United States, however is also used in Gander
Airport, Canada, Jet A1 is used throughout the rest of the world.

Here is a comparison between the two fuels:

- The freezing point of Jet A1 is -47C, Jet A freezes at -40C,

- The flashpoints are 42C for Jet A1 and 51C for Jet A,

- Per pound of fuel, Jet A1 carries more energy, however, as it is slightly less dense, by
volume, Jet A carries more energy.

Jet A is therefore slightly safer to handle on the ground due to its higher flashpoint, but for cold
weather operations, Jet A1 has the edge, of course, the differences are negligible and neither is
really superior to the other.

The 737NG allows fuel temperature to fall to the higher of the following figures:

- 43C,

- Or 3C above the fuels freezing point.

To summarize, when carrying Jet A1 fuel, you must descend to a lower, thus warmer altitude
when fuel temperature reaches -43C at the latest, however, as a pre-caution, you should pre-
empt this and descend earlier. The same applies to Jet A, however, here the magic number is -
37C.

Here is the vital rule we promised earlier, you must follow this when calculating your minimum
fuel safe temperature in the approved manner:

- You take the highest freezing temperature of the fuel used on the last three flights,
thus, if having used Jet A, followed by Jet A1 twice, a freezing temperature of -40C is
to be assumed.

- In this condition therefore, the minimum safe temperature in our 737NG is to be


assumed to be -37C.

These conditions may seem prohibitive, however, a good pilot should prioritize safety above all
else.

Fuel Pumps

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The 737NG is fitted with six primary AC electrical fuel pumps plus, as a customer option, a DC
powered fuel pump to supply the APU with positive fuel pressure for start-up when AC transfer
busses are not available. This DC fuel pump and its utility is covered in more detail in the APU
lesson.

The primary fuel pumps are categorized as follows:

- Main tank 1 forward pump,

- Main tank 1 aft pump,

- center tank left pump,

- center tank right pump,

- Main tank 2 forward pump,

- Main tank 2 aft pump.

It should be said at this point that there are another 4 electrical fuel pumps in the 737NG,
however these are part of the engine fuel feed system and are covered in the engines lesson.
Each electrical pump is powered by three stage 115v AC power. They are intelligently placed
behind a check valve to allow removal for maintenance without necessitating to defuel the
respective tank, which saves time and money should they develop a fault. Other check valves
surrounding the pumps are:

- A vapour discharge check valve to prevent fuel from the feed manifold flowing back
through the pump,

- A vapour discharge check valve prevents reverse flow from tank through the pump.

Fuel pump control is located exclusively on the fuel system panel, located on the overhead
panel. Six switches, one per pump, on this panel, turn the fuel pumps on and off. When the
switch is placed in the on position, a relay is energised, which, in turn powers the pump motor,
provided the pump is primed with fuel and operational and its corresponding AC transfer bus is
powered, it can be turned on. These pumps are all powered by the 115v AC Transfer busses.

AC Transfer Bus no. 1 powers:

- center tank left pump,

- Main tank no. 1 forward pump,

- Main tank no. 2 aft pump.

Whilst AC Transfer bus no. 2 powers:

- center tank right pump,

- Main tank no.1 aft pump,

- Main tank no. 2 forward pump.

The two center tank pumps are located on the rear spar and accessed through the wheel well.
The center tanks will supply fuel at a rate of 20,000pph to the fuel manifold at a minimum
pressure of 23 psi, this is intentionally 13 psi higher than main tank pump pressure to ensure
fuel is consumed from the center tank first. Should pressure fall to 22 psi or less, the low
pressure light corresponding to the center tank fuel pump which meets this criterion will

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illuminate, triggered by a pressure sensor located above the pump housing and adjacent to the
discharge check valve.

After ten seconds of low pressure, the master caution light will illuminate as well as the FUEL
annunciator on the captains side. Since our aircraft is representative of one built after May
2004, should this occur for more than 15 seconds, the relay, and hence the pump, will be de-
energised as a safety measure; this will be covered in more depth in the safety features section
of this lesson. Should the pump be shut off automatically however, the LOW PRESSURE light
shall remain illuminated until the pilot operated switch is set to off. If on the other hand, the
center tanks pumps are set to off, neither a LOW PRESSURE light on the overhead, nor a
master caution shall be triggered.

Boost pumps in the main tanks are all interchangeable and supply the engine feed manifold
from the main tanks. The forward boost pumps are located on the front spar and the aft boost
pumps on the rear spar, forward pumps are accessed through the leading edge krueger flaps
and aft pumps through the wheel well. They supply fuel at the same rate as the center tank
pumps, 20,000pph, but at a lower pressure of 10 psi. Like the center tank pumps, they are fitted
with a pressure switch in an equivalent location, which will trigger a low pressure warning at 6
psi or less.

The low pressure light will also be illuminated should the fuel pump switch be placed in the off
position. If both forward and aft pumps for a main tank are to become defective and display
LOW PRESSURE warnings, a master caution, fuel alert will be triggered. This is the only main
tank, low pressure scenario that will trigger the master caution, so if, for example, both main
tank forward pumps were to fail, but the aft pumps remained operational, the master caution
light would remain extinguished.

A pump not previously mentioned is the center tank fuel scavenge pump. The center tank fuel
scavenge pump is a solid state jet pump which uses pressure from main tank no. 1s forward
pump as motive flow. A jet pump works using the Venturi effect, inducing suction by increasing
pressure in a fluid with a converging, then diverging tunnel. A float valve seals this jet pump until
main tank no. 1s fuel quantity depletes to 4,487lbs (although this can vary slightly with aircraft
attitude), at which point it transfers fuel at a minimum rate of 220pph, this however can be as
high as 450pph. Operation of this jet pump requires main tank no. 1s forward fuel pump to be
operating, but there is no way in which the pilot can interact with its operation. Like the main
tank no. 1 forward pump, the jet pump is mounted on the left, front spar.

Fuel valves

Along with the pumps, the fuel valves comprise the engine fuel feed system. The system
incorporates five valves, the engine fuel spar valves, engine fuel shutoff valves and the
crossfeed valve. A third type of valve, of which there are two, is also present, the bypass valve;
this however is part of the engine fuel feed system and so will only be touched upon in said
lesson. It should be said that both the operation and application of this valve is limited; it is
automatic and used in abnormal situations only, however, since its one cockpit indicator is
located on the fuel panel, we didnt want to leave you wondering.

The crossfeed valve is a device which allows fuel flow between the left and right engine fuel
feed manifolds. Comprising of a body, shaft and actuator, it is located on the right wing rear
spar. The actuator is identical to and thus interchangeable with the actuator of the engine fuel
spar valve. Powered by 28v DC power from the battery bus, the main difference between the
actuator for the crossfeed valve and engine spar valve is that it is powered by the hot battery
bus.

The valve is controlled by the crossfeed valve knob located on the fuel system panel, when the
switch is rotated either open or closed, 28v DC power travels through a switch assembly to the
actuator. The valve is then moved to the appropriate position. When opening the valve, the
VALVE OPEN light located above the knob temporarily illuminates bright as the valve
transitions, indicating a switch position disagree. When opening of the valve completes, the light
will dim, indicating that the valve is fully open. Upon moving the knob from open to closed, the

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reverse occurs; the light goes from dim to bright as the temporary position disagree situation is
present, when the valve is returned to the closed position, the light extinguishes completely.

To crossfeed fuel, the crossfeed valve is opened, and the fuel pumps for the main tank which
contains inadequate fuel are to be switched off. It should be reiterated here that fuel is
transferred to the engine feed manifold, not the tank, thus fuel quantity will never increase in the
low content tank. Instead, the high quantity tanks fuel will be consumed at double the standard
rate as it is now feeding two engines. When the fuel quantities have been rebalanced, switch on
the pumps for the tank which had the low quantity before closing the crossfeed valve.
It is of paramount importance that both sides of the engine fuel feed manifold stay pressurised
at all times, as it would compromise safety by increasing the chance of an engine surge. If an
imbalance between main tanks requires rectification before the center tank has been consumed,
the center tank pumps must be switched off before transfer is attempted. If this is not done,
nothing will happen because the higher pressure center tank pumps will be supplying both sides
of the engine fuel feed manifold.

The engine fuel spar valves and engine fuel shutoff valves will be discussed simultaneously as
their operation is controlled by the same levers and handles, also, the two move in unison.

When operating under normal circumstances, the engine start levers on the control stand are
used to actuate the valves, however, under abnormal conditions, the engine fire handles on the
overheat/fire protection panels can be used to close the valves. The engine fuel spar valves are
actuated by a 28v DC actuator, identical to that of the fuel crossfeed valve, powered by the hot
battery bus. They are located outboard of the engine strut, on the front wing spar of their
respective wing.

When the engine start lever is positioned from CUTOFF to IDLE, the SPAR VALVE CLOSED
light on the overhead panel will first illuminate bright from dim as the temporary lever and valve
position disagree is present. When the valve is fully open, the light will extinguish. When closing
the valve, the reverse will occur, with the light illuminating brightly, then going dim. This light
pattern will be mirrored by the ENG VALVE CLOSED light when the same action is performed
as the left start lever for example commands both the left engine fuel spar valve and the left
engine fuel shutoff valve.

The engine fuel shutoff valve, or EFSOV is a solenoid controlled, fuel operated valve which is
powered by a 28v DC current from the battery bus. It is located so that it is the final thing which
nd
fuel passes through before combustion, after the 2 engine fuel pump, a system covered in
more depth in the engine lesson. As an important safety measure, in the event of a large scale
electrical system failure, a battery is installed to provide power to actuate the fuel shutoff valve
and APU fuel shutoff valve should the battery bus become unavailable. It monitors the hot
battery buss power output and should it dip below 22v, the battery will provide 28v DC power to
actuate the valves. As well as the engine fuel valves, the circuitry is also wired to the engine fuel
spar valves.

The bypass valves are automatic valves which allow fuel to be diverted around the fuel filters.
The fuel filters are present to remove contaminants and by doing so, prolong engine life,
however, if the aircraft has been loaded with a particularly bad batch of fuel, or the filters are
nearing needing replacement, they may have become clogged with contaminants. To ensure
however that the engines are never starved of fuel, a bypass mechanism is installed around the
filters. Should this bypass have to be commanded by EEC, a warning will be triggered, the
FILTER BYPASS light, which illuminates prior to fuel diversion. The reason for this is that even
if engine damage will occur because bad fuel is burned, reduced engine power is most definitely
better than no engine power.

Integrated Safety Measures and Redundancy

This will largely be a summary portion of the lesson, with only one truly new item being
discussed here, but it is always good to be fully aware of all safety systems on your aircraft. To
keep things fresh though, we will start with the new information. To date, two 737 airframes
have been destroyed by near empty center tank fuel explosions:

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th
- On the 5 of November 1990, a Philippine Airlines 737-300,
rd
- On the 3 March 2001, a Thai Airways 737-400.

Both tragedies, which in total resulted in nine fatalities, were found to have the same cause; a
near empty center tank, a high ambient air temperature and center tank fuel pumps left running.

The FAA required modifications be made to the 737s fuel system.

These were:

- The nitrogen generating system, hereafter referred to as NGS,

- And the center tank fuel shutoff system discussed earlier .

NGS is a system which removes oxygen, one of three key components for combustion, and
replaces it with inert nitrogen. The National Transportation Safety Board suggests that an
oxygen content of less than 12% is necessary to counter the problem, that is down from the
21% in regular air. The system, developed by Honeywell is capable of this, pumping nitrogen
enriched air (NEA) into the tank and pumping oxygen enriched air (OEA) overboard. Although it
is accepted that this is the safest measure, it is extremely expensive and could potentially be
impractical, despite this, 737s produced after August 2006 have had provisions for the system
integrated and all new Boeing 787 aircraft are fitted with it.

The automatic center tank pump shutoff was fitted to aircraft made after May 2004; this was
covered in more detail in the fuel pumps section of this lesson.

The fuel vent system is another safety feature of the aircraft; it maintains fuel tank pressure near
to that of the ambient air to prevent structural damage to the wing. Vent channels in each tank
equalise pressure between tanks and surge tanks when the aircraft is in a climb attitude.
Another valve called the vent float valve is present specifically to equalise pressure between
main tanks no. 1 and 2. The vent scoop assembly is also fitted with flame arrestors to prevent
excessive heat reaching the fuel vent system, should one become clogged though, the system
is designed so that the pressure relief valve in the surge tanks will open as an alternate source
of pressure relief.

The final safety measure present in the fuel system is the fuel shutoff valve battery which was
discussed earlier in the valves section of this lesson.

Lesson Summary

The 737, by comparison to many other commercial aircraft has a fairly simple fuel system,
however, as an entity of its own, it is fairly complex. The system has three storage tanks and
two auxiliary surge tanks as a safety feature. Other safety features include the NGS, the center
tank pump automatic shutoff, the fuel vent system and the fuel shutoff valve battery. The fuel
system has 6 electrical pumps, plus 4 more in the engine fuel system, discussed further in the
engine lesson.

It has five main valves controlled by the aircrew;

- The crossfeed valves,

- The left and right fuel spar valves,

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- And the left and right engine fuel shutoff valves.

Standard operations allow it to contain two types of fuel, Jet A and Jet A1. Both temperature
and quantity parameters are measured by the aircraft and displayed to the flight crew.

This lesson will cover the following topics:

- An overview of the fuel system and its configuration,


- Fuel Parameter Indicators,
- Fuel Types used in the system,
- Fuel pumps and their power sources,
- Fuel valves and their power sources,
Integrated safety measures and redundancy

Until Next time, Throttle On!

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