If you have ever wondered where fuel is stored in an aircraft, you may be surprised to find out that it is stored in the wings. Wet wings, as they are often called, are a popular storage strategy due to their economic efficiency. However, this is not the case for all aircraft. In fact, some planes, like military aircraft, store fuel in tanks in the aircraft itself. To better understand why fuel is stored in the wings, we will outline the various reasons such storage options are optimal for flight. Then, this blog will cover other common fuel storage options.
Weight and Balance
Generally, aircraft fuel is stored in their wings since it is the most convenient and cost-saving option for airlines. One of the major reasons fuel is stored in the wings lies in the need for balance. It is vital for airplanes to have a proper center of gravity, which can become unbalanced if the fuel is sloshing in the plane’s body.
Fuel can stay stably in the wings as there is no room for the fuel to move. As such, the even distribution of fuel in the wings is an effective method of maintaining a plane’s center of gravity. To further provide balance, airlines utilize loadmasters that decide where cargo should be stored on an aircraft.
Commercial aircraft are designed to carry the largest payloads possible, which consist of passengers, luggage, and cargo. As the top half of the plane holds passengers and the bottom half contains cargo, the only place left for storing fuel are the wings. Since the wings are watertight like a car’s separate tank, they are perfect for storing fuel. With this in mind, the spars are evenly built between the wing sections to prevent the fuel from splashing around, and holes in the spars enable fuel to pass through at metered rates.
As aircraft wings generate lift for aircraft to achieve flight, a lot of stress is placed on the wings during takeoff. Storing the fuel in the wings prevents the wings from flexing, which often happens when a plane’s body is too heavy and the wings are too light. For this reason, having heavier wings during takeoff reduces the stress on the wings and maintains the plane’s weight more balanced.
Wet wings were only just adopted in the 1950s when engineers realized that they could improve takeoff and aid in developing lighter aircraft. By reducing the need for a fuel tank, wet wings could provide substantial cost savings for aircraft manufacturers. In the absence of fuel tanks, aircraft could increase the amount of cargo and the number of passengers they could hold.
Fuel Storage in Fighter Jets
Unlike commercial aircraft, fighter jets store fuel in fuel tanks located behind the pilot’s seat. Some fighter jets are equipped with extra fuel tanks, called auxiliary fuel tanks, that are externally mounted to the aircraft. While fighter jets typically store fuel in tanks, some carry fuel in the wings, but it is rare. To prevent fuel from sloshing around during high-speed maneuvers, fighter jets take advantage of negative gravity friendly designs.
Types of Aircraft Fuel Tanks
Aircraft utilize one of three types of fuel tanks, those of which include integral, rigid removable, and bladder fuel tank options. Integral fuel tanks are constructed inside an aircraft; thus, they cannot be removed. By contrast, rigid removable fuel tanks are affixed to aircraft in a special compartment. Moreover, they are constructed from metal and are often removed for inspection, replacement, and repair purposes. Lastly, bladder fuel tanks, or fuel cells, are rubberized fuel bags attached to a plane. Usually found on light aircraft like turboprops and helicopters, the bladder is installed into this compartment via an access panel and secured into place with metal buttons.
Refueling is carried out at airports where fuel trucks utilize fuel trucks parked below the wings to fuel them. Air refueling is a common method for military aircraft and involves the use of a hose that is connected to a tanker plane.
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