A Boeing 747 with a typical amount of passengers and cargo tends to burn a little over a gallon of fuel every second. This roughly estimates to about 3,804 gallons of fuel per hour, meaning that a Boeing 747 traveling from New York to Los Angeles, about a five-hour flight, would consume almost 20,000 gallons of fuel.
International flights, of course, requiring longer distances, would require even more fuel. With the space needed for engines, flight crew, passengers, luggage, and cargo, where is all this fuel stored?
An airplane’s wings often contain a majority of the fuel the aircraft will use. Some planes also possess fuel tanks inside the aircraft’s body; however, there are several benefits to placing fuel in the wings of an airplane. Placing the fuel tanks in the wings takes advantage of valuable space while improving stability and economics.
Let’s look at the reasons
There are several reasons why many modern aircraft designers have elected to place the primary fuel tanks in the wings. An aircraft’s wing contains a significant amount of extra space not used for storage, is easily accessible, and is responsible for creating lift for the entire airframe.
- Weight Distribution: Placing fuel in the wings helps evenly distribute the weight of the aircraft, maintaining balance and stability during flight.
- Improved Handling: The central location of fuel tanks in the wings helps improve the airplane’s handling characteristics, making it more responsive to control inputs.
- Stability: The weight distribution provided by wing-mounted fuel tanks contributes to the aircraft’s overall stability, especially during manoeuvres and changes in
- Space Efficiency: The wings offer ample internal space for fuel storage without significantly altering the aircraft’s external dimensions.
- Counterbalance: Engines and other heavy components located at the front and rear of the aircraft can create imbalances. Wing-mounted fuel tanks help counterbalance these weights for better overall equilibrium.
- Reduced Structural Stress: Placing fuel in the wings reduces the stress on the aircraft’s fuselage, as the wings can bear the weight of the fuel, engines, and other components.
- Safety: In the event of a crash landing or emergency, having fuel stored in the wings can help minimise the risk of fuel igniting or causing further damage to the fuselage.
- Efficient Design: Storing fuel in the wings maximises the use of available space within the aircraft’s structure, allowing for more cargo or passenger space in the main fuselage.
- Aerodynamics: Fuel in the wings contributes to the aircraft’s overall aerodynamic shape, helping to optimise its performance and reduce drag.
- Easy Refueling: Wing-mounted fuel tanks are easily accessible for refueling operations on the ground, improving efficiency during turnaround times between flights.
For all these reasons, routine fuel tank inspections on aircraft wings should be carried out in great detail, and technicians complete the inspections by showing maximum sensitivity to the smallest detail, leakage and all kinds of problems inside the fuel tanks on the wings.
Overall, the decision to store fuel in the wings is a result of careful consideration of weight distribution, stability, safety, and aerodynamics, all of which contribute to the successful operation of an aircraft.