There are many types of aviation fuel systems that vary in size and complexity depending on the aircraft in which they are installed. The simplest fuel systems consist of a gravity feed fuel tank with the appropriate fuel lining connecting it to the engine. More modern, multi-engine passenger or cargo aircraft feature fuel systems with multiple fuel tanks on the wing, fuselage, both of these, or even the empennage. In these configurations, individual tanks are equipped with internal Fuel Pumps with valves and plumbing that guide the fuel to the engines, allow for refueling & defueling, isolate individual tanks, and even allow for fuel dumping to optimize aircraft center of gravity. Because the fuel system is such an important component for the function of any aircraft, protecting it is critical. This blog will identify some of the threats to the fuel system, how they can hurt the aircraft, and how to defend against them.
There are many threats that can compromise the reliable function of an aviation fuel system such as fuel leak, fuel imbalance, mechanical failure, fuel freezing, and electrical failure. Fuel leak can occur at the engine, the tank, or anywhere along the connecting fuel lines, causing fuel imbalance. Fuel imbalance occurs when fuel tanks on one side of an aircraft are more full than those on the other side and is another threat to aircraft operation. Fuel imbalance can also occur due to improper refueling techniques, or poor fuel management. Fuel freezing can become an issue when an aircraft is flying at high altitudes for an extended period. The temperature at which fuel freezes often depends on prevailing pressure as well as the type of fuel being used. Electrical failure can also limit the availability of fuel pumps and fuel systems.
These threats can have a variety of detrimental effects. For instance, a fuel leak can result in loss of most or all of the fuel in the leaking tank. Often, the only way to resolve a leak immediately is to entirely shut down the affected engine. Fuel imbalance, due to the compromised weight distribution, can cause difficulty controlling the aircraft. Pump failure can render the fuel in an affected tank unusable, but the threat can be mitigated by the use of a backup pump in the same tank. Fuel freezing can result in fuel starvation, leading to critical problems such as loss of power or engine failure. In the event of electrical failure, it is possible that all fuel tanks can become compromised.
Just as important as being aware of the threats against your Engine Fuel System Components is knowing what you can do to defend against them. The first and most obvious defense is to always comply with manufacturer guidelines and limitations published in the aircraft flight manual, operations manual, or quick reference handbook (QRH). The QRH is also an important tool to help identify the location of a fuel leak. Misidentification of a fuel leak can cause even bigger problems than the leak itself, possibly leading to total depletion of fuel on the aircraft, so proper identification is crucial. To defend against fuel imbalance, pay close attention to the fuel balance limits listed in the QRH. to prevent electrical failure, pump circuit breakers should never be reset during flight. And finally, carburettor heat is a helpful means of preventing fuel freezing in light aircraft. In larger aircraft, the pilot should descend into warmer air and increase aircraft speed to increase the general temperature of the aircraft.
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