Fuel Servicing of Aircraft

Types of Fuel and Identification

Two types of aviation fuel in general use are aviation gasoline, also known as AVGAS, and turbine fuel, also known as JET A fuel.

Aviation gasoline (AVGAS) is used in reciprocating engine aircraft. Currently, there are three grades of fuel in general use: 80/87, 100/130, and 100LL (low lead). A fourth grade, 115/145, is in limited use in the large reciprocating-engine aircraft. The two numbers indicate the lean mixture and rich mixture octane rating numbers of the specific fuel. In other words, with 80/87 AVGAS, the 80 is the lean mixture rating and 87 is the rich mixture rating number. To avoid confusing the types of AVGAS, it is generally identified as grade 80, 100, 100LL, or 115. AVGAS can also be identified by a color code. The color of the fuel needs to match the color band on piping and fueling equipment. [Figure 1]

fuel servicing of aircraft
Figure 1. Aviation gasoline color and grade reference

Turbine fuel/jet fuel is used to power turbojet and turbo-shaft engines. Three types of turbine fuel generally used in civilian aviation are JET A and JET A-1, made from kerosene, and JET B, a blend of kerosene and AVGAS. While jet fuel is identified by the color black on piping and fueling equipment, the actual color of jet fuel can be clear or straw colored.

Before mixing AVGAS and turbine fuel, refer to the Type Certificate Data Sheet for the respective powerplant. Adding jet fuel to AVGAS causes a decrease in the power developed by the engine and could cause damage to the engine (through detonation) and loss of life. Adding AVGAS to jet fuel can cause lead deposits in the turbine engine and can lead to reduced service life.

Contamination Control

Contamination is anything in the fuel that is not supposed to be there. The types of contamination found in aviation fuel include water, solids, and microbial growths. The control of contamination in aviation fuel is extremely important, since contamination can lead to engine failure or stoppage and the loss of life. The best method of controlling contamination is to prevent its introduction into the fuel system. Some forms of contamination can still occur inside the fuel system. However, the filter, separators, and screens remove most of the contamination.

Water in aviation fuels generally take two forms: dissolved (vapor) and free water. The dissolved water is not a major problem until, as the temperature lowers, it becomes free water. This then poses a problem if ice crystals form, clogging filters and other small orifices.

Free water can appear as water slugs or entrained water. Water slugs are concentrations of water. This is the water that is drained after fueling an aircraft. Entrained water is suspended water droplets. These droplets may not be visible to the eye but give the fuel a cloudy look. The entrained water settles out in time.

Solid contaminants are insoluble in fuel. The more common types are rust, dirt, sand, gasket material, lint, and fragments of shop towels. The close tolerances of fuel controls and other fuel-related mechanisms can be damaged or blocked by particles as small as 1⁄20 the diameter of a human hair.

Microbiological growths are a problem in jet fuel. There are a number of varieties of micro-organisms that can live in the free water in jet fuel. Some variations of these organisms are airborne, others live in the soil. The aircraft fuel system becomes susceptible to the introduction of these organisms each time the aircraft is fueled. Favorable conditions for the growth of micro-organisms in the fuel are warm temperatures and the presence of iron oxide and mineral salts in the water. The best way to prevent microbial growth is to keep the fuel dry.

The effects of micro-organisms are:
  • Formation of slime or sludge that can foul filters, separators, or fuel controls.
  • Emulsification of the fuel.
  • Corrosive compounds that can attack the fuel tank’s structure. In the case of a wet wing tank, the tank is made from the aircraft’s structure. They can also have offensive odors.

Fueling Hazards

The volatility of aviation fuels creates a fire hazard that has plagued aviators and aviation engine designers since the beginning of powered flight. Volatility is the ability of a liquid to change into a gas at a relatively low temperature. In its liquid state, aviation fuel does not burn. It is, therefore, the vapor or gaseous state that the liquid fuel changes that is not only useful in powering the aircraft, but also a fire hazard.

Static electricity is a byproduct of one substance rubbing against another. Fuel flowing through a fuel line causes a certain amount of static electricity. The greatest static electricity concern around aircraft is that during flight, the aircraft moving through the air causes static electricity to build in the airframe. If that static electricity is not dissipated prior to refueling, the static electricity in the airframe attempts to return to the ground through the fuel line from the servicing unit. The spark caused by the static electricity can ignite any vaporized fuel.

Breathing the vapors from fuel can be harmful and must be limited. Any fuel spilled on the clothing or skin must be removed as soon as possible.

Fueling Procedures

The proper fueling of an aircraft is the responsibility of the owner/operator. This does not, however, relieve the person doing the fueling of the responsibility to use the correct type of fuel and safe fueling procedures.

There are two basic procedures when fueling an aircraft. Smaller aircraft are fueled by the over-the-wing method. This method uses the fuel hose to fill through fueling ports on the top of the wing. The method used for larger aircraft is the single point fueling system. This type of fueling system uses receptacles in the bottom leading edge of the wing to fill all the tanks. This decreases the time it takes to refuel the aircraft, limits contamination, and reduces the chance of static electricity igniting the fuel. Most pressure fueling systems consist of a pressure fueling hose and a panel of controls and gauges that permit one person to fuel or defuel any or all fuel tanks of an aircraft. Each tank can be filled to a predetermined level. These procedures are illustrated in Figures 2 and 3.

Fuel servicing of aircraft
Figure 2. Refueling an aircraft by the over-the-wing method

Fuel servicing of aircraft
Figure 3. Single point refueling station of a large aircraft

Prior to fueling, the person fueling must check the following:
  1. Ensure all aircraft electrical systems and electronic devices, including radar, are turned off.
  2. Do not carry anything in the shirt pockets. These items could fall into the fuel tanks.
  3. Ensure no flame-producing devices are carried by anyone engaged in the fueling operation. A moment of carelessness could cause an accident.
  4. Ensure that the proper type and grade of fuel is used. Do not mix AVGAS and JET fuel.
  5. Ensure that all the sumps have been drained.
  6. Wear eye protection. Although generally not as critical as eye protection, other forms of protection, such as rubber gloves and aprons, can also protect the skin from the effects of spilled or splashed fuel.
  7. Do not fuel aircraft if there is danger of other aircraft in the vicinity blowing dirt in the direction of the aircraft being fueled. Blown dirt, dust, or other contaminants can enter an open fuel tank, contaminating the entire contents of the tank.
  8. Do not fuel an aircraft when there is lightning within 5 miles.
  9. Do not fuel an aircraft within 500 feet of operating ground radar.

When using mobile fueling equipment:
  1. Approach the aircraft with caution, positioning the fuel truck so that if it is necessary to depart quickly, no backing needed.
  2. Set the hand brake of the fuel truck, and chock the wheels to prevent rolling.
  3. Ground the aircraft and then ground the truck. Next, ground or bond them together by running a connecting wire between the aircraft and the fuel truck. This may be done by three separate ground wires or by a “Y” cable from the fuel truck.
  4. Ensure that the grounds are in contact with bare metal or are in the proper grounding points on the aircraft. Do not use the engine exhaust or propeller as grounding points. Damage to the propeller can result, and there is no way of quickly ensuring a positive bond between the engine and the airframe.
  5. Ground the nozzle to the aircraft, then open the fuel tank.
  6. Protect the wing and any other item on the aircraft from damage caused by spilled fuel or careless handling of the nozzle, hose, or grounding wires.
  7. Check the fuel cap for proper installation and security before leaving the aircraft.
  8. Remove the grounding wires in the reverse order. If the aircraft is not going to be flown or moved soon, the aircraft ground wire can be left attached.

When fueling from pits or cabinets, follow the same procedures as when using a truck. Pits or cabinets are usually designed with permanent grounding, eliminating the need to ground the equipment. However, the aircraft still must be grounded, and then the equipment must be grounded to the aircraft as it was with mobile equipment.


Defueling procedures differ with different types of aircraft. Before defueling an aircraft, check the maintenance/service manual for specific procedures and cautions. Defueling can be accomplished by gravity defueling or by pumping the fuel out of the tanks. When the gravity method is used, it is necessary to have a method of collecting the fuel. When the pumping method is used, care must be taken not to damage the tanks, and the removed fuel cannot be mixed with good fuel.

General precautions when defueling are:
  • Ground the aircraft and defueling equipment.
  • Turn off all electrical and electronic equipment.
  • Have the correct type of fire extinguisher available.
  • Wear eye protection.

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