Fuel and Fuel Systems in Aviation

During their entire history, people have been trying to fly. Once people learned to control the aircraft, they had to use various engines. Using the engines that work on the petroleum fuel causes the inevitable reduction of the world oil reserves. Thus, the history of the fuel systems should be explored to determine the most effective direction for their future development.

An example of the first fuel supply system in aviation one can consider the feeder of hot air in the balloon of brothers Montgolfier, who raised their aircraft in the air in 1783. At the same time, the production of hot air was carried out by burning the chopped wool and straw in a special Dutch oven, located directly under the balloon (Welshans, 2013). Then only after almost 100 years, the researchers made a sudden leap in the development of the aircraft fuel system. In 1852, Giffard built an aerostat controlled with the propeller that was driven by the steam engine (Welshans, 2013). However, the power of the steam engine was so small that the aircraft could not even overcome the force of wind.

In Brunn in 1872, the German technician Paul Henleyn independently developed a controllable aerostat with a rubber cloth shell (Welshans, 2013). For the engine, he offered the gas motor by Lenoir that worked on the illuminating gas and developed the capacity of 3.6 hp. The first flight of the aircraft happened in 1872. Its speed was about 19 km per hour.

In the beginning of the 20th century, people began to use the piston engines that used the gasoline as a fuel. In 1903, the Wright brothers built and tested a biplane with the gasoline engine (Welshans, 2013).

F. Zeppelin succeeded in the construction of the aircraft that allowed the transportation of more than 10 passengers. His dirigibles used gasoline as fuel as well. During the period from 1900 to 1915, the aircraft constructing companies built more than 100 dirigibles (Welshans, 2013). The last of them used the light and powerful engine produced by Maybach and Mercedes. One of them with the capacity of 250 hp had the weight of only 440 kg. After World War I, the dirigibles were produced not only in Europe, but in the United States as well. American “Acron” by Goodyear-Zeppelin Corp. had eight Maybach engines aboard with a capacity of 560 hp established on the side keels (Welshans, 2013).

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After the loss of some airplanes, which was caused, apparently, by a poor quality of the fuel, the US government imposed the specifications of the aviation gasoline in 1918 (Welshans, 2013). According to them, the aviation fuel was separated from other types of the motor fuel. Since that time, the development of the special fuel for aircraft engines continued in parallel with the changes and improvements of the engines.

The next significant step in the development of the aviation fuel was the discovery in the 1930s of the anti-knock properties and the development of their determination methods (Welshans, 2013). During that time, the fuels with octane numbers 87, 92 and 100 were developed and accepted for general distribution. When the USA entered World War II, the main aviation gasoline had the octane number of 100.

The piston aircraft engines of the best types could offer the speeds up to 750 km per hour (Connors, 2009). They could not create higher speeds due to the large specific density. The first turbojet engines that emerged at the end of World War II allowed increasing the speed up to 960 km per hour.

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It is too difficult to determine who the creator of the first aviation turbojet engines was. Several countries started working on the development of turbojet engines simultaneously and independently in the period between the first and second World Wars. Thus, one should examine the evolution of the turbojet in Germany.

In Germany, the development of jet engines initially was carried out simultaneously by two independent aircraft manufacturers Heinkel and Junkers. The first airplane turbojet engine was installed on the plane He-178 (Welshans, 2013). This aircraft successfully executed the world's first flight with that type of the aviation engines in 1939.

In 1939, the company started working on the new engine with a centrifugal pump designed by Ohain (HeS-8) and on the engines HeS-30 and HeS-40 with axial compressors (Welshans, 2013). In 1942, the developers found out that turbojet engines with axial compressor characteristics exceed the engines with centrifugal compressors ones. Therefore, the further work on the last engine type was terminated. Contemporaneously, BMW designed a powerful turboprop engine in 1940. Since the 1930s, Zenger developed ram-jet engines. In 1941, this engine developed the power of 2400 hp (Welshans, 2013).

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G. Walter started the development of the liquid-jet rocket engine in 1937 (Welshans, 2013). The first engine designed as a primary propulsion system for the aircraft worked on the monopropellant - the hydrogen peroxide. The manufacturer used potassium and calcium permanganate as the catalyst. However, this engine was extremely dangerous to use, and, therefore, it had been completely redesigned. The new engine used c-stoff (hydrazine hydrate and methyl alcohol) as its fuel. It operated at the higher temperatures and developed the thrust within 200-1700 kg (Welshans, 2013). The further development of this engine was 109-509S that had a supporting cruising combustion and developed a maximum thrust of 2000 kg.

Now, due to the progressive shortage of oil, people begin looking for the ways to replace the petroleum aviation fuel. The variants of the future fuels are as follows - synthetic, cryogenic (including liquid hydrogen), methane cryogenic fuel, etc (Chevron Products Company, 2007). For each fuel type, the developers also design and investigate the aircraft engine.


During the entire history, people have been trying to fly. First, they climbed into the sky in 1783 using the Montgolfier’s balloon. Since that time, the improvement of the aircraft’s construction and control systems began. Controlling the aircraft in the air is carried out through the various engines that have been evolving all the time.

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