Like any combustion-powered automobile, combustion-powered aircraft need fuel to operate. The engines take in this fuel and burn it to generate the power needed to achieve and maintain a safe flight speed. Although there are many different types of aviation fuel, nearly all of them consist of kerosene. In this blog, we will look at four reasons why most aircraft use kerosene instead of standard gasoline.
The first reason for kerosene’s popularity is its low freezing point. Kerosene has a freezing point much lower than that of gasoline, protecting it from freezing in the extremely cold temperatures aircraft can be exposed to at high altitudes. Kerosene comprises a mixture of petroleum-based hydrocarbons and other compounds, meaning the exact freezing point can vary, but it invariably takes lower temperatures for kerosene to freeze than it does for gasoline.
In addition to its lower freezing point, another explanation for the wide use of kerosene is that it has a higher flash point than gasoline. Flash point refers to the temperature at which a chemical or substance will ignite and turn to vapor. With a higher flash point, kerosene is able to provide higher octane ratings and achieve better power & efficiency than gasoline. Aircraft used gasoline as its source of fuel for decades, but the need for high-octane fuel led experts to seek new types of fuel, eventually paving the way for kerosene. Kerosene’s high flash point is the main reason it is used in aircraft.
The third reason kerosene is preferred to gasoline is its lower viscosity. The lower viscosity rating of kerosene during flight operation allows it to flow through the aircraft engine more easily. Viscous fuels like gasoline can clog up critical internal channels. Even at low temperatures, kerosene is minimally viscous, allowing it to smoothly flow throughout the aircraft engine and adjacent components.
The final reason kerosene is used is, very simply, it costs less. In large commercial aircraft that burn roughly a gallon of fuel per minute, the cost of fuel has to be considered for airlines to be sustainable. Kerosene is considerably less costly than gasoline, sometimes costing less than half the price of gasoline.
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