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What Gas Does Airplane Use


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kamila Garton



Welcome onboard a journey to discover the fascinating world of airplane fuel. Have you ever wondered what gas powers these incredible machines that enable us to traverse the skies? In this article, we will delve into the realm of aircraft fuel and explore the essentials of what makes these flying giants soar.


As you settle into your seat and prepare for takeoff, it’s important to understand that airplanes are propelled by turbine engines, which generate the necessary thrust to overcome gravity and propel the aircraft forward. These engines rely on a specific type of fuel to function efficiently and safely.


Jet fuel, a specialized type of fuel made specifically for aircraft, is the primary source of power for turbine engines. Jet fuel is designed to provide the high energy densities required to sustain flight over long distances, enabling planes to remain in the air for hours on end.


There are various types of jet fuel used in aviation, with each offering different properties suitable for specific aircraft and operating conditions. The composition of jet fuel typically consists of a combination of hydrocarbons, which are organic compounds composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms.


While jet fuel is the most commonly used fuel in commercial aviation, there are other fuel options being explored to reduce the environmental impact of air travel. These alternative fuels aim to minimize carbon emissions and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.


Throughout this article, we will explore the different types of jet fuel, delve into its composition, and examine the potential of alternative fuels in the aviation industry. We will also discuss the safety measures that are in place to ensure the proper handling and storage of aviation fuel.


So fasten your seatbelts and get ready to take a deep dive into the world of airplane fuel as we unravel the mysteries of what makes these remarkable machines take flight.


Turbine Engines

Turbine engines, also known as jet engines, are the heart and soul of modern aircraft. These powerful machines produce the necessary thrust to propel an aircraft through the air. Understanding how these engines work is crucial to comprehend the fuel requirements of airplanes.


Turbine engines operate on the principle of air compression, combustion, and exhaust. They consist of several key components, including a compressor, combustion chamber, turbine, and exhaust nozzle.


The compressor is responsible for compressing the incoming air, increasing its pressure and temperature. This compressed air then enters the combustion chamber, where it is mixed with fuel and ignited. The resulting combustion produces a high-velocity hot gas that is directed toward the turbine.


The turbine is driven by the energy of the hot gas, and as it spins, it powers the compressor and other auxiliary components of the engine, such as the electrical generator and fuel pump. Finally, the exhaust nozzle is responsible for directing the hot gases out of the engine, creating thrust.


It is important to note that turbine engines require a continuous and reliable source of fuel to sustain the combustion process and maintain consistent power output. Jet fuel, with its high energy density and stable combustion properties, is the fuel of choice for these engines.


The design and efficiency of turbine engines allow aircraft to achieve incredible speeds and altitudes. They are capable of delivering the thrust necessary to overcome the forces of drag and gravity, allowing planes to travel at supersonic speeds and reach cruising altitudes of up to 40,000 feet or more.


The advancements in turbine engine technology have revolutionized air travel, making it faster, safer, and more efficient. These engines have become increasingly reliable and fuel-efficient, contributing to the growth and development of the aviation industry.


Now that we have a basic understanding of turbine engines and their function, let’s explore the specific type of fuel that powers these remarkable machines: jet fuel.


Jet Fuel

Jet fuel is a specialized type of fuel used in the aviation industry to power turbine engines. It is specifically designed to meet the demanding requirements of aircraft and ensure optimal performance and safety during flight.


The main purpose of jet fuel is to provide a high energy density, allowing aircraft to carry a sufficient amount of fuel while maximizing their range and endurance. The energy content of jet fuel is measured in terms of its heat of combustion, which indicates the amount of energy released when the fuel is burned.


Jet fuel is typically derived from crude oil through a refining process known as fractional distillation. During this process, crude oil is heated and separated into various components based on their boiling points. The components with higher boiling points, including kerosene, are used as the base for jet fuel production.


One of the most widely used jet fuels is Jet A/A-1, which is commonly used in commercial aviation. It has a similar composition to the kerosene used for heating and lighting purposes but with specific additives to enhance its performance in aircraft engines.


JET A-1 is a type of jet fuel that has a lower freeze point compared to Jet A. It is designed to remain in a liquid state at lower temperatures, making it suitable for use in colder regions.


Jet fuel comes with various specifications to ensure its quality and safety. These specifications include parameters such as flash point, distillation range, density, and thermal stability. These standards ensure that the fuel meets the performance requirements of aircraft engines and can be safely used without compromising the operation of the aircraft.


Additionally, jet fuel is also required to meet environmental regulations to minimize its impact on air quality. This includes restrictions on sulfur content and the development of alternative fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Overall, jet fuel plays a crucial role in the aviation industry, powering the turbine engines that enable commercial and military aircraft to take flight. With advances in fuel technology and the exploration of alternative fuels, the industry continues to strive for more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions.


Types of Jet Fuel

Jet fuel comes in various types, each with its own specific properties and applications in the aviation industry. These different types of jet fuel are designed to meet the specific requirements of different aircraft and operating conditions. Let’s explore some of the commonly used jet fuel types:

  1. Jet A/A-1: Jet A and Jet A-1 are the most widely used jet fuel types in commercial aviation. They have similar compositions and are often interchangeable. Jet A is primarily used in the United States, while Jet A-1 is used internationally. They have a relatively low freeze point and a high flash point, making them suitable for a wide range of aircraft and climates.
  2. Jet B: Jet B is a type of jet fuel that has a higher energy content compared to Jet A/A-1. It is often used in cold weather conditions, as it has a lower freezing point. Jet B is primarily used in military aircraft and helicopters due to its higher fuel density and improved cold weather performance.
  3. JP-4: JP-4 is a type of jet fuel that was commonly used by the military in the past. It has a lower flash point and is known for its high volatility. JP-4 is no longer widely used due to safety concerns and has largely been replaced by safer and more stable fuel options.
  4. JP-5: JP-5 is a type of jet fuel primarily used by the United States Navy. It has a higher flash point compared to JP-4 and is less volatile. JP-5 offers improved safety characteristics, making it suitable for use on aircraft carriers and other naval vessels.
  5. JP-8: JP-8 is a type of jet fuel that is widely used by the military, particularly the United States Air Force. It has a high flash point and improved safety characteristics compared to earlier jet fuel types. JP-8 is also known for its compatibility with a wide range of aircraft engines and fuel systems.

These are just a few examples of the types of jet fuel commonly used in the aviation industry. Each type is formulated to ensure efficient and safe operation, taking into account factors such as freeze point, flash point, energy content, and compatibility with aircraft engines and systems. The selection of jet fuel depends on the specific requirements of the aircraft and the operating conditions it will encounter.


As the aviation industry continues to evolve, there is ongoing research and development of more advanced jet fuel formulations, including biofuels and synthetic fuels. These alternative fuels aim to reduce carbon emissions and minimize the environmental impact of air travel, while maintaining the performance and safety standards required by the industry.


Jet Fuel Composition

Jet fuel is a complex mixture of hydrocarbon molecules that are carefully refined to meet the specific requirements of aircraft engines. The composition of jet fuel plays a crucial role in its performance, combustion characteristics, and overall efficiency.


The main component of jet fuel is kerosene, which is derived from crude oil through a refining process known as fractional distillation. This process separates crude oil into different fractions based on boiling points, with kerosene being one of the higher boiling point fractions.


In addition to kerosene, jet fuel also contains various additives to enhance its performance. These additives are included to improve the fuel’s stability, lubricity, and resistance to icing. They also help prevent the formation of deposits and corrosion in the fuel system.


The specific composition of jet fuel can vary depending on the type and grade of fuel. However, in general, jet fuel primarily consists of hydrocarbon molecules, which are organic compounds composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms.


The hydrocarbon molecules in jet fuel can range in size from small molecules, such as methane and ethane, to larger molecules, such as heptanes and octanes. These molecules provide the fuel with its energy content and combustion properties.


The composition of jet fuel also includes aromatic hydrocarbons, which are cyclic hydrocarbon compounds containing a ring of carbon atoms. Aromatic compounds in jet fuel help improve the fuel’s energy content and combustion efficiency.


One essential characteristic of jet fuel composition is its flash point, which is the temperature at which the fuel produces enough vapor to ignite. Jet fuel is carefully formulated to ensure a high flash point, reducing the risk of accidental ignition during storage and handling.


It’s worth noting that jet fuel composition may vary slightly based on regional standards and regulations. These variations aim to ensure compliance with safety standards and optimize fuel performance in different climates and operating conditions.


As the aviation industry continues to explore alternative fuels, the composition of jet fuel is evolving. Sustainable solutions, such as biofuels and synthetic fuels, are being developed to reduce carbon emissions and lessen the industry’s environmental impact. These alternative fuels often have different compositions but are designed to be compatible with existing aircraft engines and fuel systems.


Overall, the careful composition of jet fuel plays a crucial role in the performance, efficiency, and safety of aircraft engines, enabling air travel to take place efficiently and reliably.


Aviation Gasoline

While jet fuel is the primary fuel used in turbine engines, aviation gasoline, also known as avgas, is specifically designed for piston engine aircraft. These engines, commonly found in general aviation aircraft, operate differently from turbine engines and require a different type of fuel.


Aviation gasoline has a higher octane rating than automotive gasoline, which is essential for piston engines. The octane rating indicates the fuel’s resistance to detonation or knocking, which can be detrimental to piston engines’ performance and longevity.


Unlike jet fuel, which is a kerosene-based fuel, aviation gasoline is typically composed of hydrocarbons derived from crude oil, similar to automotive gasoline. However, the refining process for avgas includes additional steps to achieve the desired octane rating.


There are different grades or types of aviation gasoline available, such as 100LL (Low Lead) and 100/130. The numbers denote the fuel’s octane rating, with 100LL being the most common aviation gasoline used today. It has a higher octane rating of 100 and contains a small amount of lead to further enhance its anti-knock properties.


Aviation gasoline is often dyed and has a distinctive blue color to differentiate it from other types of fuel. This coloring helps prevent accidental use in engines that are not designed for aviation gasoline, which could lead to engine damage or failure.


In recent years, there has been an increased focus on developing alternative fuels for aviation, including unleaded avgas. The transition to unleaded options aims to reduce the environmental impact of leaded fuels and improve air quality near airports and other flight operations.


Transitioning to unleaded avgas, however, poses unique challenges due to the diverse fleet of existing piston-powered aircraft and the need to ensure compatibility and performance. The aviation industry is working towards finding sustainable alternatives that meet the safety and performance requirements of piston engines.


Overall, aviation gasoline plays a vital role in powering piston engine aircraft, providing the necessary energy and performance to enable general aviation operations. As the industry evolves, advancements in alternative aviation fuels will continue to shape the future of aviation gasoline.


Alternative Fuels for Aircraft

With a growing focus on reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the environmental impact of air travel, the aviation industry is actively exploring alternative fuels that offer more sustainable options for powering aircraft. These alternative fuels aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote energy efficiency, and diminish dependence on fossil fuels.


One of the most promising alternative fuels for aviation is biofuel. Biofuels are derived from renewable sources such as plant oils, agricultural waste, and algae. These fuels can be blended with conventional jet fuel or used as a drop-in replacement, requiring no modifications to existing aircraft engines or fuel systems.


Biofuels offer the advantage of being renewable and significantly reducing carbon emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels. They can be produced sustainably and have the potential to be carbon neutral or even carbon-negative, depending on the feedstock and production processes used.


In addition to biofuels, synthetic fuels, also known as power-to-liquids (PTL) fuels, are another alternative being explored. These fuels are produced by converting renewable energy, such as solar or wind power, into synthetic hydrocarbons. Synthetic fuels have similar properties to conventional jet fuel and can be used directly or blended with regular jet fuel.


Hydrogen is another potential alternative for aircraft propulsion. Hydrogen fuel cells have been successfully used in smaller aircraft for short distances. However, the challenge lies in storing and distributing hydrogen, as it requires significant infrastructure development to enable widespread adoption on commercial airlines.


While alternative fuels show great promise, there are some challenges to their widespread implementation. These include scalability of production, cost competitiveness, and ensuring compatibility with existing aircraft and infrastructure. Research and development efforts are underway to address these challenges and advance the use of alternative fuels in the aviation industry.


Government initiatives and industry collaborations are driving the development and adoption of alternative fuels. Various airlines and aircraft manufacturers have committed to reducing their carbon footprint and are actively exploring the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in their operations.


It’s important to note that regulatory bodies, such as ASTM International and ICAO, have established stringent standards for alternative aviation fuels to ensure safety, performance, and compatibility. These standards help guide the development, certification, and implementation of alternative fuels in the aviation industry.


As the industry continues to innovate and invest in sustainable solutions, alternative fuels hold the potential to revolutionize air travel by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and advancing the goal of a more environmentally friendly aviation sector.


Safety Measures

Safety is of paramount importance in the aviation industry, including the handling, storage, and usage of aviation fuels. Rigorous safety measures are in place to ensure the proper management of fuel and to mitigate any potential risks. Here are some key safety measures pertaining to aviation fuel:

  1. Proper Storage and Handling: Aviation fuels are stored and handled in strict accordance with safety guidelines. Designated fuel storage facilities are equipped with safety features such as fire suppression systems, ventilation systems, and containment measures to prevent leaks and spills. Fueling operations follow specific procedures to ensure safe transfers of fuel to aircraft.
  2. Training and Certification: Personnel involved in handling aviation fuel undergo comprehensive training on fuel safety protocols. They are trained to handle fuel in accordance with industry standards and are certified to perform fueling operations. This includes proper handling of fueling equipment, understanding fuel characteristics and safety procedures, and detecting and responding to fuel-related emergencies.
  3. Quality Control: Aviation fuel undergoes stringent quality control measures to ensure it meets the required specifications and performance standards. Regular testing and analysis are conducted to verify fuel composition, purity, and absence of contaminants. Quality control procedures also include inspections of fuel storage facilities and equipment to maintain safe conditions.
  4. Emergency Response: Protocols and emergency response plans are in place to address fuel-related incidents such as leaks, spills, or fires. Fueling personnel are trained to handle emergencies and follow established procedures to contain and mitigate any fuel-related incidents. Firefighting equipment, including foam systems, fire extinguishers, and trained personnel, are readily available at airports to respond to fuel-related fires or accidents.
  5. Environmental Considerations: Safety measures extend to protecting the environment from fuel-related hazards. Preventive measures are in place to minimize the risk of fuel spills and leaks. Spill containment systems, secondary containment areas, and dedicated drainage systems help mitigate the impact of any accidental fuel release on the environment. Strict regulations and protocols are followed for fueling near bodies of water or sensitive ecological areas.

These safety measures ensure the safe handling, storage, and usage of aviation fuel, minimizing the risk of accidents, and maintaining the highest standards of safety in the aviation industry. Ongoing advancements in fueling technology, fuel transportation, and safety procedures continue to improve the safety of aviation fuel operations.


It is worth noting that safety measures and regulations are continuously monitored and updated by national and international aviation authorities to align with evolving safety standards and best practices. This commitment to safety ensures that air travel remains one of the safest modes of transportation in the world.



Aviation fuel is the lifeblood of the aviation industry, powering the remarkable machines that allow us to soar through the skies. From turbine engines fueled by jet fuel to piston engines powered by aviation gasoline, the diverse types of fuel cater to different aircraft and operational requirements.


Throughout this article, we have explored the essentials of airplane fuel, including the composition, types, and safety measures associated with it. Jet fuel, with its high energy density, plays a crucial role in enabling long-haul flights and powering turbine engines, while aviation gasoline is designed specifically for piston engine aircraft.


As the world focuses on reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability, alternative fuels are emerging as viable options for the aviation industry. Biofuels, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen offer the potential to minimize environmental impact and decrease dependence on fossil fuels.


However, safety remains a paramount concern. Extensive safety measures, such as proper storage, handling, and emergency response protocols, are in place to ensure the safe management of aviation fuel. These measures, backed by rigorous training, certification, and quality control procedures, maintain the highest standards of safety in fuel operations.


The aviation industry is committed to furthering research and development efforts to explore sustainable fuel alternatives that are compatible with existing aircraft and infrastructure. The goal is to achieve a greener and more eco-friendly aviation sector while maintaining the safety, efficiency, and reliability that air travel demands.


In conclusion, the world of aviation fuel is constantly evolving, driven by a focus on efficiency, sustainability, and safety. By embracing innovative fuel technologies, the industry is heralding a new era of cleaner and more sustainable air travel, paving the way for a greener future in the skies.