Despite what you may think, the wings on an aircraft are used as storage. No, it is not your excess luggage, it is actually the fuel for the plane. Aircraft have between three to five fuel tanks which the engine pulls from. As you would expect, one of the fuel tanks is located in the center of the aircraft, but a fuel tank is also located in each wing.
An aircraft is able to fly when the force of lift is greater than the force of weight. The wing design helps to create lift. When fueling an aircraft, the weight of the fuel needs to be considered. If the fuel is stored in an area such as the nose or tail, the center of gravity of the aircraft will be thrown off center. As the plane uses up more fuel, a shift of momentum will occur therefore jeopardizing the equilibrium of the aircraft. To ensure that the aircraft is stabilized, the aircraft engine will draw fuel from the central fuel tank first before it is taken from the wings.
In a similar situation, fuel is stored in the wings to act as a counter stress during take-off. During this critical flight mode, the aircraft is under a lot of stress from the aircraft’s mass. This is the key moment in which lift must overpower all the combined weight of the aircraft. Fuel in the wings keeps the angle of the wings level during takeoff. Without the weight of the fuel within the wings, there is the possibility that the wings would snap under the pressure. With this in mind, refueling begins with wing fuel tanks before moving onto the central fuel tank.
If there is a common theme, it is that fuel means weight and weight means stability. Wing flutter refers to the occurrence of vibration on the wings caused by the moving airflow. In all fields of mechanics, vibration is never a welcome occurrence. Vibration can cause significant damage to a component, so it is important to mitigate any and all vibration on the aircraft wings. Storing fuel in the wings provides rigidity to the otherwise hollow wings. Pressure is alleviated on the interior infrastructure of the wings as the fuel stabilizes the wing.
One reason for storing the fuel in the wing that is not related to weight is safety. Due to the flammable nature of fuel it is best to store fuel as far away from the passengers as possible. While this can’t always be the case, storing at least some of the fuel in the wings helps to increase the overall safety of the aircraft. From a cost and design point of view, storing the fuel in the wings increases the overall efficiency of the aircraft. If the fuel was not stored in the wings, the overall size of the aircraft would need to be increased to accommodate fuel tanks.
The storage of fuel is carefully considered in terms of the weight it adds to the aircraft. Not only should the beginning weight be considered, but also the rate at which the fuel is consumed. The wings inadvertently became the perfect storage facility.
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