EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT FUEL TANK VAPOUR/AIR EXPLOSIONS USING JET A AND JET A / GASOLINE BLEND FUELS
The potential of a fuel tank explosion is a well-known hazard in the aircraft industry. In this study, an investigation of a lab scale aircraft fuel tank in a flight situation at varying initial pressures of 400 - 1,000 mbar (equivalent to altitudes of 0 - 22,300 ft) and at variable temperatures was conducted in a 100-litre cylindrical test rig. A standard Jet A fuel and with a type Jet B fuel (which in this case was a Jet A with 10% of gasoline by mass) were used. Their flashpoints were measured to be 45oC (Jet A) and 20 oC (Jet B). In the simulated fuel tank explosions ignition occurred when the fuel liquid temperature was much higher than the flash point - 71 – 107 oC depending on initial pressure (altitude) for Jet A and 57 – 95 oC for the more volatile Jet B. The resulting maximum explosion overpressures were high, ranging from 0.7 to 5.8 bar, much higher than typical design strengths of aircraft fuel tanks, and much stronger than anticipated overpressures on the basis of ignition at or close to the lower flammability limit (LFL). It is postulated that these pressures are due to the distance between the liquid fuel surface and the ignition point and the formation of a vapour cloud with decreasing concentration with height above the fuel (being at LFL at the ignition point) and hence an overall concentration much higher than LFL. This demonstrated that severe explosions are fuel tanks are likely and the assumption that the explosion will be a near lean limit event is not safe. The work also provided explosion severity index data which can be used in design of suppression and venting systems for the mitigation of aircraft fuel tank explosions and provided other quantitative data to help manage this explosion risk appropriately.
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