An Introduction to Fuel Breakway Valves

Airplane landing at airport

Fuel breakaway valves are commonly used on airplanes. With the exception of electric airplanes, all airplanes must be refueled. Refueling typically occurs at airports. At some airports, a tanker may pull up to airplanes to refuel them. At other airports, airplanes may be refueled at a pumping station. For safety purposes, fuel breakaway valves are used.

What Is a Fuel Breakaway Valve?

A breakaway valve is a hose fitting that’s designed to prevent fuel from escaping out of an airplane’s fuel line in the event of an extreme separation load. They live up to their namesake by “breaking away” from the airplane’s fuel line. As a result, fuel won’t spill out of the airplane; the fuel breakaway valve will ensure that the fuel stays inside of the airplane.

How Fuel Breakaway Valves Work

Fuel breakaway valves consist of several internal parts, including a fuse. The fuse is the part of a fuel breakaway valve that’s designed to break in the event of an extreme separation load. Fuel breakaway valves also contain a valve. The valve is responsible for sealing the airplane’s fuel line.

By default, fuel breakaway valves are open. Fuel can travel through a fuel breakaway valve and into the airplane to which the refueling tanker or pumping station is connected. The valve will close, however, in the event of an extreme separation load. If the airplane tries to pull away from the tanker or pumping station while it’s still connected, for instance, the valve will close.

As the airplane attempts to pull away, the fuel breakaway valve will break into two pieces. The piece containing the valve will remain connected to the airplane. At the same time, the valve will close so that fuel won’t be able to spill out of the airplane.

Why Fuel Breakway Valves Are Important

Without a fuel breakaway valve, fuel may spill out of an airplane if it experiences an extreme separation load. Fuel spills, of course, are hazardous. Airplanes can hold a lot of fuel. A typical Boeing 747 can hold over 63,000 gallons of fuel. If fuel spills out of Boeing 747, it will leave behind a highly flammable trail in its wake.

There are fuel breakaway valves available to protect against fuel spills. If an event occurs in which the airplane is exposed to an extreme separation load — such as the airplane or tanker pulling away — the fuel breakaway valve will break into two pieces. The airplane’s fuel line will then be sealed, meaning fuel won’t spill out of it.

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