Airplane Fuel Versus Other Types of Fuel

Q: How is airplane fuel different from other kinds of fuel?

Jets and turboprops run on jet fuel, while piston-powered airplanes use fuel similar to the gasoline in your car. Jet fuel is kerosene. It is vaporized and injected into the combustion chambers of jets and turboprops. However, it is not as combustible as gasoline; it’s more stable and less explosive. You can hold a lit match above a pool of jet fuel and it usually will not ignite. (Neither Patrick Smith nor Salon Media Group shall be responsible for injuries or damage caused in connection to this statement.) Jet fuel comes in different grades. Piston-powered aircraft, like small Pipers and Cessnas, use a high-octane fuel commonly called “avgas,” and some small planes can be certified to run on regular automobile gasoline.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.