Q: How is airplane fuel different from other kinds of fuel?
Jets and turboprops run on jet fuel, which is kerosene. It is vaporized and fed into the combustion chambers of jet and turboprop engines. Televised fireballs notwithstanding, it’s surprisingly stable and less combustible than other fuels, at least until vaporization. You can hold a lit match above a pool of jet fuel and it will not ignite. (Neither Patrick Smith nor Salon Media Group shall be responsible for injuries or damage caused in connection to this statement.)
Piston-powered aircraft — like privately-owned Pipers and Cessnas — burn a high-octane fuel commonly called “avgas,” analogous to gasoline. Some small planes can be certified to run on ordinary automobile gas.
This article 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.