Tape on Airplanes

Q: Please tell me the photograph of tape on the airplane, sent to me by a friend who swears he took the picture himself, is doctored.

I’m willing to bet the picture is not doctored. What you see is the perfectly safe and legal application of some heavy duty aluminum bonding tape, called “speed tape” in the mechanic’s lexicon. Depending what a plane’s maintenance manual stipulates — the manual itself under aegis of the FAA — certain non-critical components can be temporarily patched with this material, embarrassing as it sometimes looks. It’s extremely strong, durable, and able to expand and contract through an extreme range of temperatures.

Here you see speed tape covering a crack or some other superficial defect in a flap track fairing. That bullet-shaped fairing is just a cover, a streamlining shell, that conceals the tracks and hinges of the wing’s trailing edge flaps.


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.