Faster refuelling for new generations of aircraft
Since the 1930s, when commercial aviation first started to see rapid growth, new generations of aircraft with the capacity to carry more passengers and cargo further have regularly come into service. With these new airliners, the demands on the infrastructure needed to service and support airlines and airports grew too.
The challenge for ground operations was to deliver greater volumes of fuel to these larger aircraft and to fill them as fast and as safely as possible to minimise turnaround times.
A major part of the answer lay in the development and deployment of larger refuelling trucks. In 1934, Shell Aviation introduced a new fuel tanker with the latest filters, water detection equipment and sophisticated meters, which would become the industry standard until after the Second World War. Safety features on the new truck included anti-static devices to reduce the risk of fire.
The lorry had a double rear-axle drive, and when fully loaded, was capable of operating in mud or sand without using track chains. It had a fuel tank capacity of 700 gallons and could fuel aircraft at a speed of up to 70 gallons per minute through four delivery hoses.
With aircraft size and range again growing swiftly in the late 1940s, the need to speed up refuelling further became apparent. Shell Aviation worked closely with vehicle manufacturers, such as S.A.I. Viberti-Turin of Italy and in 1949, introduced two new trucks, the Derby and the Devon, to provide faster refuelling. The Derby, with its single compartment tank of 2,500 gallons capacity, was the larger of the new arrivals. Its two pumps could supply a maximum delivery speed of 400 gallons a minute, making it ideal for refuelling the new generation of aircraft, like Boeing’s four-engine Stratocruiser.
Faster refuelling speeds introduced another challenge; the need for filters capable of dealing with the far higher liquid throughput, while continuing to remove solid particle contaminants, which could damage the aircraft’s engines and cause accidents. This tough challenge was solved by Shell with the TB Microfilter, fitted on both new models.
The year 1970 bought perhaps the biggest challenge for ground operations yet, how to efficiently refuel Boeing’s new 747 Jumbo Jet, with a massive fuel tank capacity of 42,000 gallons.
Although Shell had led the development and roll out of hydrant systems, many airports still relied on refuelling by truck. In the late 1960s, the company had anticipated the challenges that the 747 would bring and began to prepare for its arrival. Working with the UK’s well-established refuelling truck manufacturer John Thompson Brothers, it developed a larger transporter for use at airports without hydrant systems. The result was the London, launched in 1968. The rigid fueller and trailer combination had a capacity of 16,000 gallons and a maximum refuelling rate of 850 gallons per minute through two hoses. This meant it was more than capable of meeting the requirements of the new Jumbo Jet, helping to ensure airlines and their passengers continued to take-off on time, despite the massive increase in fuel load required.
Shell Aviation News, 1949, p. 2, 58, 85, 166 and 250.
R. van Egmond and A. Westra, Shell and aviation. The story of more than a century of collaboration. Shell International B.V., 2019, p. 74-75.
Shell Aviation News, 1968, p. 188-189.
R. van Egmond and A. Westra, Shell and aviation. The story of more than a century of collaboration. Shell International B.V., 2019, p. 77.
Shell Aviation News, 1954, p. 31.
Shell Aviation News, 1956, p. 174-177.
Shell Aviation News, 1957, p. 300.
Shell historical archives.