The rise of the hydrant
As air traffic boomed in the post-war period and aircraft became larger, the ability to refuel aircraft more quickly and efficiently became a priority.
Whilst for many smaller airports the answer was to introduce bigger re-fuelling trucks, for large airports with an increasing number of large aircraft to turn around, a more efficient approach was needed.
The answer was a fixed hydrant system whereby fuel from airfield storage tanks was fed under pressure to hydrant points situated on the airport apron. From the hydrant, fuel is supplied to the aircraft tanks by hoses passing through a small mobile unit. This contains the micro-filters, meters, and pressure control valves, and is the only fuelling equipment necessary on the apron. Fuel delivery rates to the aircraft are increased considerably via hydrant systems, fuel inventory management is automated and safety is improved because there are fewer engines running near aircraft during refuelling.
Shell Aviation had developed the precursors of hydrant systems back in the 1920s and 1930s, installing an underground refuelling system at Croydon Airport as early as 1921, to replace refuelling by hand. This in turn built on the faster refuelling systems developed by Shell for the Royal Flying Corps during World War One.
From 1954, Shell began installing large-scale hydrant systems at airfields, such as Paya Lebar Airport in Singapore. As well as avoiding the use of refuelling tankers, the hydrant system typically requires less maintenance and fewer staff to operate. By 1957, Shell had installed 100 hydrant systems at airports around the world. This roll-out was supported by the development of a dedicated testing facility for hydrant fuelling at Shell’s Thornton Research Centre, near Chester in the UK. The full size facility allowed for the testing of new equipment such as pumps, filters, water detectors, automatic pressure valves and hose equipment under full-scale, airport conditions. It also provided a vital facility for the training of airport fuelling personnel on the safe use of hydrant systems.
Today, hydrant systems are commonplace at most major airports providing a safe and efficient means of fuelling aircraft, allowing them to spend less time on the ground and more time flying. Shell has continued to provide support on the design and installation of hydrant systems including those at London Gatwick and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airports.1
Shell Aviation News, 1954, p. 31.
Shell Aviation News, 1956, p. 174-177.
Shell Aviation News, 1957, p. 300.
Shell Aviation News, 1959, p. 192.
Shell historical archives.