Leaving…on a jet plane

Fuels |  2 min. read

Planning to fly home for the holidays?

That wouldn’t be unusual, since almost 46 million of us are expected to be flying over the next few weeks. (Here’s what it look like, by the way, if you could see the whole country from high above.  Not all small planes are included):

And you know what makes all that flying possible?  The same thing that lets you drive to the supermarket for the week’s groceries.  Fuel – made from petroleum.  The same barrel of oil that’s used to produce gasoline, also produces jet fuel.

Lucky for us, since this country of ours is a big place to travel.  East to West, New York to San Francisco for instance?  About 2900 miles. And North-South?  Almost 2400 miles from Maine to Miami.

And while sometimes it IS all about the journey – a lot of the time, you just want to get “there” – you just want to see your mom, or your parents just want to see your kids – your daughter just wants to get to her dorm and unpack, or everybody just wants to unroll their towels on the beach.  Maybe you can’t wait to row out on that lake, or for the curtain to rise on an opera you’ve never seen before.

There are a lot of reasons we travel.  But when you want the miles in between here and there to go by as quickly as possible, say 500 miles an hour – for that, you want a plane.  And a plane, wants fuel.

For example, a Boeing 787, the new Dreamliner, takes more than 33,000 gallons of jet fuel to fill up.  Even for the newest, fuel-saving planes (and the Dreamliner is one of those),  it’s still a big job to get a few hundred people (and their luggage) 35,000 feet up in the air and across the country.

(So maybe it’s just as well that supermarkets don’t have points programs for jet fuel.  Somebody would have to eat a LOT of kale to fill one of those planes up.)

The key ingredient in that jet fuel though, is something that’s been around a long time:  kerosene.  Jet fuel is a more purified version, and there are some other things in it, like anti-freeze (it’s COLD up there at 35,000 feet).  But in principle, it’s the same kerosene that our parents’ parents’ parents’ parents might have used in a lamp, for light.

Wondering which came first, jets or jet fuel?  Jet fuel wins that race, or at least kerosene does.  In the modern era, kerosene was being distilled from petroleum by the time of the Civil War.  The first jet doesn’t take off till the 1930s.

So if you are flying on a plane somewhere this summer, enjoy your trip.  And remember, every flight starts with the jet fuel made from a barrel of oil, and the security line at the airport.