From small piston powered planes to large military transports, aircraft are always designed with the fuel tanks placed within the wing structures. While one may assume that this design standard is for the sake of space and efficiency, there are actually major safety and structural reasons that have led to such a staple in aircraft construction. With fuel tanks placed within the wings, an aircraft can have more structural efficiency, provide more safety for flight, and reduce the complexity of its fuel system.
For many of the original aircraft designs that came about during the early years of aviation, the main tank was often implemented within the fuselage between the cockpit and engine. Due to the simplistic construction and materials used at the time, such a design was optimal to avoid much complexity. As aviation continued to advance in safety and passenger transportation became common, however, the fuel tanks were relocated to the wings for the means of removing fuel ignition hazards as much as possible.
As a result of such a change, aviation engineers had to ensure that the fuel tanks would not cause an imbalance of weight during flight, as such factors would make many aircraft unsafe or inoperable. Additionally, wings are what help balance the structural weight of the fuselage itself, and thus redistributing the weight of the engines and fuel to the wings helped decrease bending forces and increase integrity. As such, the fuel tanks are also designed to be spread out in such a way as to distribute the load evenly across the wing as much as possible. Altogether, utilizing designs with the fuel tanks placed equally across the wings creates a better center of gravity within the fuselage.
If an aircraft was to place the main fuel tanks within the fuselage itself, spars would require more cross-sections in order to accommodate the increased weight and to produce the same amount of lift as one with fuel tanks placed within the wing structures. Because of this, modern aircraft can save structural room as wing located fuel tanks allow for less spars to be implemented for saving weight and manufacturing costs. Additionally, balancing weight through downbending on the wings creates more ability to have a heavier fuselage without negating structural integrity from the simpler spar construction.
Beyond making aircraft more robust in their structure, placing the fuel tanks within the wings also benefits ground operation efficiency in regards to refueling. With most aircraft that have fuel stored in the wings, cap fuel tanks permit easy refueling from under or over the wing. As such, large commercial airliners can be serviced quickly and efficiently without having to open or enter the fuselage, and smaller aircraft benefit in similar regards.
For the operation of such aircraft, the placement of the fuel tanks within the wings also permits for more simplistic fuel tank construction. For lighter, high-wing aircraft, the main tank often comes in the form of a gravity-feed system, allowing for fuel to naturally flow into the engine for combustion. In larger aircraft, components such as pumps may still be needed for optimal transportation of fuel, though the makeup of the system is much simpler as compared to what would be needed if tanks were to be placed in the fuselage.
Last but not least, the placement of the fuel tanks within the wings of the aircraft is also to promote more safety for passengers and operators alike, as was discussed beforehand. If a problem was to occur within the fuel tank, such as a leakage, having the fuel tanks as far away from the passengers as possible can ensure that fuel is isolated from the fuselage. As such, evacuation and damage mitigation in the occurrence of an emergency can be conducted much more efficiently and safely.
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