You arrive at the airport, finally get on the plane and think: “on this trip I am going to relax”. However, you become the spectator of a show, perhaps, not very reassuring. You look out the window at someone taping one of the wings.
Although your concern might be completely reasonable, you shouldn’t worry. This type of scenario is repeated over and over again in different parts of the world. In addition, Boeing acknowledges, it is contemplated in the aircraft maintenance manual.
it’s not tape adhesiveit’s speed tape
The truth is that it is not a question of standard adhesive tape, but of speed tape (speed tape). We are talking about an advanced engineering product that is made up of a smooth aluminum foil backing and coated with an acrylic adhesive.
These characteristics, according to the product page of the aforementioned US company, make the tape have heat-conducting and high-resistance capabilities. Thus, it can be used in delicate and exposed parts, such as the fuselage or the wings of an aircraft.
The page indicates that a piece protected by this tape can resist “fire, weather, moisture and UV rays”. It is, without a doubt, a series of qualities of the ‘Man of Steel’ cape. But seriously, let’s see the specifications of it.
The manufacturer of this very particular insulating tape is not Boeing but the also well-known 3M. As detailed on its website, “Aluminum Foil Tape 425 Silver” has the ability to withstand a wide range of temperatures ranging from -53°C to 149°C.
As we can see, we don’t need to go into too much detail to find out that the characteristics of speed tape and standard adhesive tape are very different. However, despite its advantages, the speed tape should only be used in very specific situations.
According to The Points Guy, speed tape is a great resource for making temporary repairs to non-critical parts that can be repaired later. Also, it serves to improve aerodynamics and prevents the damaged part from continuing to wear out.
Of course, the permitted uses of the speed tape in aircraft are clearly defined in the maintenance manual of each aircraft and can only be carried out by trained maintenance technicians to make these types of temporary repairs.
External damage is usually detected during routine pre-takeoff inspections. In one of them, in October 2019, the captain of a gleaming Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350-1000 discovered that a bird strike had caused a dent in one of the wings.
It was a small hit that hadn’t done critical damage. Thus, after prior authorization, the technicians were in charge of covering the affected area with speed tape and the plane was able to take off without problems. But, we must mention, that this is not always true.
Yes, air travel is still the safest means of transportation, but airlines don’t always lead by example with their maintenance protocols. Under this reality, some commercial aviation companies have been accused of improperly using the speed tape.
The most resounding example, perhaps, is that of United Airlines, which was fined in 2022 with $805,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A penalty that was the product, according to The New York Times, of making 193 flights with incorrectly placed tape on three planes.
Aircraft manufacturers also often have their own setbacks. According to the FAA, some Boeing 787s are experiencing problems with paint adhesion. The recommended solution? Temporarily use speed tape on affected areas.
Now when you see someone putting “tape” on a plane, you’ll know it’s speed tape (speed tape) and that its use is contemplated in the maintenance manuals. Also, that this is a task that should be performed by trained technicians.
Images: Chris Bainbridge (Wikimedia Commons) | 3M
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