May 21, 2013

Struth! Uranium tailplane a weighty problem

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The first 747-100s carried depleted uranium in their tails
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says not many of us knew it, but we used to fly around the world in aircraft whose tailplanes carried big quantities of depleted uranium (DU).

Because bizarrely its purpose was to act as a counterweight so pilots could trim aircraft and keep them flying level, as the depleted uranium was nearly 70% heavier than lead and therefore less was needed by mass in the confined spaces of the tailplanes.

It is understood that the early 747s contained up to 1.5 tonnes of  DU and this substance was difficult to recover after an accident (see BBC report).

Most major aircraft manufacturers including Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed used the depleted uranium in their earliest wide-bodied aircraft, replacing it from the early 1980s with tungsten that was even slightly heavier again than uranium.

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