Airliner Held Together by… Duct Tape?

When Red Green called duct tape “the handyman’s secret weapon,” he wasn’t just whistlin’ Dixie. But duct tape for jet airliner repairs?

Opera singer David Wakeham, in Australia, boarded a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner en route to his next gig… and chanced to look out the window. He saw what appeared to be duct tape holding the wing together, posted it on Twitter, it went viral and freaked people out (https://nypost.com/2022/10/02/airline-explains-why-plane-wing-covered-in-duct-tape/).

And you could hardly help remembering the classic Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” in which William Shatner sees a Gremlin (Nick Cravat!) tearing at the wing of his airliner.

22 Nightmare At 20000 Feet Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty  Images

The airlines tell us not to worry, they’re not really holding their planes together with duct tape. It’s called “quick tape” or “speed tape” and is used to protect areas of peeling paint from further damage. They might want to repaint those spots someday. But Red Green never ran out of duct tape, and neither will they.

10 comments on “Airliner Held Together by… Duct Tape?

  1. I must weight in.

    As a former employee of a major airline, a holder of two Airman’s Certificates and a number of ratings, I can assure you that no airline would ever authorize the use of “Speed Tape” for any structural repair. Using Speed Tape on a wing surface over damaged paint would have no effect on the airworthiness of an aircraft. If anyone was so foolish as to try to do such a thing, there is an Inspection department, which is an entirely separate chain of authority from the Maintenance department, and such a repair would not pass inspection.

    Airlines have agreements with the FAA, and other regulatory bodies, regarding maintenance procedures. These agreements are very detailed, and specify how specific problems are addressed. Safety of flight is the absolute top priority and any procedure in that agreement has been scrutinized by the regulatory bodies before this agreement is approved. Virtually all of these agreements are based on standardized procedures, but there are variations, because operating conditions vary widely. For example, an airline operating in an arctic region, will have a different set of operating conditions from an airline operating in an area that includes rain forests. For these sorts of regions, maintenance and operational agreements may vary, between carriers. But even with this variation, I can absolutely assure you that no carrier is going to take an obvious risk, such as a structural repair with speed tape.

    Composite structured aircraft, such as the 787, are a different breed. The challenges are different, as are the solutions. As we speak, Qatar Airways and Airbus are in the midst of an epic dispute involving paint issues on some Airbus aircraft. It’s not like the days when you could slap a little paint onto the aluminum wing skin and be good to go, a few minutes later. Repairing a paint issue on a composite aircraft can be a bit of a task. I didn’t work directly with composites, and don’t know all of the procedures, but I know that the people working in that area had to have special training and used equipment that was specialized. I would assume that the aircraft in the video will be getting some attention to the paint problem, but that may be delayed until the aircraft goes in for a check-line procedure, which takes it out of service for a period of time.

    1. I thought we’d be hearing from you about this.
      The airline assures us they’re not using tape as a solution to structural problems.

    2. It took me a while to get used to seeing speed tape, but it’s actually pretty amazing stuff. The name is totally fitting to its function. Any tape that can stay attached at 600 MPH has earned my respect. Speed Tape has, at times, been used to repair combat damage to war planes. A little speed tape will cover a bullet hole and get the plane back in the air, for another mission. This is NOT structural, but just a way to repair a small hole in the skin, and such a repair would be quite temporary in nature.

      I’ve seen speed tape used to seal seams in floor panels, which the flying public will never see, but if you strip out the carpet, seats and plastic trim panels, the inside of an airliner doesn’t look anything like it does when that same plane is in service. None of this should be of concern, because a piece of speed tape keeping dust and debris out of a floor panel seam has no negative effect on safety, and if you’ve even been on an airliner, chances are very good that you’ve been within arm’s length of some Speed Tape.

    3. The problem is, most people never heard of speed tape and when they see it, they think it’s duct tape. Red Green, thou art mighty yet!

  2. I think there are three things going on.
    1. The alarming rise of extremely uncritical thinking. If they would give it a moment’s real thought, they would know duct tape would never hold under such conditions, and that a pilot would never fly such a plane in the first place.

    2. Going along with non-critical thinking, people are more easily led into mob mentality at the slightest opportunity. They see a post about duct tape on an airplane, they instantly believe it, and nothing will convince them otherwise.

    3. On a more conspiratorial note, I think this is one of those things that is designed to make not want to fly … flying causes global warming, and this is ine of those tiny bits that goes into the collective subconscious, making people more susceptible to propaganda against flying.

    1. You make good points, Laura.

      Most people have no understanding, whatsoever, of aviation. The misapprehensions regarding the subject are all but boundless. When one becomes a pilot, there are various things one has to learn, which are foundational, and absolutely essential to understanding even the fundamentals. Aviation is a dynamic world, where the air pressure varies, depending upon altitude. Weather can vary, dramatically. I recall one fine Spring day, when it was 70 degrees at ground level, but it had been snowing at 10,000 feet. I remember this well, because I had been flying in the morning hours and when I spoke to some friends that afternoon, they were shocked to hear that I had experienced snow at the very same moment they were enjoying a beautiful, warm, day, even though I was only a few miles away.

      No pilot in their right mind would ever agree to fly an aircraft they didn’t believe to be in safe, airworthy condition, and every pilot is required to complete a pre-flight inspection. On scheduled carriers (airlines) this duty may be shared with the First Officer, or performed directly by the Captain. These inspections are not casual, and anyone that has risen to the level required to fly transport category aircraft (airliners) is going to know what is required in such an inspection, and will perform it thoroughly. Believe me, if there was and literal duct tape, anywhere, there would be some serious trouble for whoever applied said duct tape.

      I have concerns about aviation safety, but speed tape is certainly not one of those concerns. The carriers are in a challenging time, these days, and the demand for pilots is very high. My biggest concern is that the current pilot shortage will result in people entering the industry simply for the money, instead of entering because of a lifelong interest in aviation. That having been said, I’m far from being panicked, regarding the subject, but sadly the days of you aviators learning from wizened old Airmen, many of whom had flown in combat, seem to be a thing of the past. Those WW II aviators had a lot to teach the rest of us.

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