father and his college age son were saved from a fire that
completely destroyed the cockpit of their single engine
airplane when it crashed in a ditch in Santa Barbara, CA
recently. The airplane's engine lost power on short final
and the airplane hit a chain link fence, then bounced across
a public road into a ditch beside the road where it then
caught fire. A heroic passerby pulled the father and son
from the damaged airplane as flames engulfed the fuselage.
The two men were not seriously hurt, thanks to the hero who
saved them. There was no fire extinguisher in the airplane.
If they had crashed elsewhere, such as on the other side of
the airport perimeter fence, they would have been out of
luck, because even though airport fire trucks arrived at the
crash scene within five minutes, the aircraft fuselage was
completely destroyed by flames in that short period.
Many pilots and passengers are not as lucky and do not crash
where someone can pull them out of burning airplanes. And
they do not have easy access to fire extinguishers that may
be mounted in cargo compartments or otherwise out of easy
Engine failure could happen to anyone, at any point in the
flight. The solution is to have one or more fire
extinguishers handy for every flight. The pilot should be
able to reach the fire extinguisher even if he or she is
unable to exit the aircraft. This means that the
extinguisher should be mounted on the floor under the pilot's
seat, onto the center console where it is in easy reach or
permanently mounted and plumbed in.
you consider the least expensive dry chemical fire
extinguisher for your airplane, try one out by using it to
put out a fire in your barbecue grill. You won't like what
it does to your charcoal cooker. The dry powder fire
extinguishers put out fires by smothering them in a thick
cloud of white powder that covers everything. And you surely
don't want to breathe that powder. If you were trapped in a
burning airplane cockpit and if you used a dry chemical
extinguisher to douse the flames, you would not be able to
breathe in the dust cloud. And the dry powder is extremely
hard to clean up afterward, even with a vacuum cleaner. The
dry chemical is corrosive and would likely do extensive
damage to your interior and to your airplane instrument
1211 AND 1301 EXTINGUISHERS
only fire extinguishers that won't choke you and won't
damage your aircraft are the liquid Halon extinguishers.
They are more expensive than dry chemicals, costing about
$100 for a 2-1/2 pound dry chemical extinguisher, but the
results are worth the difference in price. Halon works to
extinguish fires by using a liquid that turns to gas when it
is sprayed into a fire. The gas displaces oxygen to rob the
fire of oxygen and cause it to go out. If you spray Halon
into the air, it disappears almost as soon as it is sprayed,
but is highly effective in closed areas.
a number of years, Halon was in danger of being outlawed
because it could contribute to depleting the Earth's ozone
layer. But, in fact, when it is used to extinguish fires, it
is neutralized by the fire as it extinguishes it. The
approved way to dispose of unwanted Halon is to release the
gas into a furnace which neutralizes the chemistry of the
Halon. Also, if there is no fire, there will be no need to
spray the Halon. As the Environmental Protection Agency now
concedes, Halon is a highly effective agent for fire
fighting in closed passenger carrying areas. Even if it is
not needed for fire extinguishing, it is the best fire
insurance policy you can buy.
supplier of race car fire extinguishing systems that
include on-board driver/pilot operated systems, also sells
the same systems for airplanes. In these installations,
the Halon bottle is semi-permanently mounted in a
convenient place in the race car or airplane. Halon is
dispensed through 1/4" diameter aluminum tubing to
selected places in the cockpit. A pull-cable or even a
solenoid switch operated by the driver/pilot activates the
Halon when needed.
SUPPRESSING FUEL TANKS
of experimental aircraft should also investigate the
possibility of incorporating explosion suppressing foam in
the fuel tanks of their aircraft. Race car fuel cells
could be fitted to aircraft in many instances and are
actually less expensive than welded aluminum tanks which
offer no fire or explosion protection.
Explosion suppressing foam for fuel tanks is made to be
installed in the entire tank, save for cutouts for fuel
quality senders, filler neck openings and outlet areas.
This foam is about 2% to 3% density, meaning that in a 10
gallon fuel tank, it displaces .2 to .3 of a gallon. In
appearance, it resembles a very open weave Scotchbrite TM
pad. The life expectancy of the reticulated polyurethane
foam is 50 years. The cost of the foam is about $1 per
gallon of fuel tank size. It can be retrofitted to
existing fuel tanks if the tank has a hand access opening.
Talk to race car mechanics if they are considering this
protection for your aircraft fuel system.
fire extinguishers are sold through aviation distributors
us for a
distributor in your area.