July 2009 Issue

Fighting Fires

An in-flight fire is something to which you must respond quickly and decisively. Have and deploy a Halon-based extinguisher, then get on the ground.

An in-flight fire is most pilots’ greatest fear, surpassing even a mid-air collision. Although relatively rare, the unique combination of combustible materials and ignition sources available in the typical personal airplane means an in-flight fire must be dealt with quickly and decisively. Doing so usually means disabling systems to deprive the fire of its fuel or ignition sources, and employing a fire extinguisher to smother it. A quick landing, even if off-airport, may be necessary. The problem? Our cockpits feature an abundance of materials capable of sustaining a fire. Carpeting, insulation, upholstery and paper charts are present in even the most basic airplane. This is true even if every scrap of fabric has passed an FAA-approved burn test. Throw in a fuel line or two—whether routed through the fuel selector, flowing via a capillary line to a fuel pressure gauge, or resulting from the designer’s basic need to move fuel from the tanks to an engine—and you’ve got another, much more combustible material.

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