Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fire In The Cockpit

Like fire in a ship at sea, fire in the cockpit can be the scariest emergency you hope you’ll never encounter

Finally, be certain you have a fire before executing any critical emergency procedures. Back in the 1950s, one of the military's primary jet trainers was the Lockheed T-33 Thunderbird. A student and instructor were flying over Texas when the instructor tried to adjust his seat and accidentally activated his emergency life raft in the aft cockpit. The raft inflated in a few seconds, pinning the instructor to the seat, and­ pulling out his microphone plug in the process.
It should go without saying that every
aircraft should have an onboard fire extinguisher.
I carry two of them...
This had happened before, and the Air Force had developed a procedure to handle it. The instructor was jammed tightly against his seat back, but he felt along the sidewall of the airplane and found the egress assist tool, intended to help cut his way out of the aircraft in case of an accident. He pulled the tool loose, cut the side of the life raft, there was a tremendous bang, and the cockpit filled with fine talcum powder used to pack the rafts into their containers.

The USAF student up front heard what he thought was an explosion behind him and saw the cockpit fill with "smoke." With gloves, a flight suit, oxygen mask and helmet, every inch of skin was covered, and he couldn't tell that it was talcum powder rather than real smoke. He automatically assumed the engine had exploded and that the airplane was on fire, not that uncommon with the early generation of jets, so he followed standard emergency procedure. He blew off the canopy and ejected, exactly what the book said he should do.

The instructor had to fly the now open-cockpit T-Bird back to base wondering how he was ever going to explain this to his squadron commander.


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