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There is one five-word sentence in the aviator’s vernacular that no pilot wants to ever utter: Center- we have a problem. Something’s gone wrong and the flight needs special treatment. When an emergency hits the aircraft- there’s no one you want in the front office more than a well-trained pilot or flight crew. Thanks to a plethora of training devices and opportunities- today’s flight crew usually ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2006
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Stayin’ Alive

At eight miles high saving lives depends on life-saving gear - in the cabin.

There is one five-word sentence in the aviator’s vernacular that no pilot wants to ever utter: 'Center- we have a problem.' Something’s gone wrong and the flight needs special treatment.

When an emergency hits the aircraft- there’s no one you want in the front office more than a well-trained pilot or flight crew. Thanks to a plethora of training devices and opportunities- today’s flight crew usually know what action best assures survival – if not of the aircraft- at least of its occupants.

When the problem affects someone in the aircraft- well- that can be a different story. Not all flight crew have been blessed with training to use medical emergency kits; operate portable automatic defibrillators; Aviation survival equipment or even life-saving supplemental medical oxygen systems. For that matter- not all business aircraft carry such equipment – though the number so equipped continues to expand year over year.

During the past five years- participants in the annual Bombardier Safety Standdown benefited from a training syllabus the organizers expanded to take in medical and fire emergencies- water ditching and smoke-filled cabins. That training included practical hands-on use of fire extinguishers- defibrillators and breathing gear.

Even if your aircraft has the equipment- there’s nothing like hands-on experience to improve the odds of success.
This month- however- we’ll look at a few pieces of emergency gear created to give flight and cabin crew tools to help passengers with medical emergency assistance as well as help in an aircraft emergency long enough to assure survival until the aircraft lands.

No federal air regulation dictates that all of this equipment be carried on business aircraft; 'required' equipment may be nothing more than a fire extinguisher or crash ax that came with the aircraft.

Most feared word in flying: 'Fire!'
Next to the crash ax- there’s probably no other piece of equipment in an aircraft too ubiquitous as to be almost invisible than a fire bottle. But in the event of an in-flight fire- there is nothing more needed – aside from a quick landing- that is.

Many a fire bottle in many an aircraft dates back long enough to still be Halon filled- though a grandfathering of Halon extinguishers for aircraft use until a suitable replacement arrives should start to go away with the completion of a new Advisory Circular (AC) that embraces an all-new fire suppression system.

Until the AC comes to fruition- Halon remains the standard for aircraft fire-extinguishing systems. The market is awash in different models approved for aircraft use and the variety of sizes and weights is large. Finding portable extinguishers to fit within the available space and weight limits is solely a matter of research. Companies like Aircraft Spruce & Specialty are a good place to start shopping.

And when you do your shopping- try thinking beyond the minimum requirements. Safety experts recommend multiple fire extinguishers onboard- as a hedge against a fire one bottle can’t quite handle.

For the best chances of success- however- hands-on training has no substitute. So crews and their employers would be well advised to seek out and use training that includes hands-on practice using extinguishers on the several types of fire possible in an aircraft.

Every fire extinguisher is coded to show what types of fires it’s approved for fighting: Class A- Class B- Class C- which cover wood- paper- textiles- electrical and liquid-fueled flames.

If burning metal is a concern- a Class D extinguisher is in order.

Halon’s replacement?
The new technology that seems destined to replace Halon for aircraft fire-extinguishing needs is something all new called PhostrEx. According to the company- the PhostrEx fire suppression system is the first new engine Halon replacement fire suppression system to come along in about 50 years.

A system initially embraced by Eclipse Aviation for its upcoming Eclipse 500 VLJ – and now the foundation for a yet un-named spin-off company- the PhostrEx fire suppression system offers multiple advantages over Halon for on-board systems such as engine compartments and the APU bays.

Following two years of development- testing and certification- the PhostrEx fire suppression system now holds approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). So far- the PhostrEx fire suppression system stands as the only fire suppression system that meets the ecological standards of the Montreal Protocol – the international accord that resulted in the banning of Halon and other Ozone-depleting fluorocarbons – plus the shipping standards of the Department of Transportation- and the safety standards of the FAA and flying public.

The advantages of the PhostrEx fire suppression system cut across many lines other than its environmental edge over Halon. For example- the PhostrEx agent is much more potent than Halon- with two teaspoons of PhostrEx agent equivalent to 2.5 cups of Halon for the Eclipse 500 application.

The PhostrEx fire suppression system endured a multimillion-dollar development effort that started in 2003 to prove its effectiveness. The system underwent testing in nearly 200 actual fires identical to those that might occur in aircraft engines. The company even designed and constructed a full fidelity Fire Test Rig to provide a platform for simulating engine-borne fires. FAA testing demonstrated that the PhostrEx fire suppression system is 100 percent effective against all types of fire.

Because the PhostrEx agent is so effective- the total system can be much smaller than a comparable Halon system. On the only currently certified PhostrEx fire suppression system installation on the Eclipse 500- the entire PhostrEx fire suppression system weighs just 0.7 pounds per engine including distribution.

Although designed and tested as an aircraft engine-fire suppression system- the PhostrEx fire suppression system holds promise in many other applications and may eventually find its way into those portable bottles now ubiquitous to business aircraft. Of course- those bottles will be smaller and lighter than the Halon units replaced.
Meanwhile- thousands of other extinguishers populate the fleet- each with its own advantages and limitations. Halon- for example- is not suitable for use on metal fires – like those possible when the magnesium or titanium parts common in many aircraft ignite under high temperatures. At the temperatures under which these metals burn- Halon gas changes into deadly phosgene gas – the stuff of World War I chemical weapons. 

More information from www.phostrex.com

Smoke-filled aircraft
Unfortunately- the most common scenario for aircrews is smoke entering the cabin or cockpit – from an undetermined- non-specific source. It could be smoldering insulation- overheated wiring or an electric motor or circuit heated to smoking point.

The odds of a positive outcome for all concerned improve greatly with the use of so-called ‘smoke hoods’. These devices go over the user’s head and filter out of the smoke deadly chemicals and solids; they can even improve the user’s ability to see through light to moderate smoke.

On-board pressurized aircraft- the typical procedure for dealing with smoke in the aircraft typically involves depressurizing the aircraft and vending what’s inside to the outside. This usually clears the air – but can also fuel the source of the smoke as fresh air enters the same space just vented of smoke-filled air.

Products like the Essex PB&R PILOT and PBE and SCU all offer varying degrees of protection for crew and passengers. The PBE and SCU are FAA approved for aircraft use and the PBE is approved for use on commercial aircraft – which means it would fit the needs of a corporate aircraft that flies under FAR 135.

Alternatively- the ASE30 Fire Escape Hood (manufactured by CY Holding Co.) is another product designed to give users clean- toxin-free air during a smoke or fire situation. This product filters out Hydrogen Cyanide- Carbon Monoxide- Hydrogen Chloride and Acrolein – all toxic to breath – as well as particulate matter- leaving the user with clean air to breath for up to 30 minutes.

They’re portable- self-contained and so affordable that many aircraft operators carry one per seat in the aircraft. But to be effective- it’s critical that passengers receive a briefing on their location and on reading and following the instructions printed on the package. 

More information from Essex PB&R www.smokehoods.com or www.westernsafety.com (for ASE30 Fire Escape Hood)

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is often confused with a heart attack. Although a prior heart attack increases one's risk for SCA- the two are quite different- with distinct risk factors- treatment options and outcomes. Before reviewing the products here- it’s important to understand the difference between the two because the very suddenness (and lethal nature) of SCA makes having treatment nearby so important. SCA can happen to those in the prime of their lives.

A circulation problem of the heart causes a heart attack when one or more of the arteries delivering blood to the heart are blocked. Oxygen in the blood cannot reach the heart muscle- and the heart muscle becomes damaged. You can think of a heart attack as a 'plumbing problem' in the heart.

This damage to the heart muscle can lead to disturbances of the heart's electrical system. And a malfunction of the heart's electrical system may cause dangerously fast heart rhythms that can lead to SCA.

In contrast to a heart attack- SCA is caused by an 'electrical problem' in the heart. It occurs when the heart's lower chambers (ventricles) suddenly develop a rapid- irregular rhythm (ventricular fibrillation) causing the ventricles to quiver rather than contract. The chaotic quivering motion of the ventricles renders the heart an ineffective pump that can no longer supply the body and brain with oxygen.

Within seconds- the victim loses consciousness and has no pulse. Only immediate emergency treatment- such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and external defibrillation- can prevent death from sudden cardiac arrest. Time is key to surviving sudden cardiac arrest- with chances of survival decreasing about 10 percent every minute without defibrillation. The American Heart Association recommends defibrillation within five minutes of collapse or sooner.

Most often the correct action is to shock the heart out of arrest or fibrillation – an arrhythmic or fluttering heart beat that prevents normal blood flow to the body and the heart- itself.

Thanks to modern microprocessor technology- so-called defibrillators are no longer strictly the equipment of emergency room- hospitals and ambulances. Today- they come as compact- battery-powered- fully automated lifesavers.

Models from Defibtech- Medtronic and Phillips are available to the market. Although inexperienced- untrained bystanders have used them successfully- the manufacturers recommend CPR/AED training prior to use.

In essence- these portable automatic defibrillators coach the user through the process using audible and visual prompts. You open the package- remove a pair of pads with embedded electrodes- attach them to the casualty according to the included diagram- the system detects the placement and analyses the heart’s rhythm. From these readings- if there is the need- the system automatically charges and fires a shock to the body that should restore rhythmic heartbeat to the patient. Shock joules varies according to the aircraft manufacturers' recommendations and medical protocols.

Not only do these smart-technology machines detect when the patient suffers fibrillation- they also detect normal rhythm and continue to monitor the patient. If they don’t detect normal rhythm- they recharge and repeat the process.

The Defibtech Lifeline AED- Medtronic Lifepak CR Plus and Phillips HeartStart OnSite Defibrillator all offer a second chance to that sudden heart patient aboard a flight. And all three companies offer training systems or training options to help crew familiarize themselves with the functions of these lifesaving devices. 

More information from Defibtech: www.defibtech.com; Medtronic: www.medtronic-ers.com; Philips: www.medical.philips.com

The 'Crash' Ax
And finally for this round-up- most business turbine aircraft and all airliners come with a tool with the pessimistic name- 'Crash' ax – a hammer-like all-in-one tool designed to cut seat belts- break out windows or shear through metal. This safety tool is arguably the oldest in aviation.

While pilots debate the effectiveness of these tools – great for prying back interior panels- not so great for cutting through metal – for the pilot who has needed one to sever an imprisoning seat belt and shoulder harness- then shatter the cockpit window- there’s seldom any controversy.

The relatively low-tech crash ax usually resides on the flight deck- though some aircraft carry more than one.

As a hedge- carrying a second in the passenger cabin and briefing passengers on its location is never a bad bet.

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