ENGINE FIRE IN FLIGHT

Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner (Mastery Flight Training Inc.)

More wise advice from Thomas:

“QUESTION: You note smoke entering the cabin from the front of your single-engine airplane, or see flames streaming back from a nacelle in a twin. What do you do?
If you hesitate to answer, then you’re a
normal human being. If this happens to you, you will be startled. Next, you’ll try to dismiss what you see - you’ll be in denial. Then, only then, will you decide you need to act.

So, I’ll ask you again: In the airplane you most recently flew, you see smoke entering the cabin, or flames blowing from around and behind an engine. Now that you’ve overcome the startle response and denial, what do you do? It’s easy to say you’ll perform the Engine Fire in Flight checklist. That is indeed the correct thing to do. It’s harder to prove you are actually ready to do so under the extreme stress of an engine fire in flight. It’s something you need to understand and practice to be ready to execute.

Think about your priorities when faced with an engine fire in flight:
  1. “Fly the airplane” through the entire event.
  2. Stop or limit the fire, by eliminating or isolating those things most likely to burn.
  3. Prevent/minimize smoke in the cockpit, to preserve visibility and avoid pilot incapacitation.
  4. Get the airplane on the ground as soon as possible.
Every Engine Fire in Flight checklist addresses these priorities in its type-specific way. For example, in a carburetted single-engine aircraft such as a Cessna 172 or PA28:
  1. Mixture – IDLE CUT-OFF (This stops fuel from getting beyond the carburettor in the engine compartment, to limit what will burn)
  2. Fuel Selector Valve – OFF (This stops fuel from getting forward of the firewall, further inhibiting the fire)
  3. Master Switch – OFF (Some fires may be sparked by electricity, or an electrical fire might be mistaken to be an engine fire. This helps limit these possibilities)
  4. Cabin Heat and Air – OFF (except overhead vents). It may not seem obvious, but this is to close off airflow and therefore smoke from the engine area into the cabin, for example via the heating system. Overheat vents remain open to provide fresh air into the cabin that should be above and out of the smoke stream.
  5. Airspeed – 100 KIAS (if fire is not extinguished, increase glide speed to find an airspeed which will provide an incombustible mixture. In the old vernacular, this “blows out the fire”)
  6. Forced Landing – EXECUTE (as described in Emergency Landing Without Power)  
If the fire goes out, do not attempt to restart the engine. This may risk restarting the fire. Just get it on the ground!  

If the fire does not go out,
you need to get on the ground right now. An engine fire that will not go out is probably the primary reason you may have to execute an emergency descent from any altitude, in a single-engine aircraft or a twin. 

So, “Emergency Descent” and “Landing Without Power” are more emergency procedures you need to commit to memory, and practice.

You already have one of the best cockpit procedures trainers around: the aircraft itself:
  • On the ground, sit in your aircraft, strap in with your equipment in place (handhelds clipped in, kneeboard clipped on, iPad on your laps, etc.) so mimic the mobility and range of motion issues you face in normal flight, then complete the member steps of the Engine Fire in Flight checklist for the aircraft type.
  • Without starting the engine(s) or touching a retractable landing gear switch, go through the physical process of actually moving controls and switches to develop muscle memory and experiment with any contortions necessary to accomplish checklist steps while buckled in with all the flight gear you’d normally have in the way.
  • After your practice is complete, use the Shutdown checklist to ensure everything is reset and ready for the next flight.
  • In routine cruise flightoccasionally quiz yourself on the Engine Fire in Flight procedure…without actually shutting anything off, of course!
There’s little that scares pilots more than the thought of a fire in flight. There is a specific procedure, however, which:           
  •       stops or limits the fire
  •       prevents or minimises smoke contamination in the cockpit
  •      prompts you to transition to Emergency Descent, Best Glide or Single-Engine Operation, as required to get your passengers and you on the ground. 

Remember those goals, and it will be easy to memorise the type-specific procedure that gives the best chance of survival, for each aircraft type you fly.

Once you have the fire under control, if that’s possible, you must then deal with the situation you’ve placed yourself in: an engine-out glide in a single-engine airplane, or a one-engine approach and landing in a now-crippled twin.

An engine fire in flight is a rare occurrence. It is one of the scariest, most distracting, and potentially lethal things that can happen in an aircraft. This is one procedure, unlikely though it may be, that
you need to know and have practiced enough so that, once you detect the need to act, you know exactly what to do without having to think about it.


FLY SAFE!
Tony Birth