What should you do if you find yourself in a fire and/or smoke-related nightmare? The FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook has some good suggestions. The first step is to determine what kind of fire you are dealing with. The two major categories are engine and electrical fires.
Engine fires are generally indicated by smoke or flames coming from the cowling, although sometimes they are not visible from the cockpit. Another sign can be discoloration or bubbling of the cowling. By the time any of these signs are visible, the fire is usually well developed. You should always refer to the manufacturer’s procedures first, but here are some general guidelines:
- Mixture — Idle Cutoff
- Fuel Selector — OFF
- Ignition — ON
- Ventilate Cabin (unless fire worsens or reignites)
Do not attempt to restart the engine. Also some manufacturers will advise that you turn off the master switch while others may not. This will disable radios, transponders, etc., that could be useful in getting emergency assistance. But it also could be helpful in extinguishing the blaze.
This potential conflict, however, does not apply to electrical fires. Electrical fires can usually be distinguished by the distinct odor of burning insulation. Your specific aircraft’s procedures are the key, but in general, steps to follow if an electrical fire is detected include:
- Attempt to identify the faulty circuit via the circuit breaker panel and other electrical systems.
If that fails, and flight conditions permit:
- Turn battery master — OFF
- Turn alternator/generator — OFF
If electrical power is necessary and you want to attempt to restore power, you should:
- Turn all electrical switches — OFF
- Turn the master back — ON
- Individually turn each switch back ON while waiting a short time in between to check for signs of a fire.
This procedure assumes that the electrical fire doesn’t cause an engine fire, which can of course happen when it compromises a fuel or oil line.
While dealing with any kind of fire you will need to find a landing site, since there’s no way to tell how much damage the fire has caused or if it is fully extinguished.
CO is a less visible threat, but all the more dangerous due to its stealthy nature. Should you experience the symptoms of CO poisoning, or get an alert from a detector, you should take immediate action. Turn off the heater (if on), open fresh air vents and windows, and use supplemental oxygen if equipped. Once those actions are complete, land as soon as possible.