Fire protection and detection systems are crucial in maintaining the safety of an aircraft and its passengers. These systems are designed to monitor conditions that could potentially lead to a fire within a vehicle, or within flight-critical components, such as the engines and hydraulic systems. Fire protection and detection systems include many components such as smoke detectors, heat sensors, and others.
In order to signal fires or overheating, detectors are used to monitor several different aircraft areas and components. There are many different types of detectors including overheat, rate-of-temperature-rise, flame, and combustible mixture detectors. There are two different types of fire detectors: the thermocouple, and a bimetallic switch.
A thermocouple sensor is comprised of two separate materials which will release a small voltage when it senses a rise in temperature. The thermocouple sensor is also present in engine management systems and has an indicator that is located in the cockpit. The bimetallic switch is similar in that it also contains two separate materials; however, it measures the expansion rate of the materials in which a rise in temperature causes. It deforms the metal arm which inevitably triggers the detection switch.
Fire suppression systems use both passive and active methods to control and eliminate fires. Passive methods typically involve the use of noncombustible materials, separation by routing, compartmentalization, isolation, proper ventilation, and drainage. The active methods correspond to fire detection and extinguishing systems. Transport aircraft are required to carry a minimum number of portable fire extinguishers, correlating to the number of passengers on board. Common places you may find a fire extinguisher include the cockpit, cabin, cargo hold area, restrooms, and next to the engines.
There are four different aircraft fire classifications: class A, B, C, and D. Class A represents fires involving any sort of combustible material such as rubber, plastics, cloth, paper, or wood. Class B fires involve flammable liquids, such as petroleum, oils, grease, tars, lacquers, solvents, and alcohol. Class C fires involve electrical equipment. Class D fires include combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, and lithium.
Fire detection sensors are located in many high-activity areas on aircraft. Maintenance of these systems can be tricky— being placed in a high traffic area leaves plenty of opportunities for them to get damaged. Constant inspection and attention are required to ensure the proper functioning of these systems. A fully functional fire detector is key in the prevention of an emergency.
Leaking fuel, hydraulic liquid spillage, and engine gas can all be potential sources of fire on an aircraft. Corrective action should be taken immediately to circumvent the outbreak of flames. Oxygen system equipment must also be kept free from oils, grease, or any liquid that can increase the chance of combustion. Be sure to always mark these systems so that they cannot be mistaken for cylinders containing air or nitrogen.
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