December 2008 Issue

Fire Extinguishers: Halon is Worth the Cost

Forget consumer-grade stuff: A portable Halon extinguisher is the way to go, and products from H3R Aviation lead the market.

In in-flight fire is most pilots’ greatest fear, surpassing even a mid-air collision. Although relatively rare, the unique combination of combustible materials and ignition sources available in the typical personal airplane means an in-flight fire must be dealt with quickly and decisively. Doing so usually means disabling systems to deprive the fire of its fuel or ignition sources and employing a fire extinguisher to smother it. A quick landing, even if off-airport, may be necessary. There are lots of extinguishers on the market, products both designed for aviation use and those marketed as "all-purpose" units. How do they differ? And—most important—how do they work on the materials found in a typical aircraft fire? To find out, we gathered up current examples of aviation-specific and all-purpose extinguishers, lit a few fires and evaluated the results. All the extinguishers we tested thwarted our efforts at arson. But we were surprised at how quickly we used up extinguishing agent. and the premium we had to pay for an extinguisher designed for the cockpit. We also discovered, however, that there are real differences between household, automotive and aviation-grade extinguishers. Three things must exist for any fire to start: An ignition source, fuel (for the fire, not 100LL) and oxygen. These three items make the "fire triangle." Remove any one of them and the fire either doesn’t start or is extinguished. Our cockpits feature an abundance of materials capable of sustaining a fire. Carpeting, insulation, upholstery and paper charts are present in almost every airplane.

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