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Double deck aircraft mockup aids firefighting research

by Jennifer Kalberer
Air Force Research Laboratory

10/3/2007 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN)  -- Responding to operational challenges posed by the new generation of large double deck aircraft, Air Force Research Laboratory engineers here have developed a mockup to research how to best fight fires and save lives in the event of a crash.

The AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate Airbase Technologies Division at Tyndall AFB, working in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration, completed the design, fabrication and installation of the 60-foot, full-scale mockup section of a double deck aircraft here.

The new mockup will be used to conduct research and training related to aircraft rescue and firefighting that cannot be accomplished with the mix of smaller-scale aircraft mockups currently available.

New large aircraft, such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8, present new challenges to current aircraft rescue and firefighting principles, practices, theories, training and equipment. In turn, airport firefighters face greater risks as commercial aviation increases the number of passengers onboard, incorporates the use of composite materials and expands the fuel storage capabilities.

The Airbus A380, for example, almost spans the length of a football field wing to wing, can carry up to 873 passengers and crew, and can fly 8,000 nautical miles -- enough to fly non-stop from Chicago to Sydney -- using 82,000 gallons of fuel.

In 2005, FAA officials requested AFRL members design and build a double-deck aircraft mockup to act as the focal point for their fire research programs, said Virgil Carr, the Fire Research program manager for AFRL's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.

"The result is a new large aircraft mockup that is constructed of one-quarter inch plate steel, erected on 12-inch diameter support legs," he said.

The fuselage section of the new mockup measures more than 27 feet in diameter and is reinforced with gussets to keep the oval design from warping because of the intense heat generated from the hydrocarbon fuel fires. The fuselage encompasses the cargo, main and upper passenger decks plus the first three passenger doors directly behind the cockpit. Each 10-foot section is joined with a specially designed spacer that allows the steel to flex in the horizontal direction, minimizing deformation.

The wing is designed to represent the first 10 feet of the leading edge and possesses three-dimensional characteristics for realistic firefighting. A 20-foot section of the inner engine nacelle is suspended from the wing.

Plans are already in the works to design an interior engine capable of simulating spray fuel fires typical of those encountered in a real aircraft, Mr. Carr said. A set of three plate steel, high temperature evacuation slides has been fabricated and can be used on either the wet side (for live fire evaluations) or on the dry side (for vehicle and other non-fire evaluations). The entire mockup is instrumented with more than 75 thermocouples to monitor the thermal loading of the mockup, as well as, provide critical data on temperature and fire behavior.

In the spring of 2007, the new large aircraft mockup was dedicated into service by military and civilian dignitaries, signifying the start of a new era of ARFF research. More than 40 guests from the FAA, Air Force, aircraft industry and international aircraft rescue and firefighting community attended the one-day event that included a tour of the mockup and demonstrations of new firefighting equipment.

Currently, the FAA has plans to evaluate a 65-foot high reach extendable turret for upper deck fire fighting and to investigate the complexities of composites in aircraft fires, and test interior intervention vehicles for firefighter entry and passenger egress during emergencies.

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