Hognose Goes Up In Smoke To Prove A Point
by Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien
Walking through NBAA, you can encounter almost anything. So when I saw some kind of sawn-off jet cockpit, I didn't think anything of it. Three hot young ladies in 1960s stewardess suits -- check. Forty-foot tiltrotor mockup -- check. Order sheet for specing out an Airbus 380 bizjet -- check. Sawn-off jet pit. Check. Yawn. Until the video playing on a screen attached to it caught my eye.
The video showed a similar unit full of smoke, and said that this company's gadget could let a pilot save a plane despite a "continuous smoke event" -- one in which the pilot can't clear the smoke out of the aircraft. The system in question was called the EVAS -- Emergency Vision Assurance System -- an acronym that spells "SAVE" backwards. EVAS is developed by the VisionSafe Corporation of Hawaii, but marketed by EVAS Worldwide of New Jersey.
The potential of the EVAS, assuming it works, is clear. A number of transport aircraft have crashed in circumstances suggesting that smoke in the cockpit was a factor. Masks and hoods can protect the pilots from inhalation of carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes; but even with a mask on, opaque smoke can make it impossible to fly the plane to a safe emergency landing.
And airplane-fire smoke is a nasty variety, often produced by electrical fires and swirling, black, and opaque. It's full of particulate matter. The simulator, of course, uses a non-toxic "smoke" -- the "fog" used in discos, apparently -- and it's not quite as opaque as the smoke that would come from an inflight fire.
"But it will be dark enough," EVAS Mobile Demonstration Technician Ryan Randolph promised, waving me into the left seat. I knew I had to try it, but I was skeptical. It looked a little like a gimmick. But I was willing to give it a chance, so I stepped into the cockpit and masked up. Randolph closed the door behind me.
In a real fire or inflight smoke situation, the first action the pilots take should be to mask up. Long before flame from a fire threatens a flight crew, toxins in the smoke would render them unconscious -- and an unconscious crew makes for poor CRM and aeronautical decision-making.
The EVAS is normally contained in a package behind the crew seats. It can be fixed to the seat by STC, or carried on by the pilots and simply stowed back there, depending on application; the container is a grey-black box about the size and heft of a ream of paper.
Each EVAS is individually fitted to a type, and they differ left from right seats; each pilot uses the one from behind his own seat. Reacting to smoke in the cockpit, pilots, once masked, would remove the EVAS from its container, and place it on the glare shield. Out of its "shell," the EVAS is a white plastic baglike device, with a tab labeled PULL TO ACTIVATE on the top. Following that simple instruction inflates the unit.
The EVAS contains a battery, fan, and filter. It sucks in polluted air, filters it, and stuffs it into an air bag made mostly of clear plastic. Excess air vents back into the cockpit. According to information from EVAS Worldwide, the unit inflates in 15-20 seconds.
The air bag butts up against the windshield on one side, and the pilot places the faceplate of his oxygen mask up against the other.
In the demonstrator, the EVAS is already deployed (once one is deployed, even for training, only the manufacturer can repack it properly).
Inside the cockpit, a little smoke boiled out from under the copilot's panel. Soon it was a lot of smoke. Soon I couldn't see the copilot's panel. Or his seat. Or, for that matter, my hand in front of my face.
I pressed the faceplate of the oxygen mask to the EVAS and let out a yelp of surprise. "I can see!" It wasn't quite the revelation of the blind boy in Tommy, but my skepticism parted like, well, the EVAS parted the fog.
I could see the Sacred Six. I could see out the windscreen. I couldn't see throttles, engine instruments, or flap and gear indicators, all things you like to set eyes on in your landing checklist. I couldn't see nav instruments, apart from the gyrocompass. But I could see enough to fly the plane visually or by instruments, to follow vectors, and to get the machine on the ground.
Which is a heck of a lot more that was possible without the EVAS.
Demonstration over, they vented some of the fog and let me out. A fireman quickly arrived to see what the smoke rising from the simulator was about; he was relieved that in this one case, where there was smoke, there was no fire.
EVAS Worldwide's Randolph reluctantly entered the gas chamber and did a turn so I could snap more photos. He'd done it enough that the novelty was gone. After I told the other guys about it, Rob Finfrock went down and tried it. EVAS Worldwide brings this gadget to every NBAA (it's the only show they attend; otherwise, the unit is used for training) every year.
In some ways the EVAS still seems like a gimmick. It has its field of view limitations, as noted above. I think that donning the mask and deploying the EVAS by touch in a smoky cockpit would be very difficult under the pressure of an inflight emergency. And when you get on the ground, it doesn't help you out of the plane. But I can't deny that it did what it's advertised to do.
Would it have changed the outcome of Swissair Flight 111? The company says, maybe, and a read of the transcript (available here) indicates, "maybe" may be as much as we can tell. It would have helped, it would have given them a fighting chance when an entertainment system malfunctioned. Instead, the plane plunged into the sea off Halifax, taking the airline, ultimately, to the bottom with its doomed passengers and crew.
Factory reps were quick to admit the EVAS's limitations. In the ValuJet crash in the Everglades, for instance, the fire was so hot that control continuity was lost. But our toolbox for the terrifying event of inflight fire is drearily empty, and so this tool ought to be welcomed.
As a piece of STC'd safety equipment, it's not outrageously expensive for the bizjet market, starting at about $14,000 a seat. And EVAS Worldwide has an impressive set of operators that have adopted EVAS for some of all of their fleets -- like AIG Aviation, the FAA, NetJets, the RAAF, and Xerox, to name a few (a complete list is on the website).
EVAS is STC'd in scores, maybe hundreds, of types, from the 767 on down, and the company is always working on more installations.
Training is essential to the proper use of the EVAS (remember, the one in the NBAA demonstrator was already deployed). Training is available from EVAS Worldwide, from FlightSafety in cooperation with EVAS Worldwide, or through a self-training syllabus for 121 and 135 operations and flight departments (which can be downloaded from the website).
You'll be able to experience the EVAS demonstrator at NBAA 2006, next September. Nose and Rob give it two thumbs up.
http://www.aero-news.net/news/commbus.cfm?ContentBlockI...df0f3e2992&Dynamic=1This message has been edited. Last edited by: BF,
Here is a brief history of EVAS at the now defunct airline, swissair.
In 1993, swissair tested EVAS for use on their airliners, due to several incidents of smoke in the cockpit events. In a letter written in 1993, swissair's retired chief safety pilot, Otto Rentsch, praised EVAS and stated the reasons he felt the airline didn't purchase it.
PHONE/FAX NO: 0041 55 27 62 36
NO. OF PAGES: 2
DATE: October 22, 1993
TO: Bertil Werjefelt, President Visionsafe Corporation
You have asked me to formally answer the question, "Has the record shown that heavy, dense and continuous smoke has caused the loss of otherwise flyable commercial aircraft?" The answer is "Yes". In fact, it is probably relatively common knowledge in the Aviation Safety and Accident Investigation Sectors of the industry,
As you know, I recently retired as Head of Safety for Swissair, after working for the company for 40 years. I am now an international aviation consultant on safety matters and am still very much involved in aviation safety activities world-wide.
As we are both well aware, Swissair lost a CV 990 on the 21st February 1970 just outside of Zurich. There were 47 fatalities. This is one of the so-called classic accidents, where loss of pilot vision because of dense continuous smoke in the cockpit led to loss of control of the aircraft and the crash. This is well documented in the accident record as well as the recorded conversations between the aircraft and the controllers on the ground. The record clearly shows the aircraft was flyable but ultimately crashed because the pilots couldn't see their flight instruments, which are so critical to maintaining safe flight.
This accident and other cockpit smoke incidents prompted me to encourage Swissair to remedy this safety problem when we learned there was a solution (EVAS). As I recall, many Swissair staff were involved in the testing and evaluation of EVAS, which took about two years. I personally attended several simulator tests where the cockpit was filled with very dense smoke and witnessed our pilots, as well as SAS pilots, accomplishing successful landings, which would have been impossible without EVAS.
I know that it was a decision of Swissair to acquire EVAS for all its aircraft and that SAS was also going to do so, beginning with its 767 fleet. I an also aware that Swissair and SAS have put the actual implementation of EVAS in temporary abeyance. I suspect, to some degree, the recent economic hardships and restructuring of the airline to merge with others may be part of the reason. We were just reminded of the need to correct this serious safety problem as soon as possible. Last week a Swissair MD-81 made an emergency landing at Munich airport due to extreme smoke in the cockpit. The smoke was caused by an electrical cable bundle on fire in the cockpit.
The situation was so serious that the pilots ware unable to read the approach chart and the instruments. For example, the speed indication was estimated according to an approximate position of the needle. The Approach Center personnel had to provide assistance to the pilots on frequencies and directions. This level of safety is unquestionably unacceptable. Pilots must be able to see so they can safely control and land their aircraft.
Having talked to the Chief of Accident investigation at the Swiss Department of Transportation, it clear that skilful piloting and lots of luck was the only difference between the successful emergency landing, versus a catastrophe. A very slight increase in smoke intensity would probably have totally blinded the pilots and might have changed the outcome. (There were 98 passengers and 7 crew on board). The need to ensure pilot vision in such emergencies is very clear. Hopefully the Authorities (and the Airlines) will now act quickly.
Also, if my memory serves me right, the American NTSB issued a safety recommendation about 10 years ago in connection with a DC-9 (or MD 80/81?) smoke accident in Cincinnati where there was the same type of situation with severe smoke in the cockpit and the pilots had serious difficulties seeing their instruments. (There was also a similar one in Norway 4 or 5 years ago with a DC-9 or MD-80). In spite of the NTSB recommendation it is obvious that the safety problem still persists.
With further regard to your original question, I am also aware that there have been several other fatal smoke accidents world-wide, many of which the Authorities know and/or suspect were caused by loss of pilot vision. However, to my knowledge, few, if any, are as well documented at the Swissair accident of 1970.
I trust the foregoing answers your question.
Very truly yours
Following the sr111 tragedy, swissair's spokesperson, Beatrice Tschanz made the following comments in an article published in Switzerland. True to form, swissair was far more concerned with their image following the tragedy, rather than the truth. Of course all the whitewashing in the world didn't save the airline from it's inevitable demise. Here is a translation of the article:
Could the Swissair crash near Halifax have been prevented?
It's a fact that in the early 90s the airline tested a clear-vision airbag. This device provides pilots clear vision on their instruments with smoke in the cockpit. A Lufthansa pilot said: "when the instruments are no longer visible, the aircraft gets out of control." Exactly this circumstance could have played a vital role in the Swissair crash. What Swissair did not reveal thus far: in the early 90s the airline tested a transparent airbag providing optical contact with the flight instruments. SAir spokeswoman Beatrice Tschanz confirms this: "according to our technical pilot Ruedi Bornhaus the system didn't prove to be adequate." Reason: the system heavily restricts the pilots' movements. The airline resists statements as if Swissair was also concerned about the expenditure involved - about 20,000 Swiss) Francs per aircraft. Tschanz: "purchasing an aircraft is a matter of billions. Such amounts play no role in this." Swissair confirms that the airline closely monitors the further development of the airbag.
Here's something that Mark posted about EVAS on our old site, in 2000.
It's hard to know why Swissair made some of the
decisions they did, but there is certainly a recognizable pattern here. A lot of great companies have fallen when they lost focus on their primary mission. The story we heard about EVAS was that it didn't get done during a
change of management ... perhaps because it didn't fit into somebody's budget. Corporations can certainly be penny wise and pound foolish at times. We know there were problems with the MD11. Swissair was quite aware of them, but chose to take no action, again during a
time when the company's top management was enamoured with acquisition, expansion and diversification. Management talent is among the scarcest of the resources needed to run a business effectively. When it is distracted, the company's main mission suffers. Sometimes
it's worst in the best companies ... when they fall victim to their own hubris. It's easy to imagine a great airline getting tangled in it's own shorts when it tried to run hotels and food service, not to mention gobbling up other carriers who, lets face it, were in
trouble in the first place or they wouldn't have been acquisition targets. In some businesses, the consequences might be no worse than a few quarters of missed earnings targets. In the airline business, they can be
Air Safety: Cockpit Smoke Concerns
Dec. 12, 2005 issue - The government spends a lot of time and money protecting America's air passengers from terrorist attacks and water landings. But the Federal Aviation Administration has been less attentive to a flying danger that occurs far more often: smoke in the cockpit, which can be caused by electrical failures, fluid leaks and cargo fires. Forced landings from smoke or fumes happen nearly once a day on average. But pilots still lack an effective way of dealing with fires and smoke-flooded cockpits, which were blamed in the crashes of ValuJet 592 and Swissair 111 in recent years. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had a glimpse of the problem Nov. 26 when his Gulfstream made an emergency landing in Nashville because of mysterious fumes. The FAA has begun to address the issue, circulating advisories on onboard fires to airlines; on Nov. 23 it proposed a new rule to keep fuel tanks safe. But a senior Bush administration official with oversight over transportation issues, who was granted anonymity because he didn't want to be quoted criticizing the FAA, says, "They need to become more aggressive given the number of incidents." One airline, JetBlue, has voluntarily adopted an inexpensive device called EVAS (Enhanced Vision Assurance System), a vinyl tube that lets a pilot see the window and instruments. The FAA requires it on its own planes. Why not for the public? FAA spokesman Greg Martin says that, as Card's situation shows, smoke incidents are usually resolved safely because pilots are trained to land before they get out of hand.
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