Aircraft Engine Fire Extinguishing System

Commuter aircraft certificated under 14 CFR part 23 are required to have, at a minimum, a one-shot fire extinguishing system. All transport category aircraft certificated under 14 CFR part 25 are required to have two discharges, each of which produces adequate agent concentration. An individual one-shot system may be used for APUs, fuel burning heaters, and other combustion equipment. For each “other” designated fire zone, two discharges (two-shot system) must be provided, each of which produces adequate agent concentration. [Figure 1]

Aircraft Engine Fire Protection System
Figure 1. Typical fire extinguishing system

Fire Extinguishing Agents

The fixed fire extinguisher systems used in most engine fire protection systems are designed to dilute the atmosphere with an inert agent that does not support combustion. Many systems use perforated tubing or discharge nozzles to distribute the extinguishing agent. High rate of discharge (HRD) systems use open-end tubes to deliver a quantity of extinguishing agent in 1 to 2 seconds. The most common extinguishing agent still used today is Halon 1301 because of its effective firefighting capability and relatively low toxicity (U.L. classification Group 61). Noncorrosive, Halon 1301 does not affect the material it contacts and requires no clean-up when discharged. Halon 1301 is the current extinguishing agent for commercial aircraft, but a replacement is under development. Because Halon 1301 depletes the ozone layer only recycled Halon 1301 is currently available. Halon 1301 is used until a suitable replacement is developed. Some military aircraft use HCL-125, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is testing for use in commercial aircraft.

Turbine Engine Ground Fire Protection

On many aircraft, means are usually provided for rapid access to the compressor, tailpipe, or burner compartments. Many aircraft systems are equipped with spring-loaded or pop-out access doors in the skin of the various compartments. Internal engine tailpipe fires that take place during engine shutdown or false starts can be blown out by motoring the engine with the starter. A running engine can be accelerated to rated speed to achieve the same result. If such a fire persists, a fire extinguishing agent can be directed into the tailpipe. It should be remembered that excessive use of CO2, or other agents that have a cooling effect, can shrink the turbine housing on the turbine and cause the engine to disintegrate.


Fire extinguisher containers (HRD bottles) store a liquid halogenated extinguishing agent and pressurized gas (typically nitrogen) normally manufactured from stainless steel. Depending upon design considerations, alternate materials are available including titanium. Containers are also available in a wide range of capacities. Most aircraft containers are spherical in design, which provides the lightest weight possible. However, cylindrical shapes are available where space limitations are a factor. Each container incorporates a temperature/pressure sensitive safety relief diaphragm that prevents container pressure from exceeding container test pressure in the event of exposure to excessive temperatures. [Figure 2]

Aircraft Engine Fire Protection System
Figure 2. Fire extinguisher containers (HRD bottles)

Discharge Valves

Discharge valves are installed on the containers. A cartridge (squib) and frangible disk type valve are installed in the outlet of the discharge valve assembly. Special assemblies having solenoid-operated or manually-operated seat type valves are also available. Two types of cartridge disk-release techniques are used. Standard release type uses a slug driven by explosive energy to rupture a segmented closure disk. For high temperature or hermetically sealed units, a direct explosive impact type cartridge is used, which applies fragmentation impact to rupture a prestressed corrosion-resistant steel diaphragm. Most containers use conventional metallic gasket seals that facilitate refurbishment following discharge. [Figure 3]

Aircraft Engine Fire Protection System
Figure 3. Discharge valve and cartridge (squib)

Pressure Indication

A wide range of diagnostics are utilized to verify the fire extinguisher agent charge status. A simple visually indicated gauge is available, typically a vibration-resistant helical bourdon-type indicator. [see Figure 2]

A combination gauge switch visually indicates actual container pressure and also provides an electrical signal if container pressure is lost, precluding the need for discharge indicators. A ground checkable diaphragm-type low-pressure switch is commonly used on hermetically sealed containers. The Kidde system also has a temperature compensated pressure switch that tracks the container pressure variations with temperatures by using a hermetically sealed reference chamber.

Two-Way Check Valve

A complete line of two-way check valves is available, manufactured from either lightweight aluminum or steel. These valves are required in a two-shot system to prevent the agent in a reserve container from backing up into the previous emptied main container. Valves are supplied with either MS-33514 or MS-33656 fitting configurations.

Discharge Indicators

Discharge indicators provide immediate visual evidence of container discharge on fire extinguishing systems. Two kinds of indicators can be furnished: thermal and discharge. Both types are designed for aircraft and skin mounting. [Figure 4]

Aircraft Engine Fire Protection System
Figure 4. Discharge indicators

Thermal Discharge Indicator (Red Disk)

The thermal discharge indicator is connected to the fire container relief fitting and ejects a red disk to show when container contents have dumped overboard due to excessive heat. The agent discharges through the opening created when the disk blows out. This gives the flight and maintenance crews an indication that the fire extinguisher container needs to be replaced before the next flight.

Yellow Disk Discharge Indicator

If the flight crew activates the fire extinguisher system, a yellow disk is ejected from the skin of the aircraft fuselage. This is an indication for the maintenance crew that the fire extinguishing system was activated by the flight crew, and that the fire extinguishing container needs to be replaced before the next flight.

Fire Switch

Fire switches are typically installed on the center overhead panel or center console in the flight deck. [Figure 5] When the fire switch is activated, the following happens: the engine stops because the fuel control shuts off, the engine is isolated from the aircraft systems, and the fire extinguishing system is activated. Some aircraft use fire switches that need to be pulled and turned to activate the system, while others use a push-type switch with a guard. To prevent accidental activation of the fire switch, a lock is installed that releases the fire switch only when a fire has been detected. This lock can be manually released by the flight crew if the fire detection system malfunctions. [Figure 6]

Aircraft Engine Fire Protection System
Figure 5. Engine fire switches

Aircraft Engine Fire Protection System
Figure 6. Engine fire switch operation

Warning Systems

Visible and audible warning systems are installed in the cockpit to alert the flight crew. A horn sounds and one or several warning lights illuminate to alert the flight crew that an engine fire has been detected. These indications stop when the fire is extinguished.