FIRE (Part 2) — Small Plane Survival

If you ever encounter fire in the cockpit, rapid and immediately action is required to save your life. Fire in an aircraft cabin can generate dangerous and poisonous gasses that can incapacitate the occupants. Fire that affects the engine compartment or airframe can weaken the structure, destroy control continuity or worse — cause the aircraft to break up in flight. If you experience an in-flight fire…


  • In VFR conditions: TURN OFF THE MASTER. Many in-flight fires have an electrical ignition source. You must remove power from anything that could cause the fire.
  • In Instrument conditions: Contact ATC, DECLARE AN EMERGENCY and start an immediate descent to the nearest airport.
  • In ALL conditions: If flames are visible outside the cabin, TURN OFF THE FUEL.

Time and task-load permitting, follow your aircraft’s emergency procedures for fire. These usually include closing a fire damper and making preparations to land. If you are lucky and the fire goes out after you turn off the master, navigate to the nearest airport and land. Once you are on the ground, EVACUATE THE PLANE. Once everyone is clear of the plane, and the fire is confirmed out, have maintenance personnel examine the airplane, to look for the source of the smoke or fire.

Caution: Do *NOT* turn the master switch back on in flight.

Why: There are no “miracle cures” for electrical shorts, and if you power the master back on again, you will have a good chance of being faced with an even greater threat from a restarted fire. If the short is severe enough, your master switch contacts could be fused in the ON position, which would make your further attempts to secure power impossible.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Distractions kill pilots – and fire is one heck of a distraction. Fly the airplane. Keep your head and follow your checklists, which will help you to secure the electrical power and fuel. Most important of all, do *NOT* pass up an immediate landing for the sake of a checklist item. In the case of aircraft fire, survival often means getting on the ground as quickly as possible — runway or no runway.

***Last Friday, as iPilot met its weekly deadline, a brand new Cessna 206H suffered an in-flight fire. Initial reports released this week indicate that, along with the fire, the cowling was lost in flight. The pilot made a successful off-airport landing, but did sustain some injuries.

These problems *do* happen … and you don’t need to be flying a big jet or a 30-year-old light plane for it to happen to you.