Watching a smoke in the cockpit demonstration at Banyan Air Service where a mock cockpit is quickly consumed with smoke sent a chill down my spine. My first thought went to when I was 16 years old and an electrical fire behind the dashboard of my car instantly filled the car with smoke. I could not see my hand in front of my face let alone out the window. I basically slammed on the brakes and hoped the car was pointed straight down the road. I was fortunate there were no other vehicles behind or next to me because I jumped out of the car immediately when it stopped without any regard.
I found out later that the fire was caused by a single wire that had ignited and burned out in probably less than a single second — although the smoke took several minutes to completely air out. It caused no damage to anything other than the wire itself but still managed to completely block my vision.
Since becoming a pilot in 1990 I have often thought what it might be like if the same thing happened while flying. I think it’s safe to say that the “slamming on the brakes and jumping out” option is not applicable (no, I do not carry a parachute with me).
To my surprise, a quick search on Google revealed that there are quite a few instances of smoke in the cockpit each year. For the planes with a smoke evacuation system, if the fire is extinguished, the smoke was able to be cleared. However, for many with a lingering or prolonged fire or continuouse smoke, the evacuation system was not able to keep up with the smoke being produced. These situations usually proved to have disastrous consequences.
Emergency Vision Assurance System (EVAS)
EVAS is a self-contained system that includes a battery powered blower which draws smoky air in through a filter, filtering out the visible particles, and out to a flexible air duct which is connected to an inflatable transparent envelope, called the Inflatable Vision Unit (IVU).
VisionSafe’s Principles of Operation:
- Displaces all smoke in the vision path regardless of density.
- Provides clear vision of basic instruments and flight path.
- Allows for use of emergency checklists, navigation charts, etc.
- Recommended by the FAA and other aviation authorities.
With EVAS, pilots are able to see the flight path and vital instruments as well as read approach plates and emergency procedures. The ability to perform these functions in an environment of continuous smoke will make a critical difference to safety.
As is the norm for most aviation products, the EVAS system isn’t cheap – $17,000 per pilot position. I read an article in AOPA on EVAS that raves at how well it works in a smoke-filled cockpit.
It stated, “Even in a mock cockpit full of theatrical smoke thick enough to obscure a hand held an inch or so in front of a facemask, pressing that same protective mask against the EVAS window revealed the world outside, in detail.”
The article also includes a statement from a pilot who recently had to perform an emergency landing in water due to smoke in the cockpit. He was able to vent enough smoke from his Baron to see the water just well enough to ditch. “However, if I was over land, this device could have been the difference between life and death.”
As well as EVAS performed and the potential consequences for not having one installed in a smoke in the cockpit situation, the writer still found himself at odds when weighing the cost/value of the system.
For those of you that can say money is no object – this is a no-brainer. For the rest of us, all I can say is that it’s worth doing some homework. I personally know of insurance products and policies I currently pay or have paid more for that have no direct bearing on whether I live or die. If you don’t where to begin, here’s a good place to start.
If you have any comments or have ever been in a smoke in the cockpit situation, please share them with us.