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FAA Airport Technology R&D Branch Researching New Technologies to Benefit ARFF Firefighters

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Technology Research and Development Branch is involved in a wide variety of research program areas at its Technical Center, including those dealing with aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) technologies, composite material firefighting, and new large aircraft firefighting. And, it’s the new technologies area that has been getting a lot of R&D attention lately.

Research and Development efforts at the Technical Center are focusing on specific efforts that might be proposed as possible modifications to the next revision of NFPA 414, Standard for Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Vehicles. Areas being researched include forward looking infrared (FLIR) systems, compressed air foam systems (CAFS) for large ARFF vehicles, refinements to high-reach extendable turret (HRET) devices, and the addition of sensors to assist firefighters in such areas as proper positioning of a piercing nozzle.

Keith Bagot, program manager for the FAA’s ARFF Research Program, says while the center’s program deals with all aspects of emergency response for airport aircraft emergencies, often the heavy work comes in technology and response dealing with ARFF tactics. The Center’s research efforts produce data that go into technical reports that the Center submits to Washington, D.C., for inclusion in FAA Advisory Circulars.

Recent Technical Center research has focused on FLIR camera systems, which have been used on ARFF vehicles for a number of years, yet have not moved forward with many improvements. The Technical Center is looking at increasing the resolution of FLIR cameras, because current models often get excessive heat blooming. The tradeoff, Bagot points out, is that an increase in resolution would require better optics and functionality for improved image processing.

The FAA is increasing the performance requirements on the functionality of FLIR cameras when used in ARFF emergency response in an upcoming change to the Advisory Circular for Driver’s Enhanced Vision Systems. The large, open areas of an airfield can make navigation in heavy fog situations extremely difficult, it notes, so improved FLIR systems are critical to navigating ARFF rigs in inclement weather.

Another technology the Technical Center is looking at is CAFS for large ARFF vehicles, similar to those kinds of CAFS and Class A foam systems used in structural firefighting and in hand line applications. Bagot says the Technical Center is considering a selectable system, essentially defining what type of foam expansion is required, and what type of discharge functionality is needed. He estimates that another year of research is needed before the Technical Center has some recommendations.

Another area the Technical Center is looking to make changes to current requirements is in the HRET area. The Center has been investigating potential applications for refining operations in the cab, and also to give the operator better visual indication of how much boom extension is out, and whether or not the piercing nozzle can still reach the aircraft.

The FAA Technical Center wants to give an ARFF operator a better understanding of the angle of the penetrating device positioned at the aircraft. It’s considering adding proximity sensors at the tip of the boom to determine if the piercing nozzle is oriented properly to the aircraft’s curved surface in order to make a successful pierce. Bagot points out that the Technical Center has tried using lasers, but the particular lasers evaluated had issues in the daytime where the laser’s target point was difficult to see in high ambient light conditions.

The Technical Center also is looking into trying to find an environmentally friendly extinguishing agent beyond the C-6 AFFF carbon chain product that was developed from the prior C-8 carbon chain AFFF. Bagot estimates that the research is likely a couple of years away from identifying a more environmentally sensitive product than C-6, but its main concern is to still have the best performance of the product, yet not reduce the level of safety.

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