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Engine Fire

You're on Fire! — OK. We'll Just Taxi to the Ramp

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The Piper PA-31 was on a 20-mile final when the turbocharger on the right engine failed. The pilot continued inbound for an uneventful landing at the Sioux Lookout airport.

As the aircraft slowed to taxi speed on the runway, the alert Flight Service Specialist saw large amounts of smoke coming from the right engine. He immediately alerted the pilot. Undaunted, the pilot acknowledged and advised that he would continue to taxi and park the aircraft. (Access to the parking ramp at Sioux Lookout is via a steep up-hill taxiway. It requires significant engine power to climb up).

By the time the aircraft was parked and the pilot was shutting down, flames were visible beneath the engine nacelle and lower wing. The specialist once again alerted the pilot. But by now, available fire extinguishers could not bring the fire under control.

Firefighters from town were called and, after the expected delay involved in their highspeed drive from town, finally put the fire out.

As expected, the fire source was traced to oil leaking from the failed turbocharger. It's hard to believe, but, despite how long the fire was evident, the insulation blanket around the turbocharger actually contained the fire and prevented major damage to the aircraft. A quick parts change, and the aircraft was back in the air the next day.

However, one has to wonder at the thought processes of a pilot who is safely on the ground, and who continues to run the engines in the face of powerful evidence that he is about to be turned to ashes.

Originally Published: 1/1997
Original Article: You're on Fire! - OK. We'll Just Taxi to the Ramp