The fuselage of the passenger jet erupted in flames at Pensacola International Airport. Dozens of firefighters raced toward it in giant crash trucks and within moments began blasting the cockpit of the aircraft with a massive cannon of water that can dump thousands of gallons within minutes.
Thankfully, this was just a drill.
The exercise is part of annual training to prepare firefighters and emergency responders for worst-case scenarios on the runway.
Airport firefighters do this type of training each year to keep their skills sharp. During the training, they battle flames fueled by propane gas as hot as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Pensacola Fire Department’s Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting unit are using a Mobile Aircraft Firefighting Training Device (MAFTD) for the training at the airport on an unused former runway.
The MAFTD provides a live aircraft firefighting experience, offering several training variations from simple to more complex training scenarios. Unlike the traditional method of open-pit training sites, the MAFTD is environmentally friendly utilizing propane to simulate an actual event.
“We’re basically working on our proficiency,” says James Hobbs, Battalion Chief of Training for the Pensacola Fire Department. “We’re spraying on an actual training fuselage to simulate an aircraft to become proficient at putting out an actual live fire.”
The burning airplane hull is a steel training model of a common passenger jet aircraft, operated by the U.S. Navy from Naval Air Station Pensacola. Fire departments from around the Southeast utilize the simulator for training scenarios just like this.
“This training is vital because even though aviation is one of the safest forms of transportation, occasionally we do have accidents in the field,” says Hobbs of the FAA required training. “This is a good representation of an aircraft mishap you would see in a real-world environment.”