At the beginning of July 2017, members of the 152nd Fixed Wing Squadron and the 153rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepared a promotional training course for the firefighters of Fraport Slovenija. The purpose of the training was to educate firefighters on the measures and actions they need to take in an accident involving a military aircraft. The participants were informed about handling armament systems, ejection seats and possible hazards regarding the PC-9M aircraft.
Milan Dubravac, the Airport Rescue and Firefighting Commander, said that the exercises like this, which provide knowledge of different types of military aircraft and their armament systems, contribute to a better response by firefighters in crisis situations and to the increased safety of people involved in the incident. For these reasons the operator of Fraport Slovenija strives to offer exercises like this as frequently and comprehensively as possible.
Specific hazards explained
The Pilatus PC-9M aircraft can transport up to 1050kg of military cargo, and it can also be armed with Mk-81 and Mk-82 bombs, a 12.7mm machine gun, unguided missiles, and decoys, among other things. During flight the machine gun is in a position which enables the pilot to start shooting immediately, explained Damjan Ržen, Flight Technician and Staff Sergeant Armourer in the 153rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. He added that the pilot always makes sure that the gun is not armed during landing by locking the machine gun. In the case of an accident, firefighters must pay attention to three major components: the armaments, the aircraft’s systems, and the cockpit and ejection seat.
In such accidents firefighters must not walk in front of machine guns, containers with decoys, or missile launchers, and they must also avoid walking behind the launchers, in case the aircraft is armed with missiles.
Attention was also drawn to the dangers of the rotating propeller, the hot parts of the engine, and the possibility of fire from fuel leaking from the two 246-litre reservoirs situated in the wings of the aircraft. There are additional risks from the acrobatic reservoir, which enables the operation of the engine during acrobatic manoeuvers, electric battery and the pressurized nitrogen bottle, normally used for the emergency lowering of the landing gear.
The cockpit and ejection seat were presented by Staff Sergeant Ržen, who showed how to correctly open the canopy in order to reach the pilot. This was followed by a demonstration of the way the ejection handle is locked with a special pin, which prevents the activation of the ejection seat and consequently inevitable injury of a firefighter during the rescue of the pilot. In addition to the pin and handle for opening the cockpit, there is a special box and a set of pins on a tape which all fit into the hole for securing the handle of the catapult seat, on the left side. After the seat is secured firefighters must switch off the fuel supply to the engine and shut down the aircraft’s electrical system. This can be done by moving the shut-off handle on the left-hand side of the ejection seat. It is important to know that the ejection seat operates independently of other systems, said Staff Sergeant Ržen, and added that “from the moment you pull the handle, it takes 2.65 seconds for the parachute to open completely. There is a special mechanism on the seat, which enables the safe ejection of the pilot and the seat through the front window of the cockpit. The Martin-Baker MkCH11A seat has a rating of 0/60, which means that the pilot can be successfully ejected at a height of 0m and a speed of 60 knots (111km/h). The acceleration acting on the body is from 17g and up to 22g. In order to pull the handle the force required is between 7 and 15kg, which is really small.” At the end of the course the participants learned the right way to unbuckle and pull the pilot from the ejection seat.
One of the airport firefighters, Airport Rescue and Firefighter Duty Commander Bine Perič, did not hide his pleasure at being given the opportunity to renew and complement his knowledge of the Pilatus PC-9M aircraft: “During the exercise we got acquainted with the specifications of this type of plane, movement restrictions in its immediate vicinity, and received more accurate information on the operation of the ejection seat. The exercise was especially useful for all the new airport firefighters, who had not attended training like this before. Its main purpose was to present the hazards which firefighters can encounter during their work, and information about the safest way to operate around this type of aircraft. Every firefighter wants to take care of his own safety during an incident and I think that we don’t need to specifically point out that this is why we are looking forward to similar exercises in the future.”
Lieutenant Colonel Janez Gaube, explained that this type of aircraft is only used in special cases, for example when an unidentified plane enters Slovenian airspace, or if a pilot is not be in contact with flight control. The task of the military pilot is to accompany the intercepted aircraft to the nearest appropriate airport. Both of these situations are extremely rare – but they have been known to happen.
Text and photos: Borut Podgoršek