Stuttgart Airport has the world’s largest mobile “airplane fire simulator” in order to prepare well for a real disaster.
If something goes wrong during takeoff or landing, if the brakes or engines catch fire, the chances of surviving passengers drop dramatically after just a few minutes. Therefore, fire brigades have to train regularly to be prepared for such disasters.
Christian Steckroth is a trainer and makes sure everything is working properly during the exercise: “The IAA states all over the world that we have to take part in a hot firefighting exercise once a year. That is why we have to develop such a system in order to be able to use it as realistically as possible to create scenarios that could also happen on an aircraft (…)”.
Planning and building a simulation system
In 2020, the “New Aircraft Fire Simulation System” project was still in its infancy. Engineers, metalworkers, and firefighters plan the complex system with many square meters of construction drawings and detailed CAD drafts.
CAD or CADD (Computer Aided Design and Drafting) is a technical design and documentation technique that replaces manual drafting with an automated process.
After the planning came the assembly of the massive system. A total of 100 tons of steel was assembled and more than four kilometers of electrical cable was laid at two machine-building and steel companies in Marsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia.
The challenge was that everything had to be very stable, but as easy to assemble and as realistic as possible: from engines to whole rows of chairs to the containers that make up the simulated passenger compartment.
In the fall of 2021, it’s time. The first lift of the eight containers that make up the passenger compartment is placed on a steel frame. Because the height above the ground must also correspond to the height of a real plane so that later the exercises can be done as realistically as possible.
A few months later, the world’s largest “mobile aircraft fire training facility” was fully assembled and ready for final inspection.
This is how the system works
From the galley to the cockpit, from the plane’s lavatory to the luggage racks – at the touch of a button on the mobile console, a gas fire can be ignited at any potential source of fire on board.
Firefighters must quickly decide whether a “spray jet” or a “full jet” will put out the flames as quickly as possible. In addition, the highest level of concentration is required, because emergency services have to learn to blindly understand each other, to deal with confined space, limited vision and extreme temperatures – it’s training that pushes everyone to their physical limits. .
Jochen Schürgers is a fire simulator developer and knows what’s important: “Of course, this is always very dangerous. We have to have high temperatures, we have to be able to fight fires realistically and in emergency situations, as soon as I hit an emergency stop, and we should Everything goes out within a second and turns on the ventilation and light so everything is instantly safe.”
Customers also do overseas testing to make sure everything is working as planned. Firefighters there pay special attention to landing gear and engines, because with flame temperatures up to 1000 degrees, there is a particularly high probability of disaster, which must be controlled in an emergency.
Therefore, a fire simulation system is required
To ensure that Stuttgart Airport does not lose its license to continue handling passenger aircraft, this facility must be available and drills for future disasters must be possible. An important fire simulator costs two million euros.
Stuttgart Airport shares costs and facilities with Bremen and Hanover Airports. He’s always in one of the three locations for three months.
Perception blurs between practice and reality
During the exercise, it then turns out that everything that engineers, metalworkers, and firefighters hoped works, too: Anyone who exercises at this unique training facility quickly forgets that it’s just a simulator. Christian Steckroth, Chief Operating Officer of the Stuttgart Airport Fire Brigade, describes the experience vividly:
“The way we can represent situations here, it’s very realistic and here the boundaries disappear in such a situation. You see the fire, you see the situation, you try to split up, use your forces accordingly, and then in it’s there. There aren’t any big differences. We don’t need to hide with the system. “