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Crash-Resistant Fuel System Effectiveness in Civil Helicopter Crashes

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Hayden MS, Shanahan DF, Chen L-H, Baker SP. Crash-resistant fuel system effectiveness in civil helicopter crashes. Aviat Space Environ Med 2005; 76:782–5.

Background: Crash-resistant fuel systems (CRFS) have demonstrated close to 100% effectiveness in survivable crashes of Army helicopters, but the technology has been slow to transfer into the civil helicopter arena. Federal standards for civil helicopter CRFS are less stringent than those for military helicopters. A reduction in standards for CRFS in military helicopters is being considered. Objective: The goal of this study was to determine whether crashes of civil helicopters with CRFS are less likely to result in post-crash fire than crashes of those without. Method: Crashes of civil helicopters during 1982–2004 were analyzed, comparing Bell 206 helicopters manufactured with CRFS with Aerospatial 350 helicopters manufactured during the same period (post-1981), but lacking CRFS. Bell 206 helicopters with CRFS were also compared with earlier models without CRFS. Results: The highest proportion of crashes with post-crash fires (11.3%) was in AS-350s manufactured after 1981 (non-CRFS), and the lowest (3.7%) was in Bell 206s (with CRFS) [unadjusted risk ratio (RR) = 3.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.04, 10.50; adjusted for light and weather, RR = 2.81, CI = 0.82, 9.69]. Earlier models of Bell 206s without CRFS had higher risk of post-crash fire than post-1981 models with CRFS (7.4% vs. 3.7%; adjusted RR = 2.11, CI = 0.82, 5.45). Conclusions: The results of this study suggest a better performance, in terms of post-crash fire prevention, of CRFS-equipped civil helicopters as compared with those without CRFS. It is possible that CRFS in civil helicopters have not achieved the same degree of effectiveness as CRFS in military helicopters. CRFS should be used more widely in civil helicopters. The more stringent CRFS requirements for military helicopters should not be reduced without further research.

Keywords: crashworthiness; federal regulations; fire prevention; helicopter; impact; post-crash fire; standards

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-08-01

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