Turning Off the Smoke Oil Pump


For some years now, a small group of air show pilots has been lobbying for the development of an automatic cut-off switch for the electric smoke oil pumps that most air show pilots have operating in their aircraft.  Over the years, a number of accidents and incidents have been further complicated by the fact that electric smoke oil pumps continued to operate after engine failure and, on occasion, even after a crash.

At best, the continued flow of smoke oil is a complication. At worst, it can be the cause of injuries or further damage that is much worse than the original problem. It is already clear that many of Amanda Franklin’s burn injuries were made worse by the continued operation of the electric smoke oil pump after the engine failed. Even as Kyle Franklin recovers from his own injuries and helps Amanda recover from hers, he has sent out a very clear message to the rest of the air show industry: Do what you need to do to ensure that your smoke pump stops operating when your engine stops or when you are involved in an accident.

For engine-driven pumps, this is not an issue; the smoke oil pump stops when the engine stops. But, for those flying with electric smoke oil pumps, the conventional wisdom is that such an automatic cut-off switch is unnecessary.  Pilots believe that they will remember to turn the smoke system off in the event of an incident. And, even if they don’t, the continued pumping of smoke oil will be an inconvenience, not a safety hazard. But the Franklin’s accident and at least two other recent accidents indicate that neither of these things are true. As simple as it is for most pilots to turn off their smoke system, it is not and will never be at the top of the “to do” list in the event of an in-flight emergency. And, after the accident, the introduction of spraying oil onto the crash scene has had horrific consequences in several instances.

A small group of ICAS members are currently at work on a simple, inexpensive system to ensure that electric smoke oil pumps automatically turn off in the event of an engine failure and/or crash.  As soon as that work is done, we will publish the results in a subsequent Ops Bull as well as the ICAS website.

In the meantime, the entire industry is encouraged to recognize turning off the smoke system as an important part of responding to any and every in-flight emergency.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.