Warplanes: The Return Of The Foam Monster


December 14, 2009: Recently, the fire suppression system in a British Army Air Corps hanger was accidentally activated. Within minutes, the hanger was filled with fire suppression foam. Beneath the foam were six Apache helicopter gunships. Within a day, the helicopters had the foam cleared away, were checked out, and were ready for action again.

Fire fighting foam has been around for about sixty years. Many improvements have been developed since then, so that foam can be used to fight many different types of fires. In the 1960s, the U.S. Navy developed a foam that would put out jet fuel, which made aircraft carriers a lot safer. Because of the foam, disastrous hanger fires are a thing of the past. But there are still foam accidents.

Four years ago, the U.S. Air Force suffered an embarrassing accident, when the "Foam Monster" escaped, along with digital photos showing one of their hangers filling with fire suppressing foam. The pictures were from a test of the foam system conducted on August 23rd, 2005. The new foam system had just been installed, and had to be tested. The system had to be able to put down one meter (39 inches) of foam in four minutes or less. To that end, the system was allowed to generate foam for the full four minutes. It turned out that the system worked better than expected, practically filling the B-1B bomber hanger with foam within four minutes. For the people working in the hangar, this was a good thing. A major accident could fill most of the hanger with smoke and flames within minutes. Knowing the foam system could outrun any fire or explosion, and save the lives of the people working in, or near, the hangar, was reassuring. But, let's face it, it was also funny as hell.



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