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In aviation a flameout refers to the run-down of a jet engine caused by the flame in the combustion chamber being extinguished due to numerous factors. These factors include fuel starvation, compressor stall, insufficient oxygen at high altitudes, foreign object damage such as birds, hail, or volcanic ash, severe inclement weather, mechanical failure, and very cold ambient temperatures.
A flameout is believed to be most likely to occur when flying through certain weather conditions at a low power setting such as flight idle (e.g. during the descent). These conditions include flight through moderate to heavy turbulence, rain, hail, or sleet. The potentially hazardous circumstances are highlighted in the flight manual with a requirement to select continuous ignition. Alternatively, the FADEC engine controller will select ignition automatically if it detects specific changes in engine parameters. It will also perform a relight if necessary. A manual re-light attempt is made by following the procedure in the Flight Operations Manual.
Early jet engines were prone to flameout due to disturbances of inlet air, caused from gas ingestion. Fast acceleration or inappropriate throttle settings could also disrupt the fuel/air mixture causing a flameout or an excessive jet pipe temperature. However, if the throttle movements were made smoothly and not too rapidly, there was little or no risk of flame extinction. If this happened at low altitude, it would often lead to the total loss of the aircraft. However, jet engines were developed to be controlled with a governor, a centrifugal feedback valve for controlling the speed of the engine – sometimes referred to as FCU (Fuel Control Unit) or HMU (Hydro-Mechanical Unit) – allowing controlled fuel metering proportional to the engine's rotational speed. Current modern engines are engineered to a higher degree of technical quality controlled by digital electronic systems (FADEC) that constantly fine-tune their performance; thus such flameouts are not as common as they were in the early days of jet-powered aviation.
It is common practice for pilots to be taught and to practice flameout landings.
In-flight restarts are designated as either windmill or starter-assisted, depending where in the flight envelope the restart is attempted. The re-light envelope occupies the lower part of the flight envelope below about 30,000 ft (28,000 ft in the case of a Boeing 747, which experienced flameouts at 37,000 ft). When an appropriate initial altitude and forward speed are available, the mass airflow through the compressor blades can maintain sufficient rotational velocity for enough time to permit restart. If the aircraft's operating conditions are not sufficient for a windmill start, the engine's starter motor must be operated to increase the turbine velocity to the minimum required speed.
Notable incidents of flameout
Engine flameout due to inclement weather and volcanic activity
- In a severe hailstorm on 4 April 1977, Southern Airways Flight 242, a DC-9-31 owned by Southern Airways, lost both engines due to hail. The plane landed on a rural highway and crashed into a gas station, killing 72 people.
- On 24 June 1982, British Airways Flight 9 suffered a quadruple engine flameout after flying through a cloud of pyroclastic material thrown up by the eruption of Mount Galunggung. The pilots were eventually able to restart all four engines and execute a safe landing. There were no fatalities.
- On 24 May 1988, TACA Flight 110, a Boeing 737-300 operating from Belize to New Orleans, suffered a dual engine flameout while flying through heavy rain, hail, and turbulence. The plane glided and landed on a narrow grass levee at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in the Michoud area of eastern New Orleans. All 45 people on board survived.
Engine flameout due to fuel starvation
- On 23 July 1983, Air Canada Flight 143, a Boeing 767, ran out of fuel, causing both of its engines to flameout. The pilot was able to glide the plane to safety, landing it on an auto racing track which was previously the RCAF Station Gimli. Hence the aircraft involved is known as the Gimli Glider.
- On 24 August 2001, Air Transat Flight 236, an Airbus A330 flying from Toronto to Lisbon, experienced a flameout on both of its engines due to a previously undetected leak in the fuel system, causing fuel starvation. The plane glided first on one engine and then unpowered until it landed safely in the Azores, approximately 150 nautical miles (280 km; 170 mi) from the first engine failing and approximately 65 nautical miles (120 km; 75 mi) unpowered. All 306 passengers and crew on board the plane were unharmed. Flight 236 holds the world record for the furthest unpowered glide (65 nautical miles (120 km; 75 mi)) in the history of aviation.
- On 14 August 2005, Helios Airways Flight 522, operated by a Boeing 737-300, entered a holding pattern over Athens, having flown on autopilot for most of its flight. This was due to most of the plane's occupants having been incapacitated by hypoxia due to an improperly-configured pressurization system. Hellenic Air Force pilots in F-16s noticed a flight attendant, Andreas Prodromou, enter the cockpit and attempt to communicate to the pilots by waving to them. Almost immediately after the attendant entered the cockpit and sat at the controls, the 737's left engine flamed out from fuel exhaustion. Ten minutes later, the right engine also flamed out. Despite the attendant's efforts to control the plane, the aircraft crashed into a hill near Grammatiko, killing all 121 people on board.
- On 29 November 2013, a Police Scotland Eurocopter EC135-T2+ experienced a double engine flameout and crashed into a Glasgow pub, the Clutha Vaults. Three persons in the aircraft and seven on the ground were killed; an additional 32 were injured. Both engines flamed out about 32 seconds apart due to fuel starvation.
- On 28 November 2016, LaMia Airlines Flight 2933, a chartered Avro RJ85, registration CP-2933, flying from Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia to Medellín, Colombia, crashed 17 kilometres (11 mi) south of José María Córdova International Airport, due to all four of its engines flaming out. Among the passengers were members of the Brazilian football team Associação Chapecoense de Futebol who were travelling to play their away leg of the Final of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana in Medellín. Of the 77 people on board, 71 died.
Engine flameout due to mechanical problems
- On 19 February 1985, China Airlines Flight 006, a Boeing 747SP, operating from Taipei to Los Angeles plunged 30,000 feet (9,100 m) after the plane's fourth engine flamed out. The pilots managed to recover the plane before hitting the Pacific Ocean and the flight was safely diverted to San Francisco. Two passengers were seriously injured as a result of the plunge. The airplane was significantly damaged after the incident, including the loss of parts of its horizontal stabilizers.
- On 4 February 2015, TransAsia Flight 235, operated by an ATR 72–600, crashed soon after takeoff in Taipei. Approximately one minute before the crash the pilot reported an engine flameout which had been caused by an engine failure. Combined with the mistaken shut down of the working engine this caused the aircraft to strike a viaduct and crash into a river, killing 43 out of the 58 people on board.
- On 6 August 1945, the top USAAF fighter ace Richard Bong died in a flight accident as his Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star fighter suffered a flameout and dived to the ground. By that time, eight YP-80s and P-80A/(F-80A) had been destroyed in crashes, seven of which of had been severely damaged, and six pilots killed. The day after Bong's fatal crash, the USAAF ordered the "Shooting Star" grounded until these problems could be corrected.
- On 6 September 1946, the first prototype of the Avia S-92, reverse engineered from Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a, crash landed on its sixth test flight after it suffered a flameout. Pilot Antonin Kraus was uninjured.
- On 22 November 1949, the first prototype Gloster E.1/44, on test flight out of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough, suffered engine flameout and crash landed. The pilot escaped uninjured.
- On 21 June 1972, Jean Boulet piloted an Aérospatiale Lama helicopter to an absolute altitude record of 12,442 metres (40,820 ft). At that extreme altitude, the engine flamed out. The helicopter landed safely after the longest ever autorotation in history.
- "''Turbo Jet Flame Out'' by Ask a Scientist". Newton.dep.anl.gov. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
- "''Flameout – Why the fire in a perfectly healthy jet engine can die.'' by Peter Garrison, Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2006". Airspacemag.com. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
- "''Airplane Turbofan Engine Operation and Malfunctions'', FAA Manual". Webcache.googleusercontent.com. Archived from the original on 4 September 2013. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
- Flightglobal archive flight International 10 July 1982 p59
- "Gas Turbine Performance" 2nd edition P.P.Walsh P. Fletcher ISBN 0-632-06434-X p484
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