Smoke oil dangers uncovered after Franklin accident

April 19, 2011

Some of wing-walker Amanda Franklin’s injuries appear to have been caused by smoke oil, and the International Council of Airshows and her husband Kyle Franklin are encouraging airshow performers to modify aircraft smoke oil systems so that they turn off automatically in case of an engine failure or accident.

“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,” according to an operations article sent to ICAS members. “Even as Kyle recovers from his own injuries and helps Amanda recover from hers, he has sent out a very clear message to the rest of the airshow industry: Do what you need to do to ensure that your smoke pump stops operating when your engine stops or you are involved in an accident.”

Most airshow aircraft are fitted with electric pumps that transfer smoke oil from a storage tank to the engine exhaust pipes where the oil ignites. In a crash, such systems can make matters worse by continuously pumping smoke oil to a hot engine compartment. During low-altitude airshow performances, ICAS says it’s unrealistic to assume that all pilots will remember, or have time, to turn off smoke systems before accidents.

“As simple as it is for most pilots to turn off their smoke systems, it is not and never will be at the top of the ‘to do’ list in an in-flight emergency,” ICAS said. “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 is working to develop a simple, inexpensive method of ensuring that smoke systems shut off in the case of engine failures or accidents. The organization also is reminding members of the importance of shutting off smoke systems during emergencies.

The Franklins were injured March 12 when the engine on their Waco aircraft failed during an aerobatic wing-walking performance. Amanda suffered life-threatening injuries and is a patient at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor , AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.