Assault by a battery.
The standard mission began just like any other E-6B flight at NAS Patuxent River. About an hour and a half into the oceanic flight, our reel operator and in-flight technician (IFT) smelled fumes in the aft section of the aircraft. Immediately, the aircrewmen called the flight deck, and the pilots initiated the fire, smoke and fumes checklist.
After the initial sweep of the aircraft, the crew had not found the cause of the fumes. In the process, the flight engineer shut off the aft outflow valve to allow the fumes to remain in the jet, but the crew still could not locate the source. Earlier in the flight, the technicians had been troubleshooting the VLF receivers, so this equipment was turned off to determine if they were the cause, but to no avail. With no progress made after 15 minutes, the technicians went back to the VLF receivers and decided to pull the battery-cover assembly (KGV-61A) from the parent assembly to check the batteries.
Upon removing the cover plates to the batteries, the source was instantly recognizable because of the overwhelming fumes; the battery was in a thermal-runaway condition. The IFT acknowledged the need for the battery to be jettisoned, called the flight deck, and the pilots began an emergency descent to 5,000 feet.
While descending, the second flight engineer (FE) strapped into the safety harness and descended into the forward lower lobe along with the IFT, who carried the KGV battery. The pilots completed a surface sweep and the FE was cleared to open the radio access hatch, but couldn't until an emergency depressurization of the jet was done. The engineer opened the hatch and jettisoned the battery.
AFTER JETTISONING THE BATTERY, the mission commander cancelled the rest of the mission and headed home. Coordination with the squadron duty officer at Tinker AFB ensured the fire department and medical response teams were there to meet us. Only minor medical issues were incurred, including three crewmembers ill from the fumes. They were checked out by medical and cleared shortly thereafter.
The 15-man crew resolved the situation as a result of CRM training, periodic fire drills conducted throughout the deployment, and simple, yet effective communication. The crew learned that a thermal-runaway battery must be dealt with swiftly. We discovered that the battery's plastic cover melted, the metal shielding on the battery was black, and that the connecting wires completely melted. If it had taken us an estimated 15 minutes longer, this situation would have ended much differently.
LT. SCHMIDT FLIES WITH VQ-4.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2011|
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