FedEx to upgrade MD-11s, 777Fs with new fire supression system

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FedEx Express announced on 6 October plans to install a new automatic fire suppression system on all 59 McDonnell Douglas MD-11 freighters and new Boeing 777Fs.

A FedEx special projects group developed the proprietary system to solve the problem of suppressing most types of cargo fires on the main deck for up to 3h on ocean-crossing flights, a spokesman says.

The system is certified to suppress flames caused by paper or lumber, gasoline or kerosene and combustible metals such as lithium. Fires caused by electrical equipment, however, must still be extinguished by halon bottles. FedEx will carry electrical cargo in isolation in lower-deck compartments.

The new suppression system detects fires using a network of heat-seeking sensors. After alerting the crew, the system cues an injector system that pierces a cargo container, and sprays an argon-based, biodegradable foam that extinguishes flames within minutes.

If the fire starts inside a package of palletized cargo, the entire pallet is covered by a fire-retardant blanket.

FedEx Express is currently focused on upgrading only its own freighter fleet, a spokesman says. But the system could be sold to other freighter operators in the future, he adds.

The fire suppression system was design by an in-house special projects group of engineers. The same staff also produced a head-up display/enhanced flight vision system (HUD/EFVS) last year for MD-10s and MD11s. The technology, which also included input by Honeywell and Elbit Systems, improves pilot visibility in bad weather.

FedEx Express has released the video clip below to illustrate how the system works.