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Survey of Fire Detection Technologies and System Evaluation/Certification Methodologies and Their Suitablity for Aircraft Cargo Compartments (NISTIR 6356)



Thomas G. Cleary, William L. Grosshandler


As part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) initiated program on global civil aviation, NIST is assisting the Federal Aviation Administration in its research to improve fire detection in aircraft cargo compartments. Improved fire detection includes both fast (early) fire sensing and immunity to nuisance alarms caused by environmental conditions and hardware faults. Aircraft cargo compartment detection certification methods have been reviewed. Current methods are not capable of evaluating the performance of multi-element detectors, nor detectors based on sensing fire signatures besides smoke; they must be upgraded for that capability. Component testing of detectors that sense chemicals, heat, smoke, or combinations and that might employ complex signal processing algorithms is a challenge. The Fire Emulator/Detector Evaluator (FE/DE) has been designed to evaluate fire detection technologies such as new sensors, multi-element detectors, and detectors that employ complex algorithms. The FE/DE is a flow tunnel that can reproduce velocity, temperature, smoke, and combustion gas levels to which a detector might be exposed during a fire. It is being upgraded to include low temperature operation and moisture variations found ins aircraft cargo compartments. In addition, environmental sources such as dust and humidity can be produced to assess the level of immunity to nuisance alarms. A scientific literature survey and patent search have been conducted relating to existing and emerging fire detection technologies, and the potential use of new fire detection strategies in cargo compartment areas has been assessed. In the near term, improved detector signal processing and multi-sensor detectors based on combinations of smoke measurements, combustion gases and temperature are envisioned as significantly impacting detector system performance. Because of the required conversion of most Class D cargo compartments to Class C, a three-fold reduction in nuisance alarm rates will be required to maintain the status quo. If, in the future, detectors employ advanced signal processing with more robust sensing, the resulting nuisance alarm rate reduction would accomplish this and more.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 6356
Report Number


aircraft compartments, cargo space, fire detection, evaluation, certification, smoke detectors, predictive models, aircraft fires


Cleary, T. and Grosshandler, W. (1999), Survey of Fire Detection Technologies and System Evaluation/Certification Methodologies and Their Suitablity for Aircraft Cargo Compartments (NISTIR 6356), NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed July 19, 2024)


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Created July 1, 1999, Updated November 10, 2018