Anti-Fire Foam In The Fuel Tank

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Foamex, a Pennsylvania company whose main business is making cushion material for beds and furniture, is in the final stages of an FAA-funded research project to come up with an affordable way to make aircraft fuel tanks more fire- and explosion-resistant. As we described in our Sept. 22 Audiocast, Foamex Technical Products has developed a special type of polyurethane foam that, when installed in fuel tanks, slows or prevents the rapid spread of fire within a tank and shows promise to "reduce the effects of post-crash fires" according to a Foamex news release. Dr. Chiu Chan, Foamex's director of research and development, told AVweb the foam is mostly air and displaces only three percent of the available tank volume. And, although air and fuel flow freely through the foam, it acts as a three-dimensional fire screen, preventing the spread of a fire. It also acts as a "plug" in the case of a fuel tank rupture, slowing the escape of fuel. Company spokesman John Galbraith told AVweb the military has been using Safety Foam, as it's called, for 30 years and the FAA-funded study ($729,000) is focused primarily on making the product more palatable for bottom-line-sensitive air carriers. Galbraith said the study is focused on commercial aircraft and estimates the cost of filling the tanks of a Boeing 737 with foam at less than $40,000. The foam weighs about 1,100 lbs. and the study is trying to reduce that "payload penalty."