In the world of aviation, safety is the number one priority; thus, airplanes are designed and equipped with various precautionary measures. For instance, plastic all-weather carry cases, fiberglass containers, or canvas holdalls that store life rafts are supplied on board. Life rafts are incredibly handy during some over-water operations and incidents, ensuring that passengers and air crew can be evacuated with ease.
Usually made of corrosion- and abrasion-resistant materials like polyurethane-coated nylon, life rafts are composed of several parts. The first major part consists of a canopy that protects the user from wind, sea spray, and rain, and it is popularly made from a tough, coated rubber material. Next, there is a boarding ladder composed of nylon straps that is affixed to the side of the raft. This element allows passengers to access the opening of the raft.
The lift raft also consists of an inflation system to help users manually fill up the life raft with air. By pulling on the painter, or cord, the reservoir filled with CO2 gas triggers the aspirators to draw in ambient air that gills the buoyancy chambers of the raft. Once the gas is released, the raft begins to inflate. If you need to be rescued, there are exterior lights that make the life raft more identifiable.
An emergency locator transmitter (ELT) is also available in the event of an aircraft accident. Found primarily on US-registered civil aircraft, ELTs are designed to transmit a distress signal on 121.5 and 243.0 MHz frequencies. Additionally, inflatable, structural arches, or arch tubes, are also featured, those of which are inflated with a buoyancy chamber. During bad weather, passengers can hold onto the exterior and interior lifelines. Alongside these lifelines, there is a sea anchor, buoyant knife, and rescue quoit on the outside of the raft.
If there are punctures in the raft, there are two inflatable floors that can be deflated and pumped up manually. To prevent the life raft from capsizing, ballast compartments weigh it down. These compartments have bags with large holes in the top of them that enable them to fill up with seawater quickly. While having a comprehensive understanding of all of the parts of an aviation life raft is important, it is critical to know how they are deployed.
Deployment begins with throwing the life raft out of the airplane door or overwing and tugging on the painter, so that the raft will inflate. Emergency life rafts can also be inflated with hydrostatic release units. These units function by sealing the raft container to the deck of the vessel you are on. When the vessel starts to sink, the water pressure triggers the hydrostatic release units to cut the connection between the raft and the deck.
To ensure that your life raft is always ready for use, regular inspections are crucial. To begin, it is vital that you look for any tears in the raft material and any leaks in the gauge of the reservoir. You must also verify that the raft’s next service date is within its service limits. Furthermore, there are some assessments that can only be carried out by a trained professional, such as an air retention test, among others.
While life rafts are designed to be durable, they can eventually wear out due to usage or aging. There are a few signs to look for that indicate if your raft needs to be replaced. First, you must make sure that your aircraft features a correct capacity life raft for the number of passengers in your flight. Second, any life raft over 15 years old is prone to porosity or leaks which is why they must be inspected annually. Third, if your raft does not pass the CMM testing requirements, it is no longer serviceable and must be replaced.
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