By Jenny Gordon, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 29, 2012
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Within the next six years, hush houses throughout the Air Force will be retrofitted with new fire suppression systems that will have a significant impact on the way we handle business.
The Support Equipment & Vehicles Division, Aerospace Sustainment Directorate, at Robins oversaw successful testing of the new system last May at the Alabama Air National Guard's Dannelly Field in Montgomery.
Hush houses, about 180 of them worldwide, are enclosed noise-suppressing facilities where fighter jet engines are tested. Should a fire occur inside, current Halon-based tanks, eight of them, are triggered to release the chemical to put out fires that must be immediately contained.
Robins engineers and program managers have finalized efforts to implement a new agent known as Novec 1230 to replace Halon. The main contract was awarded to Vital Link Inc., and Hiller Systems Inc., who performed engineering, installation and testing, in collaboration with Siemens and 3M.
The move will not only have a considerable impact toward personnel safety and the environment, but will be more cost-effective, save time and open the doors for future opportunities in the Department of Defense.
"We need to save money in the Air Force. That has to be a priority," said Col. Michael Holl, SE&V division chief. "However, we had to do some convincing to spend $800,000 to make this change. Having this more reliable, stable alternative helps make you more effective at producing air power in a location."
Novec 1230 has several advantages over its obsolete predecessor. In terms of safety, it is a colorless, odorless liquid that when vaporized to control a fire, is harmless to humans. For the average team of five operators inside a hush house, this is especially noteworthy.
It is not harmful to the touch or lethal if breathed in. Even if the liquid is poured on a paper document, for example, Novec 1230 will dry within seconds, and ink will not smear.
Novec 1230, commercially available worldwide, also leaves zero residue and does not damage expensive electronic equipment once dispersed.
"This was clearly the answer," said Mick Randel, Hush House engineer. "There is nothing else on the market that has these properties."
Halon also posed a problem with its ozone-depletion concerns. With Novec 1230, once released into the atmosphere, there is zero-ozone depletion potential. It has an "atmospheric lifetime of five days, compared to 65 years for Halon," according to 3M.
Novec 1230 also has an intangible benefit to its customers. Current Halon bottles inside hush houses must be routinely serviced. Every bottle whose contents are dispersed in the event of a fire, Air Force-wide, must be shipped to the hydrostatic shop here at Robins, where they are refurbished, filled and leak-checked.
"They reclaim the halon - a time-consuming and expensive process - which can take two months for a single bottle," said 1st Lt. David Butzin, Hush House engineer. "Novec will allow us to use similar bottles that are maintained at the field level."
This means local units in possession of Novec-filled bottles will no longer have to ship them back here. Instead they will be filled by local FSS service providers. This process will shave months off processing time. In fact, a hush house can be up and running again, with newly-filled bottles, in a matter of weeks.
"This system actually represents significant savings over alternatives we considered previously," added Butzin.
Small-scale testing was conducted at 3M facilities this past February in Decatur, Ala. The demonstration included a mock-up of an engine on fire. Full-scale testing this past May at a T-10 hush house in Montgomery measured and validated the required Novec concentration required to put out a fire in a hush house.
Mechanical rooms on either side of the facility were retrofitted with 10 new Novec bottles, each containing about 820 pounds of the new agent.
Hush house systems act similar to a sprinkler system. Once a lever is pulled to activate it, the chemical is released through a piping system, through ceiling nozzles, and dispersed throughout the sealed building.
It took 9.9 seconds to discharge all the Novec 1230 into the hush house. After that, it can take another 20 seconds to put out a fire, based on the small-scale test fire in Decatur.
"In our case, it lowered the temperature of the test bay by 40 degrees," said Juan Font, Hush House mechanical engineer. "The chemical reaction is pretty powerful."
"We can claim success," said Clay Mims, Engineering Division chief.
The test site's new system will remain in place for future use. As contracts are renewed after the next year, other bases worldwide will begin using Novec 1230. It is ideal for bases in hot as well as very cold temperatures, as Novec's operational range can work from minus 40 degrees up to 120 degrees.
Additional Robins team members who worked with these efforts included Holly Green, Human Performance and Protective Systems and Propulsion branch chief, and Capt. Marc Hernandez, deputy director; and Ben Heaton, program manager.
"This produces national security in the end," said Holl. "I am really proud of our team for getting this change, making sure it worked, aligning budgets and requirements, and cooperating with fire departments, maintainers and operators. I am very pleased. It is a big step forward."