Engine Fire in Flight

Q: Speaking of the earlier fire, Flash chief pilot Hassan Mounir claimed such incidents aren’t unusual. “It’s normal,” he said. “You can have an engine fire in flight.” This sounds absurd.

It’s disingenuous, but not wholly ludicrous. You can think of a jet engine as a kind of high-tech furnace — a contained but ongoing combustion of compressed air and fuel –and the nature of the beast lends itself to some rather colorful anomalies. Compressor stalls and other malfunctions can manifest themselves through powerful surges, bangs, and even tongues of flame.

These are routinely miscast in news reports as “fires” proper. They are not “normal,” but they’re usually not dangerous either. Add to this some translational mismatching between Arabic and English, and Mounir’s remark may not be as crazy as it sounds.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.