January FAASTeam Topic of the Month:
Recommended reading on this topic:
Craig, Paul. The Killing Zone, How and Why Pilots Die, 2012.
Kern, Tony. Redefining Airmanship, 1997.
Product Review: Confidence and Clean Air in the Flight Deck
By Drew Myers
An understanding of the dangers and risks of exposure to Carbon Monoxide (CO) is required during pilot training, but how many of us really take the risk of CO poisoning seriously? Personally, I had a somewhat passive attitude about it. I knew what the symptoms were and felt that I would be able to identify them if I were to ever get exposed to dangerous levels of CO. A wise man once said that you should learn from the mistakes of others because you can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself. I saw the light after listening to an Air Safety Institute “There I Was” Podcast with Dan Bass, a Minnesota based pilot who miraculously survived losing consciousness due to prolonged CO exposure in his Mooney and crash landing in a field after his plane ran out of fuel. Dan’s account is a rare and meticulously detailed glimpse into the insidious nature of CO poisoning and how serious the risk really is.
One of Dan’s key takeaways from his near-death experience was the importance of a good CO detector in every cockpit. This got me thinking and researching the options available for my flying club’s 172. We had an old CO detector purchased from hardware store that was on its last legs, and I knew we could do better. After perusing the Sporty’s website, I found the TOCSIN 3 CO Detector and after reading the product details and a review that said: “This device has changed my opinion of many of the planes in the local rental fleet.” I decided to give it a try and placed my order.
This unit is very compact and appears to have sturdy construction. It has several mounting options including a metal ring for hanging, a heavy-duty back clip, and an adhesive Velcro strip provided as well. The instructions are easy enough to read and with only two buttons, operation is straight forward. The detector has two alarm levels -low and high- with the low alarm meant to be a warning of elevated CO levels and High to warn of serious danger. Users can program any levels they wish for these two alarms, and the owner’s manual has a table that shows what the physiological effects of the various levels of CO (in Parts Per Million) exposure are. It should be noted that a user can silence the low alarm by pressing the power button, but the high alarm cannot be silenced until the unit is moved to fresh air. I set the low alarm for 100 ppm and the high for 500 ppm for the first flight test.
I asked a fellow club member to go flying with me for the first flight test so I could pay more attention to the operation of this new detector. We have a cockpit organizer by the fuel selector in our club 172, and the TOCSIN 3 looked right at home there. This detector has a very loud alarm that can be heard even with an ANR headset on, it also vibrates and has flashing lights to get your attention quickly if an alarm goes off. During our test flight, we only had elevated CO levels during taxi, but other than that, the indicator read 0 for the duration of the flight. I found it very comforting to have a digital display showing a live reading of the CO levels in the air. At the end of our flight, I was very pleased with this detector and appreciated the confidence it gave me that our heat system was only delivering warm(ish) air to the cabin.
One issue that might arise with this CO detector is that it must be manually powered on and off for each use. Forgetting to turn it off will of course run down the battery, which requires the removal of 6 screws to replace. I recommend that you add this to your club aircraft’s checklist so that no one forgets to power down after their flight. The manufacturer recommends a recalibration every quarter to keep the detector honest. All you need to recalibrate is the owner’s manual and some fresh air. We put a reminder for this in our club’s Flight Circle maintenance reminders, and posted a PDF of the owner’s manual on our club’s drive so that any member can complete the task. Further proof that this detector is the real deal is the manufacturer recommended service every two years. We also set a reminder for this in Flight Circle, and timed it for the summer months when we won’t need cabin heat.
The TOCSIN 3 CO Detector is a serious piece of equipment that has served our club well during its first winter in service. If your club operated in any type of cold climate, I highly recommend this detector for each aircraft in your club fleet. If you have any questions about my experience with this CO detector or about this article, feel free to contact me.