Aviation Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Best CO Detectors For The Cockpit


Why You Need A Carbon Monoxide Detector In Your Travel Bag

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide detectors are one of the must-haves if you are an aircraft owner, this ensures that you identify any leaks into the cockpit and are able to address them quickly. Carbon monoxide is something that pilots should not take lightly; CO is a deadly gas that is virtually undetectable to the human sense of smell. Essentially, you could be consuming Carbon monoxide during a flight and won’t notice until it’s too late.

In all likelihood, the chance of you having a fatal incident from a carbon monoxide leak is very low (according to NTSB Crash Statistics). However, being an avid traveler, pilot, or passenger is rule number 1 to always be prepared. Understanding the risks, options, and situations when it comes to carbon monoxide is important for every pilot.

What is carbon monoxide?

Let’s establish some basic facts,

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. Some have the illusion of being able to smell carbon monoxide however the gas can mix with other gasses to create an artificial odor. This is why you can distinctly smell the odor from a car because the carbon monoxide is mixed in with the artifacts of the exhaust system.

Lessons Learned from Other Aviation Incidences

Unfortunately, there have been incidences that have caused in relation to carbon monoxide poisoning. In January of 2019 a Mooney crashed due to a carbon monoxide leak in the cockpit. The pilot was using the onboard heater of the aircraft, which for many aircraft is connected to the exhaust system. The pilot reported feeling ‘butterflies’ or nausea during the final portions of his flight.

On this day, the pilot had multiple flights, and throughout each of his runups and preflight stages he continued to feel nausea and headaches. During his second flight the pilot performed the run up about 3 or 4 times on the tarmac until ATC ‘snapped him out of it’ by asking if he was ready for takeoff. The pilot then took off, repeatedly attempting to contact departure on the tower frequency. He then claimed to 12,000 ft, traveling off course and eventually crashing into an open field.

As seen from this incident the pilot started to repeat tasks and make miscalculations. His first insight was his feeling of ‘butterflies’ which then lead to the repetition of tasks. These unfortunate incidences can share an insight into what we should try to recognize when faced with a possible aircraft leak. To learn more about this incident read the full article available here.

Are There ways to detect carbon monoxide without a detector?

Carbon monoxide is one of those things that are impossible to detect using your innate sense. There are some signs that you can identify that there may be carbon monoxide in the cockpit. Recorded methods and using identification techniques from the previous aircraft incident we can compile a few signs that may indicate Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Feeling an odd sense of drowsiness?

Not tired, but drowsy, a dizzy-like feeling. If you are feeling drowsy in the cockpit it may be time to evaluate if there are any issues or leakages. Carbon Monoxide can make you unconscious similar to hypoxia so it is very important to be aware of the signs.

Sudden Headaches

In addition, people experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning may feel headaches and have an overall down feeling. Any Nausea felt are other symptoms that may be correlated to any carbon monoxide poisoning.

Portable Carbon Monoxide Detectors: A few of the Best

Here are a few of the best Carbon monoxide detectors for Pilots on the market. Even if you are not a pilot, these carbon monoxide detectors are portable and can be used in a variety of situations.

This is the Aithre Shield Carbon Monoxide detectors, currently one of the best for aviators of all types. This Carbon Monoxide detector is smart, meaning it connects to your iPhone via Bluetooth and provides real-time updates on the CO detection in the cockpit. You can monitor CO levels in real-time with 15-minute intervals allowing you to see if there are any spikes or increases.

The Aithre Shield comes with a 10-year sensor lifespan so that it can last you years in the sky. You will be immediately notified of any changes in the air as the device sends live Siri and Apple notifications to your phone.

Here is a great alternative, the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is not technically a CO detector, it is a blood oxygen sensor. The latest version of the apple watch features a blood oxygen sensor that determines the percentage of oxygen in your body. We have to issue a disclaimer that the science they use isn’t 100% accurate however it is a really good baseline to operate with.

The Apple Watch periodically takes snapshots of your health and will notify you if your oxygen level dips below a safe level. This can be extremely healthy in the cockpit and it will notify you immediately of an issue.  

The Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $349

Looking for a cheap option to have in the cockpit? Check out the ASA Carbon Monoxide Detector which is a complete analog take on the detection of CO gasses. The concept is really simple, the ASA CO Detector features an orange wafer that darkens when exposed to the presence of Carbon Monoxide. This has an adhesive backing which makes it really easy to stick onto the panels of aircraft. The ASA Carbon Monoxide detector has a shelf life of around 3 years which makes it effective for many flights.

Even if you don’t decide to get an electronic option you should at least have this $5 slapped onto any cockpit as good practice.

Panel-Mounted CO Detectors

Looking to upgrade your own aircraft? Well, you can’t go wrong with having a panel-mounted Carbon Dioxide detector. These panel-mounted detectors are powered by your aircraft so there is no concern with battery power or usage over time. If you have space on your panel, we highly recommend getting this installed for overall safety.

Only $499 the Aero 452-101 is one of the best prices to performance ratios when it comes to CO detectors. The Aero 452-101 is built by Guardian Avionics which is one of the best performers in panel CO detectors.

The unit not only detects carbon monoxide but pressure readings in the cockpit. At only a rate of 14 to 28 volts, the Aero 452-101 is a minimal inclusion to your panel avionics at the same time as being such an essential piece of tech.

At $599 the Aero 551 is another great pick from Guardian Avionics. The primary difference between the Aero 452-101 is that the Aero551 picks up CO detections between 10 and 999 PPM which is a wider range than the Aero 452-101. This gives you a greater range of detection for only $100 more.

An aircraft may have small indicators of CO detections around 10 PPM. At this rate, it is suggested you consult an aviation mechanic to see if you can get to the root cause of any leakages.

Student Flying

What to do if you detect Carbon Monoxide in the Cockpit?

According to the FAA guidelines, there are a couple of immediate actions you should take if you believe there is a carbon monoxide leak in the cockpit.

  • Turn off any Cabin heat

Generally speaking, general aviation aircraft use the carburetor in order to heat the air going into the cockpit vents. However, in a bad situation, these can leak through the air vents and into the cockpit.

  • Open windows if the Aircraft flight profile permits

Obviously, this goes without saying, Open the windows! If your aircraft profile permits, one of the actions should always be to try and find fresh air. If this means descending or slowing down to an appropriate speed, all action is appropriate in an emergency.

  • If Available, Use supplemental oxygen

Use any supplemental oxygen available onboard. This will provide you clean breathing air which will clear your head to make appropriate decisions. Of course, only use this option if the conditions permit.

Read more at: https://www.faa.gov/pilots/safety/pilotsafetybrochures/media/cobroforweb.pdf

The Bottom Line

In our listing, we have provided CO detectors from $5 to $599. At this price range, it’s almost inexcusable to travel without one in the cockpit. The evidence shows that all aircraft should be equipped for the safety of the crew on board. CO is known as the silent killer, and it is our duty as pilots to be prepared for any possibility of CO in the cockpit. This helps give us the assurance to carry out our tasks and peace of mind.

If you are ever feeling dizzy, suddenly making poor choices, or feeling nausea, consider that you may be under the duress of carbon monoxide poisoning. Open windows, descend to a lower altitude, turn off cabin heaters, and use supplemental oxygen if available.

We hope we were able to assist in your cockpit decision-making!

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