BEE Shop Files: The Plane from Planet Spray 9

May 22nd, 2004  
Mark Conley

Topic: BEE Shop Files: The Plane from Planet Spray 9

Its amazing what happens when you get the right (wrong) combination of simple cleaning materials and environments together…

One day at the shop, we had received a call for environmental investigative services from one of the Flight maintenance shops for the F-15’s at the base. Seems like one of the planes had been involved with an unusual incident to its pilot, and they wanted to rule out variables from the plane as a cause of the incident.

The pilot had been flying at 30,000 feet, with his oxygen mask off, and the planes pressurization system set to 10,000 feet pressure. After about 10 minutes of flight at this altitude, he started experiencing symptoms of dizziness, metallic taste in the mouth, and the start of nausea. Quickly thinking the planes pressurization system was to blame, he jammed his oxygen mask back on, switched to 100 % emergency oxygen that cleared his symptoms, and immediately landed the aircraft.

Now, getting close to an F-15 was a dream I had. These planes had just come on line, and were considered the hottest things going. And I was going to get to touch one…oh yes, I was going to go. Wild horses couldn’t keep me from this.

Well, the Lt. and me went to the flight line, with all our sampling gear. Since it was an unknown material they were looking for, we had to bring all our direct reading tubes for the screen. Direct air sampling for material classes was a pain, as you took one tube specific for a general class of materials, pulled air through it, and looked for a change in its color to determine presence, and strength. Now later on, it became simpler, as they made single tubes that did multiple groups of materials at one time. But on this particular day, it was one tube at a time, for at least 30 different types of materials. Each test could last easily five minutes.

They put me in the seat and closed the canopy on me, telling me that if I felt bad or anything simply to give them a hand signal and they would get me out. Well, after the first five tubes the thrill had worn off. After 30 or so, it was getting to be old hat. None of the tubes had turned color. And it was getting hot in that cockpit. Very, very hot. At the end of about an hour and a half, I was getting to the point that maybe being in a 140 degree cockpit wasn’t so much fun, no matter how exciting the plane was.

It was at that point that I started getting dizzy, with a weird metallic taste in my mouth. Exactly like the pilot had experienced. Using my nose, I sniffed to see if I could identify anything weird in the plane. The only thing I smelled that was out of the ordinary was…cleaner. Simple around the house cleaner, much like formula 409 that my mom used to use in the kitchen. The closer I got to the lower instrument panel and floor, the stronger the smell got. Well, it wasn’t showing up on the tubes…but I could smell it. I gave it about another 5 minutes just to make sure…then I gave the signal to raise the canopy and get me out of there.

I told the Lt. that I hadn’t got anything on the tubes…but could smell the cleaner in the plane, and I was feeling like the pilot did. The crew chief just looked at me and asked what it smelled like. I told him about my mom’s 409 and its similarity. The crew chief went to his tool bag, and pulled out a bottle of something called Spray 9. When he opened it, and I got a whiff of the contents, well, that was it. He told me that two days earlier, another pilot had got sick in the aircraft, and had failed to throw up in his flight suit like he was supposed to. He had literally erupted all over the lower panel and floorboards, which had required extensive cleaning by the ground crew. The item used to clean, and cut the smell was the Spray 9, which I had to admit, did have a pleasant smell.

Tests with this material showed that under the right conditions, when atmospheric pressure was lowered, the materials that could cause the symptoms experienced by the pilot came right out of the solution easily, and right into the breathing zone of the pilot. The reason I had got a good whiff of it was even simpler: Heating that cockpit to 140 degrees put it into a direct vapor state by evaporation, and right into me. And yes, the material could cause dizziness, nausea, and a metallic taste in the mouth of the victim.

The Air Force put a Notice To Airman (NOTAM) out, directing that if this type cleaner was used in the cockpits of aircraft, that they ensured that they got it all out before allowing the flight of the aircraft. Later, the use of Spray 9 was prohibited in all aircraft.

I got a pat on the head by the Major (no medal but a pat was very very welcome), and a small write up (though not by name) in the TAC safety magazine along with Fleagle the safety eagle. The biggest satisfaction was to sit in that cockpit…although it was hot, just grabbing that control stick was a thrill Ill remember for the rest of my life.

Ground hog that I am….
May 22nd, 2004  
great story
February 10th, 2007  
Wow, excellent story.
February 10th, 2007  
Team Infidel
very good story
April 7th, 2009  
Great story!!!
April 8th, 2009  
Awesome story!