...But materials specialists at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) recently have come to realize that organic contaminants—mold, mildew, fungi, bacteria—corrode aircraft surfaces more seriously than they had thought. Corrosion caused by living organisms is generated by moisture, humidity, human contact and by the increasing use of drop-in biofuels, and the microbes they bring with them are for all intents and purposes, eating airplanes. While the Air Force spends approximately $6 billion annually on corrosion issues, up to $1.2 billion of that could be spent on microbiologically-influenced corrosion.
Wash your hands, airman!
Credit: Paul Sancya/AP
"Microorganisms can eat away at surface materials, and some of the worst areas affected are tight, hard-to-reach areas that maintainers have difficulty disinfecting," said AFRL Biological Materials and Processing team leader Wendy Goodson.Apparently simple handling by maintenance staff is enough to transmit bacteria onto the surface of planes. (Gloves?) Also, it's fascinating that biofuels tend to introduce more microbial contamination. David Tracy of Foxtrot Alpha talks about the Air Force's solution:
The process is called the Joint Biological Agent Decontamination System, and it essentially just heats up the aircrafts in an oven to about 180°F to kill bio agents and viruses. According to the Wright-Patterson Airforce Base, the process “eliminates over 99.9 percent of biological contaminants on aircraft surfaces.” Plus, since it kills microbes, the chance of them regrowing is hugely decreased.So I know 180°F isn't very hot, but doesn't this heat treatment itself introduce aging issues? (Apparently not, if they're deciding to go with it.)