Missiles and guns aren't the only things that can bring the US Air Force's planes down. According to a new report from Popular Mechanics, the USAF spends $6 billion per year fighting corrosion on its jets. But while temperature, humidity, and salt water still pose a threat, a bigger problem is from corrosive microorganisms.
Of the $6 billion spent combatting corrosion, the USAF dedicates up to $1.2 billion battling corrosion caused by microorganisms. The Air Force Research Laboratory claims mold, mildew, fungi, and bacteria, transmitted to aircraft via moisture, humidity, human contact, and even the trendy new biofuel becoming increasingly common in military aircraft, can wreak havoc on the USAF's jets.
"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," Wendy Goodson, the AFRL's Biological Materials and Processing team leader, told PM.
Weirdly, the Air Force's solution to disinfecting its aircraft takes a page from old kitchen cleaning tricks. Much as you can microwave a wet kitchen sponge to kill germs, the AFRL is using a giant oven, called the Joint Biological Agent Decontamination System, to heat jets up to 180 degrees. According to PM, it can temporarily purge a jet of bacteria, including the hard-to-reach spots that maintainers can't get to. The Air Force is also working to convert JBADS to handle biofuel storage tanks, which could essentially eliminate microorganisms at the source.
The Air Force is aiming to implement JBADS by 2017. Doubtless aircraft maintainers can't wait.