Recently released details pertaining to an in-flight incident aboard special operations intelligence aircraft last month shows that an exploded can of the energy drink Red Bull resulted in extensive damage to the cockpit systems of the plane, prompting the crew to divert back to base.
An MC-12W Liberty intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft assigned to a subordinate unit within the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command was reportedly flying what was likely a routine training mission in the vicinity of Hurlburt Field in Florida on June 5, 2017 when the incident occurred. Details remain sparse, though a general overview of what occurred in the air has been released thanks to a Freedom of Information Act Request filed by aviation journalist Tyler Rogoway.
Much of the report had been redacted prior to release, however the basic details of the story remained. MC-12W Liberty aircraft are operated with a four person crew — two pilots and two sensor operators. At some point early in the flight, as the aircraft was heading toward its undisclosed “assigned airspace,” the aircraft’s co-pilot, who has not been named, produced a 16 oz. can of Red Bull from his bag. According to the report, the aviator was holding the unopened can when it ruptured, spraying the cabin — and notably the instrumentation — with the carbonated beverage.
“While the MCP used his shirt to absorb what he could, the Mishap Pilot (MP) noticed a faint odor. He subsequently shut down the mission system power, which alleviated the odor.” The report reads.
Although it does not specify what type of odor the “Mishap Pilot” picked up on, it can be assumed that it was likely the sort of burning smell that often accompanies dousing complicated electronics in fluid. Understanding that an issue with the flight control equipment could create a life-threatening situation, the command decision was made to turn the aircraft around and return to Hurlburt Field.
An investigation was immediately launched into the incident, but the Air Force redacted all portions of the report that pertained to the investigations findings, the identities of the crew, or any disciplinary action that may have followed. The repercussions of the simple mistake, however were not redacted: the damage done to the cabin instrumentation inside the aircraft cost a whopping $113,675 to repair — making a $4 Red Bull perhaps one of the most cost-efficient weapon ever used on a U.S. military aircraft.
The Air Force also acknowledged that thirteen individual “line replaceable units,” or LRUs, had to be removed and then inspected, cleaned or replaced before being reinstalled in the aircraft. These units could include anything from self contained processors to screens or keyboards.
MC-12W Liberty aircraft are used primarily to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) services to ground forces and were procured specifically for “Project Liberty,” which are funded as direct support for Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF). They first saw use in combat in June of 2009, where they provided direct support to the 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Detachment 1 and the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing out of Camp Liberty, Iraq.
Featured image: Airmen from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron prepare an MC-12W Liberty for operations Aug. 25, 2010, on Kandahar Airfield, Afghan. The MC-12W provides full-motion video and signals intelligence to assist battlefield commanders. | U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris