September 27, 2012
It Isn’t Raining Rain, You Know —

—It’s Raining Violet

“We both woke up to a very loud bang. I looked around — no breeze, no rain, nothing,” homeowner Lois Farella told CBS Local New York as she pointed to a basketball-sized hole in her roof…

“It’s hard to understand what could have done this. It had to have come from a plane,” roofer Bryan Lanzello told CBS Local New York. “A bird couldn’t have done it.”

So the FAA investigated the incident as possibly involving blue ice. “Blue ice” is a euphemism for the mixture of frozen human waste and industrial-strength chemical that occasionally drops from planes’ waste tanks.

Memories, memories. For two years in the late 1970s I was head of public affairs for the FAA. We knew all about blue ice. It was caused by failure to make sure the valve was closed after the toilet tanks had been drained and refilled.

On the next flight the leakage would freeze in the upper air, forming balls of ice outside the plane. When these got heavy enough they would break loose, typically as the plane descended into lower, warmer air in preparation for landing.

Mostly these missiles landed harmlessly and unseen. Sometimes not. Sometimes my regional public affairs people could claim ignorance or blame the weather. Sometimes not. But if anybody were actually to get hit, it wouldn’t be my regional guys on the hot seat. It would be me. So I went to Bill, the man in charge of flight safety, and said, more or less:

“Sooner or later one of these balls of frozen shit is going to crush the skull of a cute little three-year-old blond girl playing with her dolly in the back yard and I’ll be the guy stuck with explaining to the world press why we can reach the moon but we can’t manage to keep our planes from leaking on innocent children.”

And so he explained patiently that enforcement was difficult because you never knew which plane had dropped which load. But you could at least find out which airline, I said. The toilet water doesn’t have to be blue, does it? Make United dye it read. Pan Am could be green. See where I’m going?

He laughed, thinking I was joking. And that, children, is why the ice that falls from heaven is blue — and will still be blue on the inevitable day when that photogenic little girl is untimely called to meet her Maker.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at September 27, 2012 04:49 PM
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I think that solution is brilliant! Please pass it along to the current FAA.

Posted by: JoyfulA on September 28, 2012 8:11 PM

How about wiring a sensor on the valve that prevents the brakes from being disengaged until it's closed?

The manufacturers would love it; they'd make a fortune retrofitting existing aircraft.

If that costs too much, make it a requirement for new aircraft. Planes have to be replaced eventually.

Posted by: John Anthony Curran on September 30, 2012 11:45 PM
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