A Can Of Red Bull Nearly Caused Major Problems For An Air Force Spy Plane

Bullet Points
The first MC-12 Liberty aircraft in-theater lands after its first combat sortie at approximately 6:20 p.m. local time June 10 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Tiffany Trojca

If you read that recent Military.com story about the Air Force's efforts to engineer a new coffee mug and thought to yourself "why do these horrible mugs cost some $1,200 apiece of my hard-earned tax dollars," we have a relatively simple answer: a spill can be a complete disaster — especially if it's Red Bull.


The eagle-eyed aviation pros at The War Zone spotted an unusual accident in Military Times' sprawling database of aviation mishaps detailing how a 16oz can of Red Bull and an MC-12W Liberty spy plane that resulted in more than $100,000 in damage to the aircraft.

Here are the key details, per a mishap summary obtained by The War Zone via Freedom Of Information Act request:

  • The June 5th, 2017, incident occurred after one of the aircrew, identified as "Mishap Copilot (MCP, Person #1)," retrieved an unopened 16oz can of Red Bull from his bag that promptly ruptured, spewing the energy drink over the center console.
  • "While the MCP used his shirt to absorb what he could, the Mishap Pilot (MP) noticed a faint odor," according to the report. "He subsequently shut down the mission system power, which alleviated the odor. The crew discussed their options and decided to RTB [return to base]."
  • The War Zone reports that while the aircrew wasn't even close to in danger due to the spill, the mishap cost the Air Force a whopping $113,675, or "more than $7,000 of damage for each ounce of Red Bull that 'Person #1' spilled in the cockpit." This is officially the most expensive can of Red Bull known to man.
  • Though it's unclear what, if any, systems were damaged by the spill, the report indicates the hefty bill likely resulted from maintenance personnel removing and repairing 13  "line replaceable units." For context, that console in the civilian version of the MC-12W Liberty (the King Air 350ER) includes a Synthetic Vision System (SVS) graphics and aviation package.

This is exactly why the Air Force engineers $1,200 mugs: to prevent some sort of unanticipated fluid-related incident from catalyzing a potential catastrophic mishap. As my T&P; colleague Brad Howard, an Air Force vet who has actually flown on the MC-12W before, told me: Everything that enters the cockpit of a $38 million aircraft needs to be highly engineered to not, y'know, cause fires or generate static electricity that may screw with controls.

The most likely cause of the mishap? The copilot probably opened a shaken Red Bull can that was in his helmet bag right over the console. Indeed the War Zone notes that the incident " might have earned them some sort of disciplinary action," but those proceedings were heavily redacted in the report.

OK, OK, we'll say it: Red Bull does not give you wings. But my boy Howard has a solution to prevent these problems in the future: Big Safari, the legendary shadowy wizards behind quick fixes, could modify a Bass Pro Shop 32oz mug to fit into the MC-12W cup holders for a cool $2 million tops. Either that or the sensor operators should be put in charge of snack duty. Just sayin'

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At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism throughout the movie.

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