Dusting it up with the TSA

For the near brain-dead supporters of the TSA that still exist out there I would like them to think about how the TSA could possibly stop a dust explosion such as this one on an airplane in flight. Compare the size and shape of the grain elevator in that picture to an airplane fuselage. Compare the strength of the materials (reinforced concrete versus a thin aluminum skin with window) used in the construction.

A few pounds of powdered sugar, flour, or powdered milk can make enough dust to take out a grain elevator and it is more than enough to take an airplane out of the sky. And just how is the TSA going to scan for that when everyone that has eaten a powdered sugared doughnut since they last changed their clothes is going to test positive?

The TSA is nothing but A Security Theater and only the most ignorant and stupid don’t know and understand that.


15 thoughts on “Dusting it up with the TSA

  1. Not argueing the whole “TSA is security theater” thing, but the air inside a silo is relativly still and thus the dust can disperse in an even fashion. In an airplane, with the ventalation system going , the dust would not disperse effectivly and you could not ignite it, if I’m thinking of it correctly.

  2. The stillness of the air has nothing to do with it. It depends entirely upon the concentration of dust in the air. A quick puff of the dust to disperse it and an ignition source (a spark is sometimes sufficient) and it will burn rapidly enough to create a large overpressure. The skin of the aircraft is already under stress from the cabin pressure need to make the air dense enough for comfortable breathing. Another 20 PSI (28,800 pounds per square foot) is not that hard to come by and probably is more than adequate to pop it like a balloon.

  3. As someone who has deliberately set off a dust explosion (yes, Uncle Sam taught it), I would think it would be quite difficult to do on a passenger airliner, due to the rather robust air circulation and filtration system. The dust will only do it’s “rapid burning” trick over a relatively narrow range of densities, and it isn’t easy to create that even in a still environment. The key is that each flammable dust particle has to be close enough to another dust particle that the flame can propagate, but not so close that there isn’t enough air (oxygen) to sustain the high burning rate.
    Could you make a small “puff” of dust and ignite it? – probably, but remember, square law is operational here, and to make it actually rupture the airframe wouldn’t be easy.

  4. Well, things other than dust are combustible, and, as has been proved by 9/11, multiple plane tickets may be purchased and used by individuals with a common mission.

    IIRC, the last time I flea-bombed my house the instructions on the can included a caution about using too many aerosol flea bombs due to the potential for explosion/fire as a result of potentially combustible particles in the house’s atmosphere.

    So, consider: 3-6 “disgruntled individuals” (read:terrorists) board flight XYZ, each with the specified 3 ounce bottles of an unidentified liquid which presents itself as shampoo, soap or approved baby-butt-wiping compound; said “individuals,” at some point during the flight, stand up and point 3 ounce bottles at the center of the cabin and squeeze them. Said bottles have an atomizing cap to produce a fine, dispersed cloud rather than a stream, the result being an atomized, partially dispersed cloud of combustible liquid. One of our “friends” produces an ignition device and “poof!” the cloud undergoes rapid combustion in what is commonly referred to as an “explosion.”

    I don’t have figures for commercial airframes, but, according the US Army, an immediate 5 PSI overpressure is sufficient to kill a human; I’d suspect that Boeing and Airbus don’t design their airframes to withstand much more than that. In any event, even if the airframe is not disassembled by the overpressure from the rapid ignition of what is really a combustible gas, a certain number of humans whose seats are within the ignited combustible cloud will not benefit from the experience.

    Done over deep enough water, few to no parts of the airframe or components (read:black boxes) will be recovered; if enough similar events occur the suspicion will be “terrorist activity” but hard, factual proof to support that assumption will be missing. Given the current conditions within our government, lack of a signed confession plus video of the act, shot from multiple angles, will produce a “oh, so what?” response.

  5. A Security Theater: In Spanglish it’s Teatro Seguridad Absurdo.

    A chemical explosion a la Wally’s scenario or a dust explosion would be hard, but a little practice in secret could overcome this.

  6. Amazing, I thought I was making it up, but the letters really are in the correct order for TSA in real Spanish.

    Teatro de la Seguridad del Absurdo

  7. Why bother trying to sneak a half-assed dust initiator package into the aircraft via passenger?

    ICE still catches illegals working inside the secured area and flightline.

    Put it in the ventilation system itself on a timer.

  8. The video Joe linked to shows what I was thinking. I believe it’s actually a pretty standard trick for creating large fireballs for pyrotechnics – put a few ounces of flour on top of a small explosive charge, and you get a pretty impressively sized fireball. If you disperse the flour quickly enough, air movement inside the cabin isn’t enough to be relevant.

    The trickiest part would be getting the dispersion/initiator package on board, and as Matthew Carberry pointed out, the easiest way for a terrorist group to get someone into position to do that would be to get them hired in maintenance or on the flightline, rather than trying to sneak it in as a passenger.

  9. On a side note, sawdust apparently explodes pretty well, too. The plywood factory my dad used to work at had a vacuum system to collect the sawdust, and despite having spark detectors that would immediately SCRAM the system, it would still occasionally go BOOM. Fortunately, the system was also designed to vent any explosions in a way that wouldn’t take the whole plant with it.

  10. This was a great concern during the Berlin Airlift. Many of the planes were flying in charcoal, flour, and other powder-rich substances. The air crews had to take extra precautions to prevent this exact issue.

  11. The US Army’s improvised munitions handbook has several options for using flour as a secondary explosive. If you used a small primary charge inside a 1lb. bag of flour as a dispersant and simultaneously as an ignitor, you’d have a very large explosion. I think we’ve discussed this here before, Joe, as I know I thought about that while reading the aforementioned handbook a few years ago.

    Hell, a MOAB is really nothing more than a dispersant charge followed by an ingition.

  12. You’ll know you’re in trouble when all 20 of the middle-eastern looking men on your flight simultaneously ask for coffee with extra creamer.

  13. It would be no problem getting that on board. You have two or three try getting it on via different lines at security so if one gets caught so what. Nothing against taking a lb of grandma’s special flower on board. the chances of a match and a little fuse being spotted in a bag with a bunch of cords and computer gear, zero. And an ounce of black powder in a pill bottle, no problem.

    I fly 45 to 50 weeks a year. I never fail to think about how expensive the theater production I am watching really is. Until security is allowed to profile and then concentrate scarce resources on those that fit the profile we are just pissing in the wind and counting on alert passengers to be faster than the terrorist.

  14. In middle school, my science teacher produced a dust explosion in class by putting a few ounces of flour in a funnel, placing a lit candle next to the funnel, and then blowing into a tube attached to the bottom of the funnel. His breath alone quickly dispersed the flour, which ignited on contact with the flame.

    It wouldn’t be too hard for a creative person to scale this concept up to disperse a few pounds of flour. I’m thinking a sealed bag of air that the perpetrator jumps on, similar to inflating a paper bag and popping it behind someone’s head, only with more force. Use a little experimentation to figure out how to best disperse the powder with this set-up and you have yourself a bomb made of nothing but flour, a match and a plastic bag or two.

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