The Tang Bomb - Why You Can’t Take a Soda on a Plane

In our Post 9/11 Attacks world air travel has become more difficult and time consuming. We have to go through all sorts of checks, removing our shoes and so forth, and we can’t take seemingly mundane products onto the aircraft. Well, it seems that there might be a good reason for this restriction. As it turns out, terrorists based in the UK back in 2006 were targeting 7 airplanes with bombs made from Tang, the common household orange flavored instant breakfast beverage, and hydrogen peroxide, the common antiseptic.

As you can see in this video from Fox News, mixing these two common ingredients and using a flash bulb detonator can cause a powerful explosion, enough to breach the hull of an aircraft and causing explosive decompression, killing everyone on board very quickly.

The citric acid in the Tang combines with the bleach in the hydrogen peroxide to cause an explosive reaction. Sometimes additional chemicals are used to accelerate or intensify the explosion, most commonly hexamethylene triperoxide diamine which can also be easily made from common household items. These kinds of easy to make explosives were invented back in the early to mid 1800’s before more stable compounds, like dynamite, were invented. These improvised explosives are very unstable and sensitive to detonation from friction or contact with other compounds. For example, a chemistry major at the college I went to was experimenting with these compounds accidentally blew up a lab and burned himself badly.

Terrorist groups have found these explosive improvised from common household items to be of great value. They’re easy to smuggle into target areas and easy to assemble into a working bomb. And, if you don’t plan on getting away, easy to explode. That’s why they’re so dangerous. The materials for them can easily be concealed in a soda or shampoo bottle of normal size.

So, the next time you are upset that you can’t take your soda on the plane, remember, they’re actually looking out for your safety with this restriction.


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Comment by Komodo Dragon
2008-05-30 10:31:17

Oops! I had my sound on high, and played the video, that explosion really scared me! Thats loud and scary!

Comment by jfc
2008-05-30 11:06:40

Hi Komodo,

Yes, it is amazing how loud an explosion can be. I’ve been around various weaponry such as grenades and artillery and even with ear protection they were very loud. Even a crude household chemical explosion like this tang bomb generates quite a sound and pressure wave.

2008-05-30 22:23:22

ahh…i always wondered about that!

Comment by trade show booths
2008-06-25 10:18:36

hi Frank, I’m glad you have the “Other Interesting OpTempo Articles…” feature at the bottom of your posts or I wouldn’t have found this post.
On the lighter side, now I want to go to the store and get a jar of Tang. I think I have the hydrogen peroxide in the bathroom already somewhere… (To play with of course, not for the purpose described above. I had a friend that built a “potato gun” if you want to google that. What a crack up! Or you can google “trade show booths”.)
On the more serious side, I think we’ve been lucky. I think there’s also a lot of hard work that goes unrecognized.
That said, I don’t like to fly anymore. My gripe with the system is the “political correctness”. We just flew last week and watched an old white lady with a cane getting wanded and her luggage searched. She was still at security as we moved on. Was she going to storm the cockpit with her cane? I don’t think she would have made it more than three rows unassisted! Now I know anything is possible, but I still say play the odds and focus the resources where you get the most bang (pardon the pun) for the buck.
Now that said, I’d end this with a hat’s off to our government. Even one plane getting taken out would be an economic disaster.
~ Steve

Comment by jfc
2008-06-25 10:57:22

Hi Steve,

It’s the Random Posts plugin that provides this. I like randomizing content like this since it makes each page view fresh to some degree.

I haven’t flown anywhere recently either. The last time I flew was on February 28, 2001. I was flying out to Seattle for a conference at Microsoft but ended up spending almost a day at the Denver airport due to the Nisqually earthquake. Fun stuff.

The Israelis practice the kind of security you’re talking about. It works very well but it is rather aggressive and discriminatory, something that most Americans tend to bristle at even post 9/11.

Comment by Jacob Angel
2008-07-08 10:06:45

Like you, it’s been a long time since I flew. But I do have to comment on what you said about online security and the Israelis.

On the one hand, you’re absolutely correct. Israeli airline security is very tight, and they do profile passengers. But they do it in ways that you may not expect.

For instance, as far as Israeli airline security is concerned, the passenger who presents the greatest potential danger is a young single woman travelling alone, particularly if they have light-colored hair. Why? Not because they are the most likely to knowingly attempt to destroy an airplane, but because they are the most likely to have been deceived into carrying an explosive device onto the plane.

That is precisely how the Lockerbie tragedy was caused; a tourist who had had a brief love affair with someone who turned out to be an Arab terrorist was persuaded to carry a radio as a gift for, if I recall correctly, her boyfriend’s brother. The radio contained a bomb.

So yes, Israeli airline security is very tight, and perhaps even discriminatory — but not in the way that one might commonly think.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2008-08-15 00:28:29

Hey that sounds cool to mix Tang and hydrogen peroxide. Is it more powerful than mixing vinegar and baking soda? When we were kids we made some cool plastic rockets that we sent into the air with that mixture. Think I’ll go make a Tang rocket in the backyard.

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