Water, Water Everywhere!

We may complain of OSHA and EPA and Public Health, but they are only responding to our industry’s laxity in the old days.


The EPA and Public Health are cracking down on aircraft water supplies. As the British say, “And not before its time.”

I do drink coffee when on flights trusting that the coffee makers will kill the things I have seen living in water lines, service carts and supply hoses. Needless to say, I do not drink water from the fountains. This may be irrational nowadays. I see all sorts of devices to purify the water, but unfortunately, I remember.

I was assigned a clean and sterilization of the potable water system on a DC-6 one day. I finally found the water cart well hidden behind some out-of-service GSE down by the auto shop. Its capacity was about 60 gallons. Its tank had a rectangular profile and had been welded up out of stainless steel sheet, and it had been mounted on a four-wheel trailer.

It was fitted with a hand pump and hose. What it was not fitted with was a tow ring on the handle which meant you pulled it by hand across the ramp or, more usually, held it in your hand while riding precariously on the back of a tug.

Of course the hose fitting that attached to the aircraft was missing. I bet it was in someone’s toolbox. He of course had taken it so he wouldn’t be stuck like I was when he had to service a water system. Such perverse thinking is not uncommon.

I was in luck as for a wonder the stockroom had one. A clamp and I was almost in business but I still had to draw out a gallon of chlorine bleach. None of the fancy disinfectants then. Good old household bleach. At this point there came a choice. In all cases you had to fill the service cart with water. You could add the bleach to the tank of water or, as some did, you could drain out the service hose and pour the bleach into it. This kept the servicing cart full of clean water so you didn’t have to make a trip back to drain, flush and refill it in order to flush the aircraft.

You had to drain the aircraft to make room for the disinfectant. Then fill the aircraft tank by using the hand wobble pump for a lot of stroke pumping it up to the ceiling of the main cabin into the water tank. It took a lot of strokes. If you added bleach to the tank it was diluted. If you had added it to the hose the airplane got a shot of straight bleach first, then water. Hopefully the water pushing the bleach into the tank quickly diluted it. When the aircraft tank was full (indicated by an overflow) you went upstairs. Run water at each faucet until you got the stink of bleach. Then wait a half an hour or so, drain the aircraft and each faucet and then refill with clean water, drain and refill with clean water until there was no more bleach smell. This meant multiple trips back and forth from the water source, which, I may add, was not a clean, closed potable water cabinet either, but just a garden hose off a wall spigot. Was the end carefully capped when not in use? Please! We may complain of OSHA and EPA and Public Health, but they are only responding to our industry’s laxity in the old days.

One amazing thing is that aircraft defy gravity daily by flying. Apparently it gets into the water systems too on some of them for many of the gravity feed systems obstinately refused to flow if they had been drained and refilled. Tank in the ceiling, faucet on sink, water would not flow downhill. An airlock in one of the lines of course. Loosening fitting and bleeding them was sometimes the only way to reestablish water flow.

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