Explosives on aircraft

Some things strike me as odd in this recent business with Mr Abdultallab from Nigeria. We don’t need to go into the security failures prior to the event.

  1. There is a lot more detailed information much more quickly than the similar issue with Mr Reid several years ago.
  2. The explosive material has been PUBLICLY identified as PETN. 27 grams of it. with a syringe of some liquid he was trying to inject into the PETN?

Of the first issue, I am pleased that the current government is not as secretive as the previous, but what purpose does this information serve? For one, I know, from professional experiance a bit about PETN (pentaerithritol trinitrate). It is an explosive approximately 66% more powerful than TNT, but it is less stable and is used almost exclusively as a Primary detonating material or mixed with other materials, such as in Semtex, to provide more punch for the pound. Also, when used as a vasodilator, as Lentonitrat, iwhich is nearly pure PETN.

On the second issue, 27 grams, less than an ounce, unless very precisely shaped and placed would do little more damage than what it seems to have done, set the “terrorist” on fire (possibly earning a Darwin Award nomination).

My “burning” questions: does anyone have knowledge of how much damage an ounce of high explosive can cause in the situation as it is known through the media?
And, was the Syringe possibly loaded with an accelerant, in lieu of an electric detonator?

They were speculating wildly on CNN yesterday that the burning bomb was supposed to burn through the seat, aircraft floor and hold and then ignite fumes in the central fuel tank.

yes, he was apparently seated (by coincidence?) right over a fuel tank.

But how much of the plane do the tanks take up? I really have no idea, but depending on how they are set up, you may actually have more seats over the tank than not.

Aren’t the fuel tanks on most passenger jets located in the wings? At least that’s what I’ve heard from some aviation people.

I will not be surprised if our would-be Underoos Bomber was told he’d burn his way to glory and the fuel tank, but that his handlers knew all along that there was only a minuscule chance of badly harming the aircraft, and in reality what they intended to achieve was **exactly **the mass paranoia and hysteria of the past few days – preferably to be maintained for as long as possible (I mean, how long ago was Richard Reid, AKA The Shoe Bomber? You still have to take your shoes off almost everywhere – except, interestingly, at Ben Gurion… Don’t get me started about not being allowed to take your water bottle into the Secure Area, either.)


According to wikipedia a WWII German 20mm shell had 18 grams of PETN, and it took an average of 25 hits to bring down a B-17, make of that what you will.

The typical A330 has fuel tanks in the wings, but this was an A330-323X, which is an extended-range plane. I can’t seem to find any fuel system schematics on the -300 series, but there may well be an extra fuel tank or two in the fuselage.

It’s not an aircraft I’m familiar with but there doesn’t appear to be any fuel tanks in the fuselage.


Why don’t these shoe/pants bomber types do their thing in the bathroom rather than in their seats where they’ll likely be stopped?

Perhaps he was trying to make semtex? The syringe could have been full of RDX powder.

Maybe he did think that his seat was over a fuel tank, but the lavatory wouldn’t be?

Other sources claim that it was 80 grams


If his purpose was to burn right down through to the fuel tank, then using thermite would have made more sense. Not only does it burn hot, but, AFAIK, it’s relatively to make or acquire.

Here’s a page with lots of videos showing how potent thermite is as a heat source.

One obstacle that must be overcome in using thermite is actually igniting the thermite itself to get things started. Still, a butane lighter held to a thin strip of magnesium would probably work quite well.

(As an aside, perhaps the reason he didn’t light his device in the lavatory was to make things as public and open as possible, thereby creating a great scene - just as happened. Hysterical government and media responses ensue.)

Were they shooting from inside the plane?

Now I feel safer. Thanks for the how-to. Not.

Yeah, I got that right after the original post.

80 grams is approximately 1/4 stick of dynamite, which could do some serious damage, but other little bits of info that dribbled through also mentioned that the substance was in soft plastic container(s).
In his underwear?
Uncontained explosive, plus detonator usually means signal flare, not explosion.