Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Aviation Fluids: Put Them in the Plane Not You


To get an airplane off the runway you’ve got to pump a lot of unusual fluids into her…avgas, oil, hydraulic fluid, deicing solvent. And let’s not forget the coffee and pop to pump into the pilot! There are many liquids involved in flying and contact with some of them is not completely benign. We usually don’t think much of it if we slosh a bit of Jet A on ourselves, but every one of the fluids I mentioned can cause trouble if they get in the wrong place in the wrong amount.

A lot of aircraft, especially the larger ones run some of their systems with hydraulic fluid. If your landing gear, flaps or ground steering run on hydraulic fluid you have to check levels and occasionally replenish it. Some folks find contact with it irritating. If it gets into your eye, flush it out immediately. Likewise, skin contact should be treated by washing with a mild soap using lots of water. It usually takes a pretty large amount of hydraulic fluid to cause airway irritation. If you are having trouble breathing, however, get out of the area where you’re working with the stuff and treat yourself to a good dose of fresh air. Wait for fumes to dissipate before going back into the hanger. Ingestion usually is not a big problem although if you so have symptoms seek medical attention immediately. Why the heck would you drink hydraulic fluid anyway?

Engine oil can be a little nastier. People vary in how sensitive they are to direct contact with oil. If it gets in your eye immediately rinse it out. Same with skin, especially if you are sensitive. Some folks actually will develop a contact dermatitis, a bumpy, blistery rash like you get with poison ivy. If you do have this type of reaction, let your friendly mechanic deal with the engine oil. Inhalation of larger amounts of oil fumes can cause cough, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea and even unconsciousness. If any of these things are happening, again vamoose and get some fresh air. Engine oil ingestion can be a serious matter. Get enough of it and you will become groggy and even lose consciousness. Get to the nearest emergency department if you or, more likely a child gets into it.

Fuel, either Avgas or Jet A has the potential to do you substantive harm if the exposure is sufficient. You may well have had a time or two when you got a little woozy after topping off the tanks. Again, removing yourself from the exposure and getting fresh air is the immediate response. Breathe in enough gas fumes and you actually can stop breathing. Hopefully someone around you knows CPR. Any Avgas in the eye should be flushed out immediately and a run to the nearest ER is wise. Serious eye inflammation can occur. Flush fuel off your skin. If you have an open wound, pay special attention. Clean it off as best you can. Apply a dressing and again seek medical attention if any irritation develops. If there is one fluid a pilot might swallow its avgas. I’ve seen more than one guy try to siphon off an overfilled tank by priming the tube by sucking on it.

If you manage to swallow any fuel, that can be a serious problem. You really are wisest to seek immediate medical attention. Also do not induce vomiting. If you up-chuck the fuel it could get into the lungs and cause what’s called aspiration pneumonia, a generalized chest inflammation

that could well put you on a respirator! So, if you’re the guy that didn’t use the ball siphon and do vomit, keep your head down below your hips to reduce the chance of aspiration. Rinse out your mouth until the yucky taste dissipates. Haul into the clinic or ER.

So, if you are like most of us and don’t often trade with those fancy FBOs that do all the filling for you, be careful. Drink eggnog not aviation fluids!

Fly wisely. See you next month.

As always, comments, questions and suggestions are welcome: jdlakinmd@gmail.com.Also, we’ve moved our office to Airlake Airport’s FBO (KLVN)! Call 952-469-4414 for a flight physical appointment.


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