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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

There's No Place for Viagra in the Friendly Skies

October 28, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

When the revolutionary new drug Viagra was first introduced, a lot of people--even Bob Dole--welcomed it enthusiastically.

A lot of other people wondered if it would have any dangerous side effects.

But no, up to now Viagra has been as safe as Flintstone vitamins. Thousands of happy couples are now second-honeymooning at Viagra Falls.

There's finally a catch, though.

A doctor from an Air Force base is now warning pilots--all of them, including commercial pilots--not to take Viagra within six hours of flying.

He says the drug can cause a kind of color blindness, making it difficult to tell blue from green.

This is probably a good thing to know, particularly for pilots who might mistake a golf course for the Pacific Ocean.


According to an Associated Press report, this doctor is prescribing a "six hours from Viagra to throttle" policy for pilots.

This is a spin on the "eight hours from bottle to throttle" motto that is used by aviators regarding what they drink, and we don't mean when a flight attendant begins the beverage service.

A pilot should abstain from Viagra for six hours before a flight, Dr. Donato J. Borrillo of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base writes in an aviation medical journal. It reportedly takes this long for the drug to leave one's blood system, or a couple of hours fewer than a cold Budweiser.

A Viagra pill is blue and diamond-shaped. Therefore, if a passenger sees a flight attendant handing a pilot something that is blue and diamond-shaped, it had better be a bag of Blue Diamond almonds.

We therefore offer a few new safety instructions.

Be worried if the following happens:

* Your pilot comes on the intercom and announces to everybody on board that the sky looks "a beautiful shade of emerald green today."

* Your co-pilot walks down the aisle and you notice that he is wearing one green sock and one blue.

* Your flight steward offers to take back your salad because "that turquoise lettuce has obviously gone bad."

* Your gate agent greets the pilot by saying, "Hey! Seen any wild green yonder lately?"

The big concern appears to be that a pilot must be able to distinguish between the blues and greens of a plane's cockpit instrumentation and of an airport's runway lights.

This will come in particularly handy if the blue button in the cockpit is for the air-conditioning and the green button is for the pilot's ejection seat.

Due to the fact that a Viagra pill itself is blue, a pilot must also be able to distinguish between one of those and some other kind of pill that's green.

It is vital that a pilot take the correct medication--before, during and after a flight. Even if it's only for a mild case of flu, we wouldn't want a pilot to pop the wrong pill.

Otherwise, your shuttle to San Jose could accidentally end up in San Jose, Costa Rica.

A recent essay in this space on John Glenn's upcoming voyage made no Viagra references at all, but did make light of the 77-year-old astronaut's choices of what other products he should take along, which colleagues of his have also been kidding him about.

Now comes an announcement that Glenn has decided to pack Metamucil aboard the spacecraft for the trip.

NASA has not yet determined whether this is an outer-space first.

An AP aerospace correspondent, Marcia Dunn, came up with the funniest first sentence of the autumn when she wrote that Glenn "may need help making all systems go."

She quotes Jack Sparks, the astronaut's spokesman, as saying that Glenn himself believes "one of the choices he's going to have on this flight compared to his first flight is whether he mixes the Tang with Metamucil or Geritol."

Wish we'd thought of that.


For those who fret that this is an age thing, be aware that Chiaki Mukai, 46, a Japanese astronaut making the trip with Glenn, has also requested Metamucil as part of his travel kit.

Glenn ordered apple crisp flavor, Mukai cinnamon spice.

So far, though, there has been no official NASA communique on Viagra, or on a six-hour moratorium of its use by astronauts before liftoff.

But you will know that Houston has a problem if at any point during the mission, Glenn or one of his colleagues transmits a curious message.

For example, that Mars looks yellow.

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail

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