update: In order to make it easier to answer this question, use of "synthetic materials as a replacement for rubber circa 1969" in any aircraft might be good enough.

Michael Crichton's 1969 science fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain and the 1971 film of the same name ficticiously describe/depict a Phantom F-4 where a biological agent recovered from a satellite and subsequently mutated degrades and destroys rubber-like materials in the aircraft including the pilot's oxygen mask, and eventually the pilot as well.

In this clip from the film an expert at the site of the crash says:

There is no actual rubber on the phantom F-4 general. It’s all a synthetic plastic compound called “polychron”. It has some of the characteristics of human skin.

The spelling is in the computer-generated closed captions. I can find an insecticide Profenofos which is also called polycron, but nothing else.

Crichton is famous for meticulous technical research (generally) for his books, though they are still of course fiction.

Because of that, I'm wondering if the plot device of "polychron" replacing rubber in the F-4 has some basis in fact.

Question: Did the Phantom F-4 contain "polychron" or other synthetic materials as a replacement for rubber circa 1969?

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    $\begingroup$ In the novel, no name for the polymer is given. "It was all a synthetic plastic compound. Newly developed by Ancro; they're quite proud of it. It's a polymer that has some of the same characteristics as human tissue." P. 196 of the 1973 printing of the Dell paperback. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I have a hunch you didn't have to run down to the public library to find that reference ;-) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 23, 2019 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ guilty as charged. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2019 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ I haven't worked on the old fighter jets, but in all of our studies of construction and composites, i've never heard of something called polychron. Best case is someone around here who worked on the F-4 can give an answer :) $\endgroup$
    – Noddle
    Jan 7, 2022 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ However, after WW2 is when the industries really started experimenting with materials, so i'm sure there would have been some sort of synthetic material replacing rubber in the aircraft around 1969 $\endgroup$
    – Noddle
    Jan 7, 2022 at 9:08

1 Answer 1


One of the most commonly used masks during the Vietnam War era was the MBU-5/P Oxygen Mask and was made out of "natural" rubber. Later masks incorporated "silicone rubber," so whether or not that constitutes a "synthetic material" is a matter of semantics.

  • $\begingroup$ Personally I'd think that any material that bends and stretches like rubber, but is not derived from latex from a plant, would qualify as "synthetic". In my opinion silicone "rubber" certainly qualifies. Were the silicone rubber masks in use in F-4s by 1969? $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Feb 28, 2022 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I couldn’t find a MILSPEC with an effective date in or around 1969. The first mention of silicone rubber I found was from the early 80s, but that isn’t as definitive as folks are wanting for a fictional situation. <grin> $\endgroup$
    – dwardio
    Mar 1, 2022 at 21:08

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