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Airman 1st Class Anthony Sofia wands a man at the RAF Mildenhall passenger terminal. Sofia said the instrument is sensitive enough to pick up metal rods in people’s limbs.

Airman 1st Class Anthony Sofia wands a man at the RAF Mildenhall passenger terminal. Sofia said the instrument is sensitive enough to pick up metal rods in people’s limbs. (Ben Murray / S&S)

RAF MILDENHALL — There is a man. A man whose job it is to look through underwear and toiletries to make sure you’re not hiding a machete in your Hanes or some live mice in your socks. A man who, no matter how much you may want to, keeps you from sticking your arm in the X-ray machine to see what it looks like on the little screen. His name is Airman 1st Class Anthony Sofia, and he’s one of the X-ray technicians at the passenger terminal in RAF Mildenhall.

What are some of the strangest things you’ve seen come through that thing?

We’ve seen brass knuckles, which had to be confiscated. We’ve seen people bring in bayonets as souvenirs. Had people try bringing baseball bats and cricket bats as carry-on luggage.

As a man with X-ray vision, how do you think the new Superman movie will do?

I think it’ll be all right. It’s going to be too hard to compete with the original.

Have you seen the new trailer where the bullet bounces off his eye? Right off his eyeball?

No.

Oh. OK, different things show up as different colors [in the machine] — what does metal show up as? And plastic?

It all depends on what you have. Metal is usually blue, and inorganic materials like clothes and everything show up more orange.

So what does it look like if I try to bring on my barbarian sword replica?

It would be just a big, blue whatever shape it is.

What if somebody tried to bring, like, a pet python on? What would that look like?

It would probably look like any regular old X-ray machine.

What can I get away with going through that thing (the walk-through metal detector)?

[Eyebrows raise.]

I mean, like belt buckles, buttons, these kinds of things. Change.

Belt buckles, it depends on the size. Change would go off, cigarette wrappers go off, gum wrappers go off — the foil inside the pack of cigarettes, the foil wrapped around the gum, that’ll go off.

Would my navel ring buzz it?

No. Usually earrings, rings, they don’t set it off.

All right, let’s do some sentence completion. How about, “Ma’am, could you please take off your ...”

Belt.

“Sir, don’t put your (blank) in the X-ray machine.”

[Nervous laugh] Ah … don’t put your kid.

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