The Air Force’s $1,280 Coffee Cup

The Air Force’s $1,280 Coffee Cup

U.S. Air Force photo/Christopher Okula

Keeping a cup of coffee hot can be a pricey proposition if you happen to serve on a U.S. Air Force transport jet. Crew members on more than 300 KC-10, C-5 and C-17 aircraft use specially designed cups to keep their java warm on long flights, and if a cup handle breaks, as they regularly do, the Air Force currently has to pay about $1,280 to replace the whole unit.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson explained to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in a letter last week that because the cups plug into the aircraft, they need to be certified by the FAA, significantly raising their cost. Wilson said the Air Force has paid $326,785 for 391 of the cups since 2016, or about $835 per cup. Two year ago, the Air Force was spending a bit less than $700 per cup, but the price reportedly surged this year.  

Wilson told Grassley that she recently created an Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office to find ways to create replacement parts at a lower cost. The office said that a replacement handle for the Air Force coffee cup can be 3-D printed for about 50 cents.