Military

US Air Force upgrades in-flight bladder relief systems for aircrews

US Air Force upgrades in-fligh...
Yep, pilots need to pee, and it's more than just an issue of comfort
Yep, pilots need to pee, and it's more than just an issue of comfort
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Yep, pilots need to pee, and it's more than just an issue of comfort
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Yep, pilots need to pee, and it's more than just an issue of comfort
Skydrate female system
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Skydrate female system
Skydrate male system
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Skydrate male system
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The US Air Force is fielding an improved "in-flight bladder relief device" (to put it politely) called the Omni Generation 3 Skydrate that will allow male and female pilots to fly long air missions with greater safety and comfort.

You could be forgiven for not spending much time thinking about how urine and other bodily wastes are handled by air force personnel during long flights, but it's been a problem for pilots ever since aircraft could stay aloft more than a couple of hours. It's not only a question of comfort, but also of health and immediate safety because a pilot having to relieve himself or herself in a cramped cockpit can be a potentially dangerous maneuver.

Those of a certain age may remember news coverage of the early NASA space flights reporting how astronauts enjoyed a hearty breakfast of steak and eggs before heading off to the launch pad. This wasn't just a bit of aeronautical tradition or masculine bravado. It was, and is, a meal with a very practical function going back to the Second World War bomber crews. By dining on high-protein fare before climbing into a spacecraft, the astronaut was putting off the time for a bowel movement as long as possible.

Skydrate male system
Skydrate male system

With many military flights lasting for more than 10 or 12 hours, the problem of bladder relief becomes a very serious one. Usually, the choices fall to one of three options. The first is wearing an adult diaper, the second is holding it in until getting back on the ground, and the third is some sort of tube and bag system to carry away the urine.

Each of these have serious disadvantages. Diapers are uncomfortable, embarrassing, and outright disgusting. Holding it in means either risking bladder damage or the pilot deliberately dehydrating before the flight, which can result in headaches, reduced G-force tolerance, disorientation, and a reduction in flight performance. Meanwhile, collection systems are often uncomfortable, difficult to use, and may require doing dangerous things like undoing buckles, which can get stuck in the cockpit controls.

For women, the latter is worse because many systems are so hard to use that some female pilots are reported to have to strip out of their flight suits completely to use their "piddle-packs." Needless to say, all this not only reduces the effectiveness of pilots, it also affects the readiness of flight crews, and causes barriers to fast deployments.

Skydrate female system
Skydrate female system

To rectify this, the Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC) worked with Air Force Materiel Command and other Air Force units to gather feedback from pilots – especially female pilots – as part of an effort to improve the Skydrate system built by Omni.

For the test, thirty female flight crew went to the Omni facility for multi-hour wear tests while nine other pilots at three outside sites went through flight testing. The feedback resulted in an improved Skydrate system for women that includes a larger collection bag, improved flow rate, multiple hose lengths, one-hand operation for on/off functionality, and expanded pad size choices.

The Human Systems Program Office, a subdivision of the Agile Combat Support Directorate, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio is also looking at new proposals from other companies for new bladder relief devices with new pumps and, ahem, human interfaces.

"This is a good example of using a 'fly, fix, fly' model to prioritize female aircrew feedback and speed up the testing process to field the device quicker," says Sharon Rogers, lead test engineer, 46th Test Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Source: US Air Force

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4 comments
4 comments
Kevin Ritchey
Having recently being hospitalized with heart disease complications, utilizing a catheter system seems to provide LONG lasting effectiveness rather than trying to keep the collection of urine outside the body. Depending on the mission, pilots should expect the system to match the needs. Another good reason to eliminate the human factor from air flight controls. But there’s a big difference in flying a hospital bed to flying with g-forces pushing bladders to their limits. Comfort trumps all.
paul314
Internal catheters are effective, but they're seriously uncomfortable to, um, wear. Even more painful to insert and remove, especially if you're flying repeated missions and aren't going to be plugged in for the whole deployment.
JeffK
The A-7E Corsair II light attack aircraft, which my squadron flew off USS Enterprise in the Vietnam war had a pilot relief tube. Basically a tapered inverted plastic cone with a spring loaded cover which was attached to a rubber hose leading to a tiny hole in the aircraft's fuselage. If the pilot used the device on a flight he would inform the plane captain (equivalent to a crew chief in the Army and Air Force) and he would pour a splash of disinfectant down the tube. In that time of male only pilots and combat ship crews it apparently worked well. Most sorties only lasted two to three hours and it was rare that they were used in my experience. There was one humorous episode when a new pilot in the squadron didn't realize the tube lead out of the aircraft and used it on the flight deck waiting for hand off to the plane handlers who would guide the plane to the catapult. His plane captain was standing beside the aircraft on the same side as the relief tube exit and got a bit of a golden shower before jumping clear. I had it on good authority that the plane captain made sure the pilot understood the working of the system when he returned from his mission.
David V
Reading the article and realizing that some women pilots have to nearly strip out of their gear to pee seems that this problem has never been taken into consideration for the women pilots from the beginning. Are you telling me they wear the SAME gear ? Has no-one thought of this before ? Just ask my wife about her problems stripping out of motorcycle rain suits at service stations. Just as bad - but not so dangerous...