The normal pull of 1 G force is what keeps us from floating away into space. The extreme acceleration of a fighter aircraft exposes the pilot to massive G forces, which could be five times as much as normal. To put things into perspective, a pilot who weighs 160 pounds at one G would weigh 960 pounds at six Gs.
Imagine having to attend nature’s call while being exposed to such extreme G forces and at 30,000 feet. Sure doesn’t sound fun. And it’s even more cumbersome than you think.
If the flying sortie is of short duration, the pilot can sometimes hold it back in-although it can be hazardous to kidney health.
With air refuelling allowing for longer flights now, “holding back” is just not an option.
So, how do they manage the task?
Apparently, the problem of relieving a pilot’s bladder while flying fighter jets has been around for decades. Initially, pilots resorted to “tactical dehydration” by avoiding water during the mission(s) to prevent visits to the lavatory.
Mission times vary greatly. An air-to-air dogfighting training mission can be less than an hour, while a mission that involves aerial refuelling could last 6 plus hours. For longer missions, it’s common not to drink too much inflight but that can lead of course to dehydration and possible diminished operational effectiveness.Jeff Devlin from Skyborne Airline Academy-a former US Marine Corps F-18 fighter pilot
Dehydration can cause undesirable effects like headaches, reduced endurance and G-force tolerance- all of which are detrimental for accurate flying.
Some of the methods that have been developed are:
- Piddle Packs: It is essentially a plastic bag but made of a much thicker ply-about the size of a hard covered novel. Inside this bag is a powdered substance. The bag has a built in metal twist-tie to secure the bag after its been opened. For this of course, the pilot has to unstrap and unzip, which has caused a few accidents in the past. The powder turn into a gel as urine saturates it- turning it into a non-spilling substance which can then be stored away. Throughout the entire routine, the jet is either put in an altitude hold (auto pilot), or just trimmed up real well to keep the jet from nosing over/up when you release the controls. The whole process is completed in under a minute.
These packs are also commonly used for ocean crossings that take 10 plus hoursJeff Devlin
The Aircrew Mission Extender Device (AMXD)
Adopted by the U.S. Air Force as a replacement to piddle packs, this apparatus is a wearable device, that detects urine and flushes it into a bag for storage.
Once the AMXDmax automatically detects urine, it pumps it into a collection bag and because urine is nasty, sensors detect the urine within a second and rapidly pump it into a 1.7 quart (6.8 cups) collection bag. In comparison to piddle bags, pilots now don’t have to undress in the cockpit- technically releasing the bladder is all the pilot does. The device looks like a black pair of tight-fitting boxer shorts concealing either a cup or a pad.
Additionally, it comes in two different versions for men and women respectively.
The new devices are hands-free, battery operated and worn underneath uniformsAccording to Military.com
Ongoing research and development
Reportedly, Royal Air Force (RAF) has been collaborating with the US Airforce in the development of the Omni Gen. 3 Skydrate which is an upgrade to the existing Advance Mission Extender Device (AMXD).
The RAF has been heavily involved in research and development of a variety of devices and have been instrumental in offering feedback to improve systems with the RAF Centre for Aviation Medicine (RAF CAM) being a world leader in this area.A senior Royal Air Force source said
As per reports, Skydrate has been modified to improve the design and effectiveness of the pad after feedback from female pilots and is now available for both men and women.
US aircrew is set to receive Skydrate by spring of this year.
COVER: Air Force Times