Air Force testing another system to provide bladder relief for women on long flights
Stars and Stripes March 20, 2023
The days of diapers and sponges on long, toiletless flights could be numbered for female service members, thanks to a new cup designed for women.
The in-flight bladder relief system, now being tested by female pilots from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., is intended to replace systems that were originally designed with male anatomy in mind, the Air Force said in a statement Friday.
Lack of comfortable bladder relief has made it difficult for female crew members on long missions, the service said.
“The current options are adult diapers, holding it, or using a bag system to take the urine away. Some air crew have been found to practice ‘tactical dehydration,’” the 4th Fighter Wing statement said.
Each of those methods presents complications. Besides producing discomfort, holding urine can cause infections and weaken bladder muscles.
Meanwhile, the bag systems air crews use require them to unstrap from their seats and gear, a process that can take over 45 minutes, the statement said.
"Tactical dehydration" also is dangerous because it can lower a person’s ability to withstand high G-forces by 50%, the Air Force said.
The alternative, designed by the company Airion Health, involves a cup liner system that is docked to the body.
“You wear that under the underwear that comes out of the flight suit, which then connects to our pump system and controller that will pump the liquid out and away from the body into a collection bag,” Colt Seman, Airion Health’s chief of design, said in the statement.
The goal is for air crew members to be able to relieve themselves without unstrapping.
The bladder relief initiative began in 2020 when the Air Force began offering cash prizes for ideas while asking companies to design a system especially for women.
The service announced in December 2021 that it would field a system involving a pump, an inflatable pad and a collection bag the following spring. The statement Friday didn’t mention what happened to those plans.
Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is the first to “ground test” the new cups, and four other Air Force bases will follow suit before test flights are launched. A date hasn't been announced.
“We brought in a lot of female experts to really take a look at what this is and how to make a system for women from women versus being a male-driven design,” said Cam Chidiac, Airion Health’s managing member.