Pilots at an Air Force base in North Carolina are the first to test out a new system that would make it easier for female aviators to urinate during long flights.
A long-standing issue for women in the service has been not having a practical or safe way to relieve themselves, often having to rely on dehydration, diapers or simply holding their urine during training or a mission.
Holding in urine for extended periods of time can lead to a variety of health complications, ranging from headaches, infections and an overall weakening of the bladder muscles. One method referred to by aviators as "tactical dehydration" involves not drinking liquids at all for hours before a flight, which can lead to a variety of safety risks, according to the Air Force.
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"This method can cause fatal errors and health issues, such as lowering the aircrew's ability to withstand high g-forces by 50% and increase headaches," the 4th Fighter Wing said in a press release.
But female pilots at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, are ground testing a new bladder relief method.
The system -- called Airus by Airion Health -- was awarded a prototype contract by the Air Force last year, according to the 4th Fighter Wing. It uses a cup liner that is docked to the body and worn under the pilot's underwear. A pumping system then pulls the liquid away from the flight suit and doesn't require pilots to remove their harness.
"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," Cam Chidiac, Airion Health managing member, said in the news release.
Prior bladder relief equipment was designed with male physiology in mind; as women began entering aviation and combat roles, the technology needed to be modified. The Air Force started soliciting contracts and ideas on how to improve their systems in 2020.
One of the popular current methods used by pilots requires them to unstrap from their harness and gear, which can take nearly an hour, to urinate into a bag collection system, according to the press release, and can be unsafe in the case of a sudden in-flight emergency.
In 1992, an American F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed after the fighter pilot was forced to eject when he lost control of the aircraft while trying to urinate, The Associated Press reported at the time.
News of the testing comes as the Air Force has worked to amend numerous long-standing policies aimed at improving the quality of life of women and pregnant service members.
In the past two years alone, the service has authorized longer hairstyles for women, and it is developing a maternity flight suit and a wrap-style dress for pregnant airmen.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
Related: The Navy Is Buying Equipment that Makes it Easier for Female Pilots to Pee