By Airman 1st Class Rebecca Sirimarco-Lang
4th Fighter Wing
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — When you think aircrew, your first thought may not be about in-flight bladder relief, but it can pose major health and safety issues for pilots.
In an effort to find an effective in-flight bladder relief solution for female aircrew, the Air Force is testing a new system called Airus by Airion Health.
“In the summer of 2020, the Air Force put out a challenge to design bladder relief systems for female pilots,” said Cam Chidiac, Airion Health managing member. “We were one of 11 companies to win. Then in 2022, we were one of two companies to win prototyping contracts.”
The 46th Test Squadron and 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, have been tasked with developmental test support of the in-flight bladder relief system.
“This test requires units to perform ground integration events with the system and the aircraft and will provide human systems integration feedback,” said Justin Spurling, 46th TS aircrew flight equipment test engineer.
Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, is the first to ground test this new in-flight bladder relief system for female pilots. Four other Air Force bases will be used for ground testing as well and the feedback from these events will result in an improved system for female aircrew. Once ground evaluations are completed flight tests will be at a later date.
“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 Chidiac.
Past systems have been more geared toward male aircrew, making it difficult for female aircrew on longer sorties. The current options are adult diapers, holding it, or using a bag system to take the urine away. Some aircrew have been found to practice “tactical dehydration.”
Each of these methods come with their own complications. Holding your urine can cause infections and weaken your bladder muscles. While the bag systems aircrews currently use, require them to unstrap themselves from the seats and gear. This process can take over 45 minutes and there is a higher risk of forgetting to secure one strap, which could be fatal in the event of an emergency. “Tactical dehydration” is a method where aviators avoid drinking liquids hours before a flight to avoid having to relieve themselves. This method can cause fatal errors and health issues, such as lowering the aircrews ability to withstand high g-forces by 50% and increase headaches.
“Our system is a cup liner system that is docked to the female body,” said Colt Seman, Airion Health chief of design. 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.”
With the new system the Air Force is testing, the goal is for aircrew to be able to relieve themselves without unstrapping, keeping our aircrew healthy and safe.