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The Air Force is testing a less awkward replacement for ‘piddle packs’

Developed by Omni Defense Technologies, “Skydrate” involves a pad for women and a cup for men. Pilots put on the cup or pad beneath a special pair of underwear. When it’s time to go, the pilot connects the cup or pad with a tube leading to a pump outside the flight suit. The battery-operated pump pulls the urine through the tube to a collection bag, where the pee is stored until the end of the mission.

The pump could be an improvement over previous systems, where pilots unzipped their flight suits and peed directly into a plastic bag called a piddle pack. The system was especially awkward for female pilots, some of whom had to shimmy forward onto their seat or raise themselves up to pee into the bag and avoid spillage. Because it’s such a hassle, some women just don’t drink water beforehand to avoid having to pee mid-flight.

“[M]any female aircrew resort to “tactical dehydration” to avoid the difficulties and potential dangers of having to relieve themselves inflight,” the Air Force wrote in a 2020 solicitation for better piddle packs. “During flights, dehydration negatively impacts pilots by lowering their G-tolerance by up to 50 percent,” and leading to possible headaches, altered vision, and “reduced physical and cognitive performance.”

“It affects everything from reaction time to vision, which of course you want both of those when you’re landing on the ship at night,” Alex Dietrich, who flew F/A-18F Super Hornets in the Navy, told Task & Purpose. “Just like sleep and nutrition, you’ve got to stay hydrated.”

When Dietrich flew the Super Hornet in the early and mid-2000s, she would give her back-seat weapons systems officer (also called a ‘wizzo’) a heads-up, set her aircraft’s speed and altitude on autopilot, shimmy forward in her seat, undo a velcro strap in her flight suit, use a piddle pack, seal it off, then secure it in a saddle bag. That routine worked for her, but she said it worked only because her squadron’s aircrew survival equipment gear shop went out of their way to replace the zipper in hers and other female aviators’ flight suits with velcro, and because they made an extra effort to get non-standard issue female versions of the piddle pack.

“We had such a supportive squadron to come up with this solution, so we made it work and nobody around me had to tactically dehydrate,” Dietrich said. Meanwhile, her male colleagues had it much easier.

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