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Boston.com wrote:Off we go: In the wild blue yonder, new system spells relief
By Wilson Ring
Associated Press Writer / May 11, 2008
MILTON, Vt.—It's a dilemma as old as manned flight: When you gotta' go, how do you go?
For fighter pilots zooming through the sky at 500 miles an hour, there are no rest areas.
But now, a Vermont company has come up with a 21st-century solution that replaces unwieldy "piddle packs" and painful waits with a system that pilots can use without unstrapping themselves from their seats.
"As you can imagine, Air Force pilots have many responsibilities during a mission, maintaining their sights, monitoring fuel, navigating the aircraft and monitoring their weapons systems -- and they gotta' go so bad they can hardly think," said Mark Harvie, president of Omni Medical, Inc.
"This takes care of that problem for them," he said.
The system, called the Advanced Mission Extender Device, uses special underwear equipped with a hose linked to a pump the size of a paperback book that drains urine into a collection bag.
The men's model uses a pouch; the women's has something that resembles a sanitary napkin.
For pilots, the difficulty in answering nature's call is as old as flying itself.
Over the decades, pilots have used bottles and bags -- or just held it in. Many avoid liquids, or make sure their last stop before climbing into the cockpit is a bathroom.
At least twice, F-16s have crashed as their pilots tried to pee.
In 1992, one crashed in Turkey after a belt buckle got wedged between the seat and the control stick. After that, the Air Force changed the recommended procedure, urging pilots not to unbuckle completely.
Some pilots do permanent damage to their bladders by holding it in for hours at a time, which can cause incontinence and other problems later in life.
"The bladder is a muscle," said Dr. Sam Trotter, chair of the Urology Department at Fletcher Allen Health care in Burlington. "If you get this chronic overdistention of the bladder, they can have trouble down the road."
Some pilots dehydrate themselves before flying.
But that has its own dangers. Fighter pilots need to be able to withstand heavy G-forces and even a little bit of dehydration can greatly reduce a pilot's ability to withstand such pressures, Harvie said.
The "piddle pack" -- a pistol-shaped plastic container filled with chemicals that converts urine into a gelatinous substance to be disposed of later -- is the standard now.
"If you're flying during the day in clear weather in the summertime when you're not dressed in seven or eight layers, it's a fairly basic procedure," said Col. Phil Murdock, a Vermont Air National Guard pilot with 3,500 hours of flying time.
"At the other extreme, wintertime flying across the North Atlantic when you're wearing multiple thermal layers... (or) at night when you're trying to fly formation with other airplanes in rough weather, then it's darn near an emergency procedure," said Murdock, who flies F-16s.
The push for a better system began in earnest after female pilots started flying fighters in 1993, Harvie said. In 2000, the Pentagon sent out a request for proposals for what might best be described as mid-air defueling systems.
Harvie answered it.
"I read it over with a couple of my people and we sort of snickered, and said 'Oh, you've got to be kidding, they must have a solution for this, they've been flying airplanes since the early 1900s,'" he said.
But they didn't.
He applied for a research grant and built a prototype. Omni, which started out as a five-person operation, is now 44 people working out of a building in an industrial park. Over the years, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, helped the Air Force get $3.3 million for Omni to develop the system.
The company's engineers worked with F-16 pilots from the Vermont Air National Guard, some of whom used his devices as they were being developed.
"They didn't really want to talk about it, literally, because they're fighter pilots and they didn't want the public to realize that this was an issue," Harvie said.
The company has delivered the first 300 units to the Air Force and is negotiating to provide the system for the Air National Guard. The Navy has bought a handful for testing, as have air forces from at least two NATO allies in Europe.
Major Samantha Weeks, 32, of Rome, N.Y., a pilot with the Air Force's Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team, said female pilots have adapted to the situation just like men. Most women now use a commercially available travel john. Weeks said she was comfortable with the current system, but she'd welcome something new.
"It's great to have one or two different options out there and figure out what works best for you," Weeks said. "I'm glad to see more viable options for female fighter pilots."
The control units that contain the pumps cost about $2,000 each. Over their lifetime, the devices are designed to cost an average of $35 a flight, Harvie said.
Air Force Capt. Julie Moore, 30, of Melbourne, Fla., an F-16 pilot with the 64th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, helped test the AMXD.
She said she probably wouldn't use it for 90-minute flights because it requires a lot of preparation.
It's best for flights across the Atlantic, or similar long-duration missions.
"It's great for that. It's very easy to use," said Moore, who was disappointed when the device was taken away from her after the testing was completed.
Harvie said his employees have a sense of humor about what they make, but everyone recognizes it's important work.
"You lose one $50 million aircraft and you can pay for this system for every pilot in the world forever," Harvie said.
Source: http://www.boston.com/news/local/vermon ... ls_relief/
F-16.net Editorial staff & Patch Gallery Administration
F-16.net Editorial staff & Patch Gallery Administration