Urinating In Flight

Karl and Iris Striedieck, USA

This article has been available on the DG website in German for some time, but has only recently appeared in its original (or retranslated?) English version. Given the importance of this topic to cross country pilots, I believe it should be circulated as widely as possible and I have no doubt that the Striedieck’s would approve of it being made available on this website.

It’s the finish of day 7 at the 1977 15 meter nationals at Hobbs as Billy Hill pulls his Zuni into a victory pull-up after 5 1/2 hours on course. More finishers straggle in and eventually a radio call from 7N announces he will land about one mile short. Perhaps it was fatigue, or maybe dehydration was the cause, but the PIK cartwheels and the pilot is injured. When doctors begin treatment of what should have been a relatively straightforward case they discover a ruptured bladder, which turns a routine situation into something with more grave consequences.

Most of us can relate stories of flights whose most memorable aspects had something to do with either not drinking enough water or not being able to get rid of the contents of a bladder that seemed ready to explode. Add to those the tales of spewing baggies, cockpit floods and bags wrapped around leading edges and it is clear that more information is needed by glider pilots in dealing with what can be anything but a laughing matter. This article presents two systems by which men and women can take care of nature’s call and thereby lessen the chances of dehydration, discomfort and the danger of a ruptured bladder in an otherwise “routine” crash.

Perhaps it is advancing age, maybe just the quest for more efficiency, but with time men’s relief systems seem to evolve from just “holding it”, to bag jettison systems, to various plumbing schemes that empty overboard. Given the ease of use, low incidence of leaks and spills, lower distraction factor inflight, and absence of corrosive damage to landing gear and rudder parts, the male external catheter (mec) plumbed to a landing gear door seems to be the best system for the boys.
The tubing recommended is 1/4″ id polyethylene. This is a hard-walled, rather rigid tubing that can nevertheless be routed from the cockpit, under the seat pan through bulkheads and mounted on the lower rear corner of a gear door. It will take the twisting required to extend the landing gear but won’t collapse if it is squeezed under the seat pan. It is available at hardware stores.

It is a little simpler to vent the system out the belly under the seat pan but the result is a lower fuselage washed in corrosive urine that gets on the metal parts of landing gears and rudder hinges. Take the time to route the tubing to the gear door so that with the gear extended during use the entire spray is directed away from the ship. Tests with dyed water show this to be the case.

Another important hydrological feature is the incorporation of a T fitting between the mec and rigid tubing. A piece of surgical tubing (normally clamped off) allows the pilot to blow the plumbing dry following use and thereby avoid freezing and trailer stains.

Catheters are available at medical supply outlets or any pharmacy by special order. The Mentor Freedom Cath sells for about $1.40 each and is available in three sizes. These devices are much like a condom with a flexible tube that connects to your ship’s plumbing. The adhesive used prevents leaks even under the pressure of purging blowouts, however it is recommended that a small towel be used when disconnecting to catch any stray fluid.
Women are confronted with a different set of challenges of course, but experience with use of feminine bladder control guards shows these to be quite satisfactory, and definitely superior to the alternatives of deliberate pre-flight dehydration, curtailed flights, or the hazards and discomfort that come to pilots flying with bulging bladders. The good news is that no modifications are necessary to the glider.

One of the manufacturers of the magic devices that solve the problem is Johnson and Johnson who offer their Serenity feminine bladder control pads (Super absorbency). The secret of these things is a chemical gelling system contained within the fluted cotton liner that can absorb and retain liquid as fast as it can be poured on. Even when held near vertical so that runoff would logically result, none occurs. The surface away from the user is waterproof so handling is manageable.

In practice, at least for new users, there is some distraction from the demands of flying the ship so a crowded thermal is not a good place to try this. It is necessary to loosen the restraint system and clothes should be of a sort that will allow access. Consider a trial run on the ground and make provisions for a container to hold the used pads. It is most important that the pads not be squashed by weight or clothing while being used as this will prevent rapid absorption.

Although these pads will hold a full bladder’s worth, it is prudent to use them more often with less volume until experience shows the best logistics.

If you’ve been frustrated or lazy in dealing with the call of nature while soaring, good solutions are available. Don’t tolerate the inconvenience any longer. It could be a lot worse than inconvenient.

Tom Spiesser

The Striedieck article provides a good description of how the peeing issue can be resolved. Given that it is based on the US, I will use this section to describe the Australian solutions (Tie me kangeroo down sport!) because you may not realise how easy and how cheap it is to set yourself up with a convenient and practical system. Lisa Trotter has provided some input on the women’s business so that this does not become a one-sided account. Most items are identified on the photo/diagram on the next page.

If you own your own glider you can either provide a fixed plumbing system with an outlet behind the seat, next to the undercarriage or you can use urine incontinence bags. When you fly club gliders or cross-hired gliders you normally don’t have a choice.

While there are stories of all kinds of containers, which have been used by glider pilots in the past, my view is that we should use a system, which provides the least distraction from flying and is as safe and leak-proof as possible. Bridgeland Pharmacy in Benalla sells male external catheters for less than $2.00 each. There are a number of different brands. One, which works well and comes with a double-sided adhesive band, is called “URI-SURE Penile Sheath Medium 30 MM No. 883. They will know what you are looking for, but don’t ask for Irish condoms, that might just confuse them. The Irish condoms and the urine bags are now also available at the office.

These Irish condoms fit neatly onto a pipe, which is connected to a 2-litre urine incontinence bag, which has a tap at the bottom and is meant to be re-usable. One can easily take two of these bags along on a flight. The piping and the bag are transparent, allowing you to check the colour of the urine, a good indicator of your level of dehydration.

If you own your own glider then the Irish condom can be connected to the piping, which leads to the outlet in the bottom of the fuselage. This system can be constructed at a cost under $20 with components purchased at Bunnings, such as 12.5mm clear vinyl tubing and Gardena garden hose joints. To get a tight fit to the Irish condom I have used the top end of the piping of one of the urine bags described above because it has a conical end piece. This I have stuck into the Bunnings 12.5mm vinyl tubing, using an intermediary size (small piece) to ensure a tight fit between these different tube thicknesses. Fitting three different sizes of tubing into one another allows one to extend and contract the length of the whole contraption to fit the pilot’s requirements.

If you are using this tubing system then there is some further practical advice. You should carry some tissues in the glider. They come in handy on disconnecting. Also good to have a small blow tube with the blow-in end clearly marked. This is used after you have landed – near the runway and not in the hangar – to blow out the remaining urine. I also carry a 600ml bike bottle with water in the glider. That’s useful to flush the system with water after you’ve blown out the urine. This bike bottle comes in very handy in case of an outlanding for water to take along when you walk to the nearest farmhouse or road.

So much for the guys; how about the ladies?

I am told it’s all about padding, using incontinence or bladder control pads and pants. These come in different strengths or absorption capacities, with the more absorbing ones effectively taking the shape of undergarments. There are different brands. My female advisor recommends a brand called DEPEND, which can be found in most supermarkets, certainly at Coles in Benalla, otherwise in a pharmacy. (Another brand is called TENA.) Best to buy the ones with the highest capacity to absorb liquid (blue and purple packet). They cost about $15 for a packet of 8. For long flights its recommended to use two – put one on top of the other with a slit in the bottom layer of plastic in the top one. This is usually good enough for long flights. Sometimes if it is cool and there is a lot of cloud cover it may not be quite enough. In order not to have to worry about this (fairly rare) eventuality, it is recommended to put a protector between the parachute and the body (on top of the sheepskin, i.e. sit on it). The protector is just a square cut to fit from bed protectors for incontinence and can be bought at the chemist.

The other trick for the ladies is to land long so that they can have a pee in peace after landing and change any damp clothing. So next time you think that our female cross country aces are not very good at spot landings you’ll know that it actually was a spot landing, just using a different “aiming point” for reasons of convenience.

Depend Product Capacity
Super absorbancy refastenable underwear 3 1/2 cups
Fitted briefs 3 1/2 cups
Overnight fitted briefs 5 cups
Pads ?
Seat pads ?
Tena Product Capacity
Comfort maxi 1800 ml
Comfort super 1500 ml
Slip large maxi 1900 ml
Slip medium maxi 1800 ml

Some of the more absorbent products are not available in supermarkets, but can be ordered from the following address:

Australian Home Health Care
Melbourne: 9326 6511
Elsewhere: 1800 033 649