Thursday, January 20, 2022

U.S. Air Force to field new in-flight bladder relief device

The U.S. Air Force is scheduled to receive the first shipment of Omni Gen. 3 Skydrate, an improved in-flight bladder relief device, this month. The device will allow male and female pilots to fly long air missions with greater safety and comfort.

The Air Force recognized that current devices were not optimized for long-duration sorties, and as a result, the aircrew was routinely dehydrating themselves to delay the need for bladder relief. Dehydration can lead to reduced endurance and G-force tolerance while in the aircraft, as well as other negative health issues.

The Skydrate system will make it easier for USAF’s fighter pilots, especially female pilots, to urinate in flight, potentially alleviating a longstanding problem for pilots needing to answer nature’s call in a cramped cockpit.

Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC) was the lead command in determining the new bladder relief device requirements for pilots across the Air Force. ACC worked closely with Air Force Materiel Command and other Air Force units to develop and test Skydrate within a year. The team gathered feedback from pilots – especially from the female pilot – as a part of an effort to improve the Skydrate system built by Omni.

For the test, thirty female aircrews were on site at the Omni facility to conduct multi-hour wear tests; nine pilots at three installations went through the flight testing. The feedback resulted in an improved Skydrate bladder relief device.

Skydrate is available for both men and women, but there was an emphasis on engineering solutions for female aircrew. The improved system has a larger collection bag, improved flow rate, multiple hose lengths, and more interface or pad sizes to account for anatomical differences in the wearer. And pilots can turn it on and off using just one hand.

“This is a good example of using a ‘fly, fix, fly’ model to prioritize female aircrew feedback and speed up the testing process to field the device quicker,” said Sharon Rogers, lead test engineer, 46th Test Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Aircrew will have access to Skydrate by Spring of 2022. The Human Systems Program Office, a subdivision of the Agile Combat Support Directorate, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is currently reviewing proposals from multiple companies for alternative bladder relief devices with new pumps and innovative human interfaces which are expected to field within the next year to users. A suite of bladder relief devices will allow Airmen to choose the most comfortable human interface option while allowing them to focus on executing the mission.

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