“How about solid waste? We just had to control any urges. There was occasional incidents; no names mentioned here!” Richard H. Graham, SR-71 pilot
In the following story, which appears in Col. Richard H. Graham’s book Flying the SR-71 Blackbird, Graham himself explains how you could have a bathroom break while flying the legendary Habu.
The most frequently asked question about the pressure suit (from guys mostly) was, “How did you guys go to the bathroom?” This was accomplished by a condom-like device called the urinary collection device (UCD). During training the pilot and RSO were scheduled by PSD [physiological support division] to be fitted for their pressure suits and UCD. The last time I wore anything like a condom was back in high school, and now I had to be fitted with a similar device with the UCD size recorded; talk about embarrassing! We all claimed X-large!
After each flight, crews tossed their pressure suit underwear into a bin, PSD washed and placed the crew members’ clothing back in their lockers. Each Habu was responsible for cleaning his own UCD. Each locker contained two or three pairs of our cotton long-john top, bottom, underwear, socks, and UCD. Theft was not a problem, and the lockers were never locked between flights. Occasionally, an extra large (or small) UCD would mysteriously show up in your locker with a cute note attached saying something like, “Hi there BIG boy!”
The UCD had a large, thick, rubber condom-shaped exterior that was rigid enough to hold its shape. Inside it was a thin-sheathed rubber condom attached at the opening and tapered down as it went further inside the large outer condom, shaped like an airport’s windsock. The PSD technicians told us how to adjust the UCD to fit your own penis, since God didn’t create us all equal in that department. Then they handed us the scissors and walked out of the room.
The trick was to cut the windsock-tapered condom to the correct diameter of your penis so that it fit snugly but not tightly! Velcro attached to the hard outer rubber condom was held in place by Velcro sewn on to your under-wear. At the far end of the UCD was an exit tube that connected to the pressure suit tubing. To make sure the UCD connection didn’t come undone in-flight, black electrical tape was wrapped around the snap-on connection for extra insurance.
All the UCD tubing and connections were located inside the pressure suit and were not accessible during flight. The UCD exit tube was connected to a small rubber hose inside the pressure suit and continued down the left thigh, where it connected to an open/close valve. The open/close valve was located in a zipper pocket near the left knee and was the only thing accessible from outside the pressure suit. Another tube exited the valve and continued down the left leg to a lower zipper pocket. Inside the pocket was a plastic container with a highly absorbent sponge to collect and hold urine.
As you can tell so far, there’s ample room for error! To use the UCD properly, you had to inflate the suit slightly. This provided a positive pressure flow from inside to outside the suit when you opened and locked the open/close valve. If you felt a chilled draft running across your penis with the valve open, you were somewhat confident it would work as advised. The draft told you at least everything was ready to flow in the right direction. This explains bladder function, but how about solid waste? We just had to control any urges. There was occasional incidents; no names mentioned here!
In my 765 hours in the Blackbird, I never had to use the UCD and drank minimal water in-flight. I think I ended up paying for that later in life by passing two kidney stones four years apart!
Photo credit: Micheal Haggerty / U.S. Air Force
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com