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An ex-SR-71 pilot describes how to use the toilet while piloting the Blackbird

by Till Daisd
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SR 71 Bathroom

“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 explains how you could have a bathroom break while flying the legendary Habu.

Bathroom Breaks

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!

Crews threw their pressure suit underwear into a bin after each flight, and PSD washed and put the crew members’ clothes back in their lockers thereafter. Each Habu was in charge of maintaining his own UCD. Two or three pairs of our cotton long-john tops, bottoms, underwear, socks, and UCD were kept in each locker. The lockers were never closed in between flights, since there was no issue with theft. There were times when an extra-large (or small) UCD would appear magically in your locker with a sweet message that read, “Hi there BIG boy!”

The exterior of the UCD was made of a thick, bulky rubber condom that was sufficiently hard to maintain its shape. It contained a huge outer condom that was shaped like an airport windsock, with a thin-sheathed rubber condom tapering down as it moved farther within. As God didn’t build us all equally in that department, the PSD specialists explained to us how to modify the UCD to fit our individual penises. After giving us the scissors, they left the room.

The secret was to trim the windsock-tapered condom to your penis’s proper diameter so that it fits comfortably but not too tightly. Your underwear’s Velcro was used to secure the Velcro on the hard outer rubber condom. An exit tube from the UCD’s far end was linked to the pressure suit tubing. Black electrical tape was applied on the snap-on connection to add an extra layer of safety against the UCD connection coming undone during the flight.

The pressure suit contained all of the UCD tubing and connections, which made them inaccessible during flight. The UCD escape tube ran down the left leg and linked to an open/closed valve after being attached to a little rubber hose inside the pressure suit. The only object reachable from the outside of the pressure suit was the open/closed valve, which was concealed in a zipper pocket close to the left knee. A second tube emerged from the valve and went to the lower zipper pocket on the left leg. A plastic container with a very absorbent sponge to collect and retain urine was located within the pocket.

As you can tell so far, there’s ample room for error! To use the UCD properly, you had to inflate the suit slightly. When you opened and locked the open/closed valve, a positive pressure flow was created from inside the suit to the outside. You had some confidence that the valve would function as instructed if you felt a chilled draft running across your penis while it was open. The draft informed you that everything was at least set up to go properly. This explains bladder function, but how about solid waste? We just had to control any urges. There were occasional incidents; no names were 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!

Join this SR-71 Blackbird driver for a top secret recoinnassance mission over North Korea

Photo by Micheal Haggerty / U.S. Air Force

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