Privacy, Please: Air Force Wants to Add Toilet Curtain on B-52 Bomber

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A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress.
A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress preflight crew works in the cockpit before launching the first flight of the day at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Darwin, Australia, April 2, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)

The U.S. Air Force is looking to add privacy curtains to its B-52 Stratofortress bombers as more women join flight crews.

Earlier this month, the service published a request for information from textile or apparel companies about bomber privacy screens.

"As the B-52 continues to fly long duration missions, especially with mixed crews, there is a higher need for privacy during rest room activities," according to the solicitation, posted on the government's acquisition and awards website.

The service's bombers, including the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit, have been making a splash lately with multiple high-visibility flights around the world. Called Bomber Task Force missions, the short-notice flights are still a long haul: A B-52 crew, for example, can stay airborne for up to 40 hours during a single mission and can fly 8,800 miles without refueling, according to the Air Force.

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Many Air Force planes already have private bathroom compartments, or partitioned spaces.

The C-130 Hercules has a urinal and toilet tucked back in the cargo area of the plane, with a curtain airmen can close around them. C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft and KC-46 Pegasus tankers have a full lavatory with sink, toilet and lockable door; KC-135 Stratotanker, KC-10 Extender and C-5 Super Galaxy aircraft all have lockable doors as well, said Air Force Materiel Command spokesman Brian Brackens.

But those mobility aircraft are much more spacious on the inside, allowing for more comfortable latrine use than their bomber counterparts.

The B-1 bomber, for instance, has a small toilet behind the left front seat in the four-person cockpit, while the B-2 stealth bomber has "one stainless-steel bowl, no walls" behind the right seat of its two-pilot cockpit, according to Popular Mechanics.

In the B-52, a small urinal is located behind the offense compartment, according to photos featured on Popular Science. A B-52 typically has two pilots, a weapons officer and an electronic warfare officer, but can have up to five crew, according to the Air Force.

Crew members must use a bag to defecate and dispose of it when the bomber's mission is over, an Air Force spokesperson told Military.com.

The latest initiative coincides with the service's overall effort to create a more inclusive culture and remove barriers -- some that can affect career longevity -- for women in the service.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, part of Materiel Command, launched a project in 2019 focused on gathering female perspectives to deliver better uniforms, including maternity uniforms and flight suits.

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein prompted the mission to redesign female uniforms after many years of ill-fitting equipment. The effort has been supported by the Department of the Air Force's Barrier Analysis Working Group within the Women's Initiative Team, which has been instrumental in encouraging change for outdated or restrictive policies.

In August, the Air Force moved to give airmen who suffer a miscarriage a more flexible time period before they take their next physical fitness assessment. The following month, the service directed unit commanders to create improved, easier-to-use lactation spaces for nursing moms, including the ability to pump during a field or training exercise, if feasible.

The military overall is responding to increased numbers of women in the ranks with improved dress and appearance practices, and new policies. Women currently make up about 21% of the Air Force, officials have said.

Air Force Global Strike Command did not immediately answer questions on how many women are in the B-52 bomber community. Despite its age, the venerable, Cold War-era Stratofortress is expected to fly into the 2050s.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Air Force to Allow Female Airmen to Wear Longer Braids, Ponytails

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