Pooing In The Stratosphere
In days of old when we traveled across the river and through the woods heading for grandma's house, it was no really big deal when we felt those internal rumblings that signaled a poop was eminent. We could just haul back on the reins, stop the horses, depart the sleigh or wagon, make our deposit behind a convenient tree, scrub our hiney with snow in winter or leaves in summer, and be on our merry way. But in today's world when we head for Granny's, it is usually in a tube of metal that hurtles through the air at speeds the grannies of old never dreamed of, at altitudes of 30,000 feet or so. Okay, where can we take a shit?
In the early days of aviation, slop jars were often used and then unceremoniously dumped out the windows of the unpressurized planes, possibly to the great consternation of anyone on the ground below, especially those who might be gazing upward in slack-jawed yokel wonder at the spectacle of the flying machine. During World War II fighter pilots were known to pee in bottles and toss them out. Could this have been where the idea for the great movie The God's Must be Crazy came from?
I will never forget my year in Iceland, especially the day two Icelandic air traffic controllers I worked with invited me to go out on a seagull egg search in the rocky area near the runway. We made a stop at the aviation junkyard to explore. One of the treasures there was the burned out carcass of an old T-33 Shooting Star. One of my Nordic pals picked up a piece of hard, black rubber that was shaped something like a trumpet and was tootling away merrily ... until I pointed out to him that the inscription on the side of his impromptu instrument proclaimed that it was "for relief of crew member." The concert we had been enjoying quickly turned into a cacophony of spitting while Big Olaf glowered at us with eyes as menacing as those of any Viking berserker just daring either of us to laugh. Big Olaf was aptly named, as he stood well over six feet tall and weighed over 300 pound, so we honored his tacit command and refrained from snickering.
The more modern planes with pressurized cabins made the old slop jar out the window method of waste disposal rather obsolete. If you are standing next to the window with your slop jar in the ready position for tossing, the probability of your being sucked out the window when it opens would be excellent. You would be ejected like a torpedo in a WW-2 submarine. You would have some time to rue your decision as you fell kicking and screaming to you ultimate demise. Your family would probably save a good deal of money on your burial, as your remains could probably fit into a jam jar or packed into a sardine tin. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Up through the 1980s a chemical called Anotec was used in plane toilets. It is the same blue stuff you see in porta-potties, assuming you are a sick bastard who would even look down into a porta-potty, and is a sanitizing deodorizer. Its main shortcoming was the fact that planes had to carry quite a bit of it and it weight cut down on mileage and added to operational expenses, and we all know who gets billed a bit extra to cover those expenses. Another short coming of Anotec was that it occasionally leaked from the port through which the on-board shit container was pumped out once the plane had landed. It would then freeze into a chunk of blue ice that was composed of quite a bit of poo as well. As the plane descended and the air became warmer, the "blue ice" would break lose and plummet to the ground. A frozen turd falling from only a few thousand feet can wreck havoc on anything it strikes. We definitely needed something better.
In 1975, James Kemper patented the horrifically loud vacuum toilet that is in use today. The bowl into which you drop your load is Teflon and is very slick. The noisy vacuum aided by the moisturizing effect of less than a gallon of water propels your grogan to a 200-gallon holding tank where some lucky ground crew member will be assigned the task of pumping the tank dry. I would not imagine that this job is highly coveted.
The simplest airborne toilet I ever saw was on a C-130 Hercules on which I had hitched a ride from Nashville, Tennessee. to a military base at Yuma, Arizona. There was a chemical toilet perched on the tail ramp of the aircraft, one that was in plain view of all the passengers who were riding in jump seats that lined both sides of the fuselage. One of the crew members had to dump a load and he had to do it under the scrutiny of about thirty passengers. I tried not to look, but life doesn't offer the sight of a large man sitting on a can that looks like it could easily go up his butt if any turbulence was encountered. Luckily the Anotec seems to have done its job and there were no detectable fumes.