The B-52 has eight engines, a 185-foot wingspan, a 70,000-pound payload, and a 68-year history of pounding America’s enemies into rubble. But do you know one thing it doesn’t have? Privacy curtains! That’s right, over its seven decades of service, B-52 aircrews have had to do their bathroom business in full view of their crewmates. How embarrassing!
But it looks like that could change soon, as the Air Force posted a solicitation this month for 84 bathroom curtains and one prototype. The curtains could give BUFF teams some well-earned privacy during their days-long flights to faraway battlefields.
“As the B-52 continues to fly long-duration missions, especially with mixed crews, there is a higher need for privacy during restroom activities,” wrote the Air Force in its solicitation, which was first reported by Military.com. “This effort is to provide the necessary restroom privacy capability.”
The curtains must be made of olive green parachute material mounted with a bungee cord that has composite coated metal hooks on each end, the Air Force wrote. The curtain looked to be about 47 inches wide and 50 inches tall, according to a diagram included in the solicitation.
The curtains may not seem like much, but they mark two important changes within the Air Force’s 76-aircraft (58 active, 18 reserve) B-52 fleet. The first is a rising awareness that men are not the only ones flying on Air Force jets anymore. There are 68,470 women in the Air Force, 806 of whom are pilots, 347 are navigators and 233 are air battle managers, according to 2020 Air Force data. Still, the need for privacy is unisex, and having a curtain for the call of nature seems to make sense for male aviators as well.
The second change is that the Air Force is flying globe-trotting ‘presence patrols’ where it sends B-52s from bases in Louisiana and North Dakota all the way to the Middle East and Eastern Europe in shows of strength intended for Iran and Russia. Those missions can take more than 24 hours, and everyone has to go potty at some point. Ideally, no one poops on a B-52, Popular Science reported in June, but there is a urinal behind the navigation compartment for number one. For number two, crew members have to use a bag, Military.com reported. Some people reacted very strongly to that fun fact.
“They’ve got to poop in a bag?” asked one commenter reacting to the news on the popular Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco. “WTF? What is this WWII?”
Still a curtain is better than nothing. Small comforts, indeed.