Mid-Ocean Dilemma

by Phil Rowe

And then there was my B-58 pilot's problem while we were flying back across the Atlantic from Spain. Oh boy, was it ever a problem. He was one very uncomfortable fellow. We could tell from his tensed-up voice and occasional moans over the interphone. This was serious. It was, according to my log book, on the 20th of December, 1963 in aircraft #2070. That was an eight and a half hour flight which included a mid-air refueling with a KC-135 tanker just off the Azores. Right after refueling his problem began.

The small fighter-type cockpit of the B-58 doesn't allow much movement. You can't stand up. You can barely wiggle your butt in that cramped space. And my pilot had to go. He had to go bad. In fact he was about to fill his pants. But what to do? B-58 cockpits were equipped with hospital-type relief bottles, quart size. But what if you had to do something else? Dilemma.

Being a trained SAC killer, seasoned pilot and a resourceful kind of fellow, he finally came up with the solution. It wouldn't be easy, but it sure was necessary. He thought about using his helmet bag, but that would be messy. And then he remembered that the survival kit behind his seat back included cans of water, about the size of beer cans. That just might do the trick.

With considerable effort and lots of groping in the kit behind him, he found the cans. That most distressed pilot popped open a water can and drank the contents to create an empty container. Then he took from his dog tag chain one of those small G.I. folding can openers. He carefully manipulated the opener to eventually remove the entire lid of the now-empty can.

Then came the difficult part. How to get his coveralls off, drop his drawers and support himself over that open can. It must have been a real contortionist's performance, but he finally removed his clothing. It was a darn good thing that the autopilot worked. Imagine trying to do that while flying a stick-controlled 600 mile per hour jet. The autopilot flew the plane.

There were no armrests on his ejection seat which he could use to lift himself up to position his butt over the water can, only the seat triggers which could have sent him flying out of the plane, bare bottomed at that. Oh yes, he did have the presence of mind of insert the ejection seat's safety pins before the epoch struggle.

In desperation he reached for a small lateral rod near the forward edge of the overhead hatch. He pulled himself up, much like one might chin himself on a bar, and managed to raise up over the can resting on the seat cushion.

Soon we heard over the interphone the now calmer voice of a greatly relieved pilot. Success, and possibly a first, for a B-58 bomber pilot had been achieved.