I was researching Jimmy Doolittle this morning, and I found this on History.com:

To aid his record-breaking 1922 coast-to-coast flight, U.S. military strategist Jimmy Doolittle invented a funnel-and-tube-based "pilot dehydrator"—possibly the earliest airplane toilet.

That led me to the question: What did they do before 1922 when they felt like they had to go?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Well, bombing runs were a little more interesting, $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    May 9 '15 at 14:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ hold it, or in the trousers. $\endgroup$ May 9 '15 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ Is this from personal experience? ( :-] ) $\endgroup$
    – Cullub
    May 9 '15 at 15:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Truck drivers are known to fill bottles while on the go (and toss them out the window), so it seems likely that aviators did the same (though hopefully not tossing the bottles out of the aircraft). $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    May 11 '15 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ Babies' nappy perhaps? $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Nov 2 '15 at 22:13

Go to the toilet before departure, and hope you can find somewhere to land if nature calls suddenly :)

Same really as before a long car journey today...

Of course aircraft of that time didn't have very long endurance, so the situation wasn't likely to arise that you'd need to make a pit stop to let nature take its course. You'd have a scheduled stop anyway well before that.

  • $\begingroup$ The duration world record stood at more than a day even before the outbreak of WWI. Zeppelin missions during the war could last for three days, when engines broke down and headwind slowed the return. Peeing before taking off was not enough. $\endgroup$ May 10 '15 at 5:46
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf those weren't exactly aircraft. Zeppelins did have toilet facilities. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    May 10 '15 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ Zeppelins are exactly aircraft, lol $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Nov 4 '15 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting, Zeppelins are not airplanes, but they definitely are aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Sep 23 '17 at 16:42

Linbergh was asked this very question after his famous transatlantic flight and his response...

So Lindbergh explained that in his airplane his chair was made of wicker and there was a hole in it. And there was a funnel below that hole. And his waste, whenever nature called, would go down through there into sort of an aluminum can. And so he explained that and said that rather than show up with it in Le Bourget, the airport that he landed in, that he just dropped it over France.

Quote Credit


Aircraft like the 1918 Curtiss NC had sleeping quarters so I imagine they must have had arrangements for in-flight "comfort breaks". It probably wasn't considered appropriate to write about it though.

The NC-4 transatlantic flight in 1919 took 19 days and "included time for stops of numerous repairs and for crewmen's rest"

So the answer is we don't know, but we can imagine they made stops or carefully used containers provided (or improvised) for the purpose.

  • $\begingroup$ Same goes for the Zeppelins. They did up to 4-day-trips sometimes in and after WW I. $\endgroup$ Sep 23 '17 at 1:50

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