Overcoming P-Factor

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No, we're not talking about that left-turning tendency on takeoff, but rather the other kind of P-factor that so often preoccupies light plane passengers. In fact, with the possible exception of turbulence, a lack of bathroom facilities is perhaps the chief concern that non-pilots have about flying in small aircraft — and sometimes it's a problem for pilots, too. AVweb's Mike Busch evaluates a number of products designed to address such range-limiting concerns.

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ReviewsOnce upon a time, there was an entrepreneur-pilot — let's call him Herb — who, after decades of flying lesser aircraft, decided that it was time to step up to a jet. After meticulously comparing the specs and prices of all available aircraft and carefully analyzing the mission profiles of his business, he decided on a particular Cessna Citation model that offered both the cruise range and the short-field capability he needed. Herb checked with his comptroller and verified that the highly-successful business could afford the Citation's multimillion-dollar price tag. Only one major obstacle remained: persuading Herb's wife (who was also active in the business) to agree to the purchase.

After carefully preparing his case, Herb met with his wife — let's call her Sally — to discuss the matter. Using all his considerable skills of persuasion, he explained to his wife that the jet would enable the two of them to spend much less time apart. She would be able to accompany him on more business trips, he said, and in most cases he would be able to return home the same evening instead of having to say away from home overnight. Herb explained the reasons for choosing this particular aircraft, reviewed the financial considerations, and then asked Sally if she had any questions about the prospective purchase.

Reviewed Products"Just one," said Sally. "Does it have a toilet?"

Herb assured her that it did.

"Okay, go ahead and buy it," she replied.

The story is true, although the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the moral is clear: With the possible exception of turbulence, there is probably nothing more disconcerting to the average light-plane passenger than the aircraft's lack of bathroom facilities. For those of us who are not in the financial position to step up to a King Air or Citation or other bathroom-class aircraft, the need for a cost-effective way of addressing such concerns is painfully obvious.

At the risk of sounding gender-biased, I think it's reasonable to state that these concerns tend to be even more prevalent among female passengers. There are two good reasons for this. First, women tend on average to have shorter bladder capacities than men. Second, women are — how shall I put this? — at something of a physiological disadvantage to men when it comes to in-flight fluid transfers, especially in the aiming department. (How'd I do?)

There are several portable urinal products on the market designed to deal with the problem, and I took it upon myself to put three of them through rigorous P-testing for this review. More importantly, I enlisted two members of the fairer sex to press all three products into service, so to speak, and then debriefed them thoroughly on their success and their reactions.

Little John and Lady J Adapter

Little John and Lady J Adapter
Little John is sealed with a with screw-on cap. Optional Lady J Adapter is used to permit urinal to be used by females.

Don't hold me to this, but I'm pretty sure that the red plastic "Little John" urinal container has been listed in the Sporty's Pilot Shop catalog ever since I received my first Sporty's catalog 35 years ago. It's an oddly-shaped red plastic jug with a white screw-on cap, and its one-quart capacity is sufficient for two or three "relief events" before emptying. Thousands of these special-use bottles have been sold to GA pilots over the years, and many smooth landings at the end of long flights have been directly attributable to the pilot's in-flight usage of the LJ.

While the basic Little John is designed for use by men, a companion white plastic funnel called the "Lady J Adapter" snaps into the mouth of the Little John and allegedly modifies the urinal for female use. Sporty's sells the Little John for $5.95 and the Lady J Adapter for $6.95. King Schools also sells these products in their mail-order catalog.

I subjected the Little John to P-testing and it worked, more or less. I did find the unit to be awkwardly bulky to keep within easy reach in the cockpit: It's too big to fit in a seat-back pocket or in the glove box, for example. Also, it's easy to get the three components (red jug, white screw-on cap, and adapter funnel) separated in storage or during use. If you use the LJ in flight and misplace the cap, the result is likely to be an odorized cabin (and perhaps a real mess if it starts to get turbulent). Even with the cap screwed on firmly, the Little John proved something less than 100% leak-proof. That was particularly true during significant changes of altitude (and hence cabin pressure).

While I did okay with the Little John, both female testers were positively repulsed by the product. For one thing, they were very reluctant even to try the device due to concerns about hygiene. "How do I know where that thing has been," one asked. "Did you sterilize it first?" When finally persuaded to give it a try, both ladies found the funnel-adapter to be uncomfortable and leak-prone. Then, after use, they were horrified at the prospect of having to remove the urine-soiled funnel-adapter in order to secure the screw-on cap, and didn't know what to do with the now-unhygienic adapter. Finally, they were somewhat embarrassed about having to carry the distinctively-shaped and obviously-sloshing container from the airplane to a bathroom where it could be emptied and rinsed out.

All in all, the Little John and Lady J rated a resounding "thanks, but no thanks" from the distaff side. As for me, I rated it superior to a Coke bottle but leaving quite a lot to be desired.

Brief Relief™

Brief Relief
Brief Relief is an opaque polyethylene bag that contains a super-absorbent polymer powder that gels and deodorizes urine.

In recent years, a number of disposable urinal products have come on the market. To date, the most popular of these has been sold under the trademark "Brief Relief." It consists of an opaque polyethylene bag containing a highly-absorbent powdered polymer that absorbs urine and converts it almost instantly into a deodorized, spill-proof gel.

The top of the Brief Relief bag is sealed with a slide-on seal tube, and hemmed with a plastic stiffener that facilitates opening the mouth of the bag for use. About halfway down the inside of the bag is a funnel-shaped membrane with a center hole that separates the bag into upper and lower chambers, with the absorbent polymer powder in the lower chamber. A foil-packed sanitary wet-wipe is also included with each bag.

Brief Relief slide
Brief Relief uses a separate slide-off seal tube, which is replaced after use.

Brief Relief mouth
Holding the mouth fully open is normally a two-handed operation. (Internal funnel-shaped divider with center hole is visible in this photo.)

To use the Brief Relief, the seal tube is first slid off to expose the mouth of the bag. The top edges of the bag are pulled apart with both hands to open the mouth into a rectangular shape for use as a urinal. After use, the mouth is closed, the seal tube slid back on, and the bag is kneaded for a few seconds until the polymer absorbs and gels all the liquid. Once this is done, the contents become spill-proof and odor-free. Upon landing, the bag may be tossed in any trash receptacle.

An early version of the Brief Relief was carried in the Sporty's Pilot Shop catalog, priced at $9.95 for a package of four bags. Sporty's has apparently discontinued this product, but an improved, heavy-duty, large-capacity model of the Brief Relief is currently available from Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co., priced at $3.25 each or $17.55 for six bags. This was the model we tested.

I found the Brief Relief to be well-made, and the thick opaque polyethylene bag to be both discreet-looking and relatively puncture-proof. The polymer powder was astonishingly effective at absorbing, deodorizing, and spill-proofing even large quantities of urine almost immediately. Days later, in fact, the contents remained odor-free and inert.

I was not too enamored with the slide-off seal tube because — like the screw-on cap of the Little John — I considered it too easy to misplace during use. In fairness, however, resealing the bag after use is not essential, since the gelled contents are spill-proof even without the seal tube.

The primary problem I found with the Brief Relief was that the polymer powder can work its way out of the bottom chamber of the bag, particularly if the product is inverted at any time before use. In some cases, the mouth of the bag became contaminated with the powder, which — while technically non-toxic — can irritate the skin, and can sting rather nastily if it gets into the eyes or mouth. As you might imagine, this could be a particularly serious problem for a female user.

Speaking of females, our two feminine testers had decidedly mixed results with the Brief Relief. One succeeded in putting the product to its intended use without spillage, but only by assuming a relatively upright semi-squatting position that would probably be difficult to duplicate in most light-plane cabins. The other tester attempted to use the Brief Relief in a more normal position (i.e., a nearly-seated squat) with very unsatisfactory (and extremely messy) results. Both agreed that the need to use two hands to hold the mouth of the bag open was awkward. The consensus was that this product is probably not well suited to in-flight use by females, at least not without a good deal of practice (and a fair amount of dexterity).

#1 Travel John™

#1 Travel John comes in reclosable 3-packs
#1 Travel John features an integral "unisex" adapter mouth. It can also be used as a "barf bag" for motion sickness.

Bag-within-a-bag design eliminates power spillage.
Unique bag-within-a-bag design makes spillage of polymer powder impossible.

Gelling action makes it spill-proof
Gelling action occurs within a few seconds, and renders liquid completely spill-proof.

The oddly-named "#1 Travel John" is a relatively recent entry to the disposable urinal market. It uses the same basic absorbent-polymer technology as the Brief Relief, but with several significant design differences.

The polymer powder in the #1 Travel John is sealed in a fluid-permeable permanently-sealed fabric inner bag, which is wholly contained within the liquid-tight polyethylene outer bag. This bag-within-a-bag design makes it virtually impossible for the polymer powder to spill or contaminate the user's skin. Because the powder cannot possibly spill, no seal tube or other closure is required, making the #1TJ essentially a one-piece device with no parts to misplace.

The mouth of the #1TJ bag is a semi-rigid "unisex adapter" shaped to make the device suitable for use by females as well as males. Because the mouth does not have to be held open, the #1TJ can be used with only one hand — a real advantage for pilots flying non-autopilot-equipped airplanes. Like the Brief Relief, the #1TJ did an excellent job of gelling and deodorizing even large quantities of urine within seconds, after which it could be safely inverted without spilling a drop.

Our female testers did better with the #1TJ than with either of the other two products. The one who had problems using the Brief Relief turned in a totally leak-free performance on her first try with the #1TJ. The other tester encountered a little spillage on the first attempt, but did fine the second time around. Practice makes perfect.

The ladies did have two minor criticisms of the #1TJ, however. First, because the "adapter" mouth of the unit is exposed to urine during use, the women felt uncomfortable without having some sort of trash bag in which to dispose of the #1TJ after use (despite the fact that the contents are completely spill-proof when gelled). Second, the women missed the moist towelette that is packaged with each Brief Relief but not included in the #1TJ.

Another advantage of the #1TJ design is that it can double as a "barf bag" in the event of motion sickness. It is safe to use in this fashion because the polymer powder is completely sealed in the inner bag. The absorbent polymer should be as effective in gelling and deodorizing vomit as it is with urine, although I did not actually test it in that mode. Sorry.

Dr. Brent Blue's company Aeromedix.com is carrying the #1 Travel John now. Their Web site lists a box of six 3-packs (18 units) for $27.95. Aeromedix.com includes opaque seal-tight disposal bags and individually-wrapped moist towlettes with each #1TJ order at no additional charge. In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I serve as a paid consultant to Brent's company, and have been involved in the selection and evaluation of most of the products he offers for sale through Aeromedix.com.

I also understand that the #1TJ is slated to be listed in the Sporty's Pilot Shop catalog, priced at $4.99 for a package of three.

#1 Travel JohnRecommendation

As awkward as it may be to talk about, wastewater disposal is a real problem for those of us who fly with avgas instead of Jet A. The recent availability of super-absorbent polymer powders have now made it possible to solve this problem with compact, spill-proof, odor-proof disposable urinals. So far, the #1 Travel John seems to be the best of the breed. I'd suggest keeping a three-pack in each seat-back pocket. It works well, and is a whole lot cheaper than trading up to a King Air or Citation.

Okay, now on to problem #2...