LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. — Imagine the smell of a porta-potty: strong, distinct and likely repulsive. Being 12,000 feet in the air in a small, cramped aircraft only serves to amplify that rancid smell.
The 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron Fleet Services Airmen are in charge of the unenviable task of waste removal.
"Picture flying 15 hours and smelling the toilet the whole way," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Jensen, 19th LRS Fleet Services supervisor. "You can tell if an aircraft needs to be serviced before even stepping onboard."
The team services approximately 25 aircraft daily, including transient aircraft.
"There are some aspects of the job that aren't so glamorous, such as disposing of the waste from aircraft," said Master Sgt. Bruce Halbert, 19th LRS Fleet Services superintendent. "Even though it’s a dirty job, it's definitely important to the overall Combat Airlift mission."
The Fleet Service team is divided into two groups: clean fleet and dirty fleet.
The dirty fleet is responsible for the management and disposal of solid waste and trash from aircraft bathrooms. The clean fleet is in charge of ensuring fresh water and other necessities are stocked.
Dirty fleet Airmen cannot come in contact with any supplies the clean fleet are responsible for; the fleet is also equipped with a human waste spill kit in case of a leak. Airmen are sent out in a lavatory service truck to drain the waste when called to service an aircraft.
Fully clad in a rubber jumpsuit, protective face shield and a double pair of gloves, Airmen operate a pump to remove waste and blue liquid, known as "blue juice" from each lavatory, then pump in new fluid.
The chemicals are the same ones used in portable toilets and are intended to mask the smell of human waste, said Airman Darryl Overton, 19th LRS Fleet Services element member.
The fleet provides service to a variety of aircraft, including Air Force One – the official call sign for an Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States.
"We can handle pretty much anything with a bathroom that lands here," Jensen said.
Clean fleet Airmen stock the aircraft with water coolers, toiletries, pillows and blankets, or anything else passengers might need is an aspect of the clean side of the job. This is done by Airmen who haven't come in contact with waste in at least a day.
"We provide meals for aircrew and passengers," Overton said. "We supply clean drinking water and other essentials for being on an aircraft for an extended period of time."
Without 19th LRS Fleet Service Airmen doing their duty, aircrew could find themselves in a nose-wrinkling situation.
Dirty fleet Airmen handle this less-than-savory business, keeping the airtight metal box – also known as an aircraft – from soaring away with noxious fumes. After all, once it takes off … "you can't really crack open a window in the air," Jensen said.