Don’t Poop at 70,000 Feet: CIA Wrote a Manual for U-2 Pilots on How Not To

The U-2 spy plane, that long, sleek single engine monster that flew at 70,000 feet to photograph the earth’s surface on behalf of the CIA, was tough on its pilots. They flew missions lasting nine hours or more, and the design of the plane along with no co-pilot meant going to the bathroom was a challenging undertaking.

There was no toilet on board, but the ‘relief tube’ allowed the pilot to urinate. Anything else was a major headache. Sitting for that length of time in your poop or putting up with bad smells from passing gas would not be pleasant.

Fortunately, the bosses at the CIA thought of everything. They actually wrote a manual giving instruction on how to eat to make sure you didn’t need to poop or fart while in the air.

U-2 Spy Plane With Fictitious NASA Markings
U-2 Spy Plane With Fictitious NASA Markings

At the start of the Cold War in the 1950s, the CIA launched the U-2 Spy Program.  U-2 aircraft would overfly China, the Soviet Union, and other communist countries, taking thousands of photographs of the ground.

These photographs gave the US spymasters information about the progress of the conventional weapons manufacturing capability and the progress of the nuclear programs in these Communist countries.  This gave the Americans vital data that allowed them to infer the intentions of these countries.

An Air Force U-2 flies a training mission.
An Air Force U-2 flies a training mission.

The CIA kept a very tight rein on these missions, and they were surrounded by the strictest secrecy and were tightly controlled.  So controlled, that the CIA went so far as to issue their pilots strict guidelines for their lives before and after missions.

A Freedom of Information Act website, Muckrock, gained a copy of the manual that was recently declassified.  They posted the manual, which detailed the level to which the CIA dictated the lives of their pilots.

Pilot view within the U-2 cockpit.
Pilot view within the U-2 cockpit.

Before a mission, the manual advised pilots to get at least ten hours of sleep, to undertake relaxing activities such as family time, playing cards or playing chess, and to partake in some light exercise such as golf, gardening, volleyball, or swimming.

The CIA must have used a dietician to create a diet that would allow for all the food consumed to be absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and not require the pilot to defecate.  It would also not build up gas in the body.  This diet was high in protein but low in fiber, so there would be little to no poop or gas created.

Cockpit of a U-2S Block 20, at Osan Air Base, South Korea.
Cockpit of a U-2S Block 20, at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The manual indicates that the diet was mandatory for pilots whose mission would last for ten or more hours, and was highly recommended for pilots flying for six hours.

The manual indicates that pilots were to begin to consume this high protein, low fiber diet at least twenty-four hours before take off, so the gastrointestinal tract would be almost empty by the time the pilot was facing nine hours in his aircraft cabin.

U-2 Pilot program
U-2 Pilot program

The diet page shows that approved beverages were carbonated, tea and coffee. Approved foods included:

  • cereals such as cream of wheat, macaroni, noodles and rice
  • cottage cheese
  • desserts such as gelatin, sherbet, angel food cakes, sponge cakes and sugar cookies
  • eggs in any form except fried
  • fruit in limited amounts, only if cooked
  • meats of all kinds including fish and chicken
  • soups such as clear broths
  • one serving per day of only bland veggies such as potatoes and carrots
  • sweets such as jelly and hard candy in small amounts.
U-2 Pilot program
U-2 Pilot program

The diet excluded foods such as spicy food, pickles, fruit, popcorn, whole grains, fatty meats such as mackerel, bacon, fatty pork, lamb and mutton, nuts, snacks, fatty foods, fries, pies, pastries, bread, milk, and desserts described by the manual as “rich.”

As many of the U-2 missions departed from countries such as Turkey, Taiwan, and South Korea, it must have been difficult for the pilots to adhere to these strictures, especially the ban on spicy foods.

Read another story from us: If the Cold War Went Hot, the Skies of WW3 Would Look Like This

We can only assume that the pilots were very relieved when spy satellites took over the task of photographing the earth’s surface.

No longer would they have to sit in the pilot’s seat for nine hours knowing that there was nowhere to dash off to if caught short.  The manual provides light, amusing reading now, but at the time the pilot and his family must have viewed it with misgiving.

Jeremy Lyons

Jeremy Lyons is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE