SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — Over the past few years, the Air Force has seen the introduction of several weapons systems that have pushed its aviation capability to new heights.
As capabilities increase, the Air Force has had to refine safety equipment in order to protect the only irreplaceable component in each airframe — the human weapon system.
To ensure the safety of Air Force pilots and prepare for the future of aviation, Air Combat Command held a joint aircrew flight equipment evaluation testing Oct. 7-14 at Seymour Johnson AFB.
Representatives from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota; Beale AFB, California; Tinker AFB, Oklahoma; Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; Nellis AFB, Nevada; and Hill AFB, Utah, were on hand to test current and future flight equipment for every aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory, including the F-35 Lightning II.
Seymour Johnson AFB was chosen for the location of the test due to its proximity to ACC headquarters and its ability to provide additional Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen to assist in the testing without affecting the operational mission of the wing. Organizers wanted to get real-time assessments of the equipment from those actually using it in the operational Air Force.
“We could have chosen a specialized test facility somewhere but it made more sense to do testing at a place where we could get direct feedback from the technicians who are accomplishing the mission every day,” said Randy Loving, the AFE requirements chief for ACC. “For us, Seymour Johnson (AFB) was a logical choice.”
The Joint Service Aircrew Masks was among the AFE items tested during the weeklong study. The masks, which were evaluated for use aboard tactical aircraft, were tested on their ability to keep aircrew protected from airborne contamination. Tactical aircraft equipment from the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-22 Raptor were also tested to determine potential safety improvements for future integration.
During the test, each of the aircrew’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense flight suits were sprayed with fluorescing particles, simulating an aircrew member’s exposure to biological or chemical weaponry. After being sprayed, the test participant walked through an aircrew contamination control area to manage contaminated equipment. Each piece of equipment was thoroughly disinfected in an attempt to eliminate and neutralize any simulated hazardous materials.
Following the contamination mitigation process, the testers removed their equipment and they were examined under a black light for any possible safety vulnerabilities. The process was repeated several times to ensure the integrity and reliability of the results.
“It’s important for the gear we issue our aircrew members to be safe,” said Master Sgt. James Kent, the 4th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment flight chief. “By thoroughly testing each piece of equipment and ensuring the integrity of our tests, we provide accurate results to Air Force leaders. It also helps us collect data points for future upgrades.”
The chemicals used in the test were specially designed to change color when exposed to water and fluoresce under a black light to make it easy to determine whether there were leaks in the equipment or transfer of particles during the process.
Additionally, the tests also gave AFE specialists, assigned to specific airframes, an opportunity to familiarize themselves with other aircraft equipment.
“We’re the aircrew’s first defense from danger while they’re operating an aircraft,” said Senior Airman Matt Blaire, an aircrew flight equipment specialist assigned to the 1st Operation Support Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. “It’s an honor to participate in such an important step in maintaining the integrity of our safety equipment and in keeping our Airmen safe.”
At the completion of the tests, the results were compiled and sent with recommendations of improvements to the Joint Program Executive Office (JPEO) for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense in Edgewood, Maryland.
The JPEO is the Defense Department’s single focal point for research, development, acquisition, fielding and life-cycle support of chemical and biological defense equipment and medical countermeasures.
“The beauty of hosting the program is coming to the realization that what we are doing right now can affect AFE for the next generation of aviators,” Kent said. “Our Airmen will take pride in helping mold aviation in the Air Force into what it will become in the next 20 years. They will truly get to see firsthand the fruition of their tireless work and training.”