Wednesday, July 05, 2006

New Air Force Flight Suit

A six-month wear test for the next generation flight suit and proposed T-shirt undergarment is being conducted by specialists in the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron aircrew life support division at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The T-shirt, which is being tested in two versions made from wool or meta-aramid fibers (the same flame retardant material used in the flight suit), is a new item which could replace the non-standardized cotton shirts worn by aircrews now. "The purpose of testing the new shirts is to provide aircrews with a cool, moisture-wicking and flame-resistant undergarment," said Danny Keith, 28th TES assistant project manager. While performing flight duties, aircrew members are prohibited from wearing the popular, yet flammable, polyester wicking T-shirts sold in military clothing stores. The flight suit being tested is identical in construction to the one worn now. Although wear testers can provide input on future design changes, the evaluation focuses on changing the flight suit's material."We are specifically looking at a different weave of fabric to decide if it can resist the current flight suit problems of pilling, shade variation and zipper flaring," Mr. Keith said. The flaring of the cloth flaps that are intended to conceal the 10 zipper tracks on the suit was first identified in the women's flight suit wear tests. "Although the change of fabric won't address the zipper flaring directly, we are examining a slight change in the sewing construction that may correct the problem," he said. The pilling (little balls of matted fiber) and the shade variations in the green flight suits (most noticeable under fluorescent lighting) are possible effects from changes made by the U.S. Army in the 1990s to make the flight suit anti-static and comply with near-infrared signature requirements, Mr. Keith said. The Army's changes also altered the Air Force's initial sage-green color. The new green flight suit material will again return to the original color, now dubbed "Freedom Sage." More than 50 test volunteers from fighter, bomber, airlift, helicopter and aeromedical units across the country are participating in the operational utility evaluation. Each aircrew member received three wool and three meta-aramid T-shirts, and two flight suits -- one made from the new weave and one from the current fabric. "The items are labeled with a letter or number that hasn't been explained to the participants to preserve the test's integrity," Mr. Keith said. The participants will provide data to the 28th TES by logging the number of times the suits and undergarments are worn and washed and answering Web-based questionnaires. So far, the response has been mostly positive, Mr. Keith said. "After washing (the new T-shirts) a few times, I really can't tell the difference between them and my existing cotton shirts," said Col. Ken Wilsbach, 53d Wing commander. "They're pretty comfortable." The 28th TES officials will forward their final report to Air Force Materiel Command at the conclusion of the wear test on Nov. 1. "We want to provide the Air Force Clothing Office with the most complete data so a decision can be made that will suit our aircrews' needs," Mr. Keith said. "It's important to provide our Airmen with the absolute best technology, whether it's an advanced weapons system or the uniform they wear every day."

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