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F-35 chemical and biologic suit tested

After several tests over the past six months to contaminate and decontaminate an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with simulated chemical and biological (CB) agents, the 461st Flight Test Squadron has now moved forward to testing a suit designed to protect the pilot from those threats.

The chemical/biological ensemble consists of a special CB suit, a Joint Service Aircrew Mask used for the F-35, a pilot-mounted CB air filter, CB socks, and gloves double taped at the wrists. The ensemble also features a filtered air blower that protects the pilot from CB contamination while walking to the jet. It provides both breathing air and demist air, which goes to the pilot’s mask and goggles. All components of the CB ensemble are in addition to the pilot’s sleeved flight jacket and anti-g suit.

“Among the data we’re collecting is how much thermal stress is added to the pilot with the CB ensemble on and the impact the additional gear may have on flying the aircraft,” said Darren Cole, 461st FLTS Human Systems Integration lead.

For the CB ensemble tests, an F-35B is on loan from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. Marine Corps test pilots Major Aaron Frey and Major Douglas Rosenstock, from the 461st FLTS, donned the CB ensemble for the first tests on January 6.

“The first pilot stepped to a clean jet in the CB ensemble and we contaminated it using a simulated agent. The engine run pulls in the simulant so we need to make sure the air is filtered before it gets to the pilot,” said Cole.

“First, the air goes through the [onboard oxygen generation system] and then the pilot-mounted CB filter to remove any remaining contaminants. There is another filtered air supply blower that provides cooling and demist air to the pilot’s hood and goggles. We also used three air sampling devices to be sure all the air provided to the pilot was clean.”

After the ground test, a second pilot came out to simulate stepping into a “dirty jet.” Before conducting an engine start-up and then a flight.

The simulant sent into the jet’s air intakes is made of elements that have been researched and tested to be safe, but mimic the properties of the harmful agents. Both pilots wore passive absorption devices on their bodies that the simulated contaminant would stick to if it made it through the CB ensemble. Data was taken from both pilots to see if anything was different from the separate startup scenarios.

“We purposely chose the Marine [short takeoff, vertical landing] version of the F-35 because the equipment is more complicated and basically has more nooks and crannies for the contaminant to hide in,” said Cole.

“This aircraft also has full-up mission systems. These tests will demonstrate that the U.S. and partner nations can fly, fight, and win in a CB threat environment and then quickly decontaminate the aircraft and return it to normal operation.”

The 461st FLTS will have the F-35B from MCAS Yuma through the end of February for the tests.

Edited by Michael Jones

February 8, 2017


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