New Cooling Suits Can Keep Airmen Comfortable on Hot Flight Lines

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An airman shares his experience withthe personal cooling suit.
U.S. Air Force Col. David Seitz and Chief Master Sgt. Eric Burke ask an airman about their experience with the personal cooling suit at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, June 18, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec)

F-22 Raptor maintainers had a problem. Stuffy coveralls were making their work on the aircraft's low-observable coatings distractingly hot and humid during the summer months.

So researchers from Headquarters Air Combat Command's science and technology department stepped in to develop new cooling suits to help keep airmen comfortable when working on flight lines.

"Our science and technology team at Headquarters ACC heard about the challenging operating conditions that our low-observable maintenance airmen have to work under," Dr. John Matyjas, HQ ACC chief scientist, said in a statement. "It's hot, strenuous, and requires particular focus on the task at hand."

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The researchers worked with F-22 maintainers at Joint Base Langley-Eustis' 1st Fighter Wing to test the cooling suits under the often extreme weather conditions in Virginia, according to a base news release.

Matyjas toured the 1st Fighter Wing, then offered advice.

"We listened and began looking for innovative portable cooling solutions to meet the demand," he said. "During our search, RINI Technologies graciously agreed to let our maintainers have a two-month 'user experience' with their cooling system."

The new suits, which have been patented, consist of a custom-designed and unique set of sub-components including compressors, condenser, evaporator and water pump in one small package; the backpack-like package connects to a vest that "acts like a car's radiator," according to the release.

"Our airmen are excited about wearing them in harsh conditions while wearing Tyvek coveralls," 1st Lt. William Gibbs, F-22 fighter training unit assistant officer in charge, said in the release. "It's not a glamorous job, so we're excited about something that makes it a little bit easier." He pointed out that the Tyvek coveralls do not breathe in the hot and humid Virginia summer.

"After wearing them for just 5-10 minutes, you take them off and you're sweating," Gibbs explained in the release. "It's very similar to the chemical gear in MOPP 4. Think about how miserable you are during those phase two exercises. Our guys do it every single day.

"If this is something that we can roll out on a large scale for the workforce and make their working environment a little bit more tolerable, which will translate into them being more in tune with what they're doing work-wise -- without having to struggle with being hot, tired and sweaty, I think [the airmen] will produce even better quality of maintenance," he said.

According to the release, the airmen's response has been positive and the research team has received innovative feedback to improve the next design.

-- Bing Xiao can be reached at bingxiao2020@u.northwestern.edu.

Related: Some Don't Like It Hot: Shorts on the Way for Maintainers at Nellis Air Force Base

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