“One day I went out to the jet, strapped in, reached into the little pocket on my sleeve to grab my yellow foam earplugs, and realized that they weren’t there…” Lynn Taylor, A-10 Pilot.
The same kind of earplugs sold to Def Leppard, the Moody Blues, Nine Inch Nails and other rock bands are used by US military fighter pilots to protect hearing, muffle cockpit noise and ease communications.
The US Air Force (USAF) calls the device Attenuating Custom Communication Earpiece System, or ACCES, earphone is the shape of the pilots’ inner ear cavity, which blocks out all ambient noise.
Unlike commercial aircraft in fact, military planes usually have no insulation in the cockpit to help muffle engine and wind noise. And the fans that cool cockpit equipment can be loud.
Integrated with a standard military flight helmet or headset, ACCES provides acoustic protection and clear voice reception amidst hazardous noise generated by aircraft.
Noise levels in military aircraft can reach up to 125 decibels, making it hard for pilots to hear mission critical communications and eventually causing permanent hearing loss, as Lynn Taylor, A-10 Pilot, Joint Firepower Course Instructor, Air Liaison Officer, explains on Quora.
‘There I was …
‘By jet fighter standards, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” is whisper quiet, even with two turbofans sitting just over your shoulders. One day I went out to the jet, strapped in, reached into the little pocket on my sleeve to grab my yellow foam earplugs, and realized that they weren’t there.
‘My options at this point were:
‘A) Obtain hearing protection by either asking the crew chief to go scrounge some up, or calling in over the radio and ask someone to bring some out.
‘B) Suck it up and drive on without hearing protection.
‘This was fairly early in my A-10 days, and I opted to take the manly (read: foolish) approach and chose option B. I mean… how bad could it be?’
‘I realized the severity of my error as soon as I ran the engines up to full at the edge of the runway, ready for takeoff. What followed was one of the most miserable and painful experiences of my life. It was a close second to the time I had to fly in full chemical warfare gear. I don’t think the drinking tube is supposed to stick up your nose like that.
‘Imagine yourself at the biggest heavy metal concert in the world. In the front row. With your head strapped to the speaker. For an hour and a half.
‘I was sure I would be completely deaf by the time I landed. ‘Fortunately, I didn’t suffer permanent hearing loss. But I learned that, if you ever make it out to the jet without hearing protection … choose option A.’
‘That was the only time I ever forgot hearing protection. Some lessons you don’t have to learn twice.
‘With hearing protection? It’s actually not that bad. You can hear the engines, and actually use their sound to cue you on the state of the aircraft. But you don’t feel like your head is going to explode.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
I learned long ago about hearing protection when shooting. It didn’t take long to buy ear plugs or ear muffs when at the shooting range. Adopted hearing protection since. And hearing is progressively lost, accelerated more so with loud noises for long periods. This airman assumes his hearing is intact, for now. He’ll know much later in life how this one time affected his hearing.