Researchers are evaluating the time it takes to clear the cockpit of a chemical simulant during flight.
The US Air Force (USAF) conducted the first in-flight vapor purge tests on the F-22 Raptor with the support of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron and the 59th Test Squadron on Nellis Air Force Base from Oct. 13-21, 2022.
As reported by Airman 1st Class Makenna Gott, 57th Wing Public Affairs, in the article Joint Teams Conduct First F-22 In-Flight Tests for Aircrew CBRN Protection, these tests are a continuation of the Next Generation Aircrew Protection (NGAP) program, which will ensure current and future aircrew gear and operation concepts will modernize rapidly to meet emerging threats while maximizing aircrew performance and protection.
“We want to give the aircrew the highest overall performance they can maintain while being in a contested environment,” said 1st Lt. Andrew DeNicola, 28th Test and Evaluations Squadron test engineer.
Researchers are evaluating the time it takes to clear the cockpit of a chemical simulant during flight. They use methyl salicylate, known as wintergreen oil, which is used as flavoring agent in chewing gums and mints. This chemical simulant is safe for the pilot, yet mimics the effects and properties of known chemical warfare agents.
USAF test and evaluation personnel placed specialized testing equipment in the cockpit and on the pilot. Then the methyl salicylate was sprayed into the aircraft’s engines before takeoff to measure the speed at which concentration of the chemical during flight are eliminated. With this information, researchers determined the time and conditions needed to purge a contaminant from the cockpit, enabling development of informed concepts of operation.
“These novel tests will provide decision superiority to commanders on the current capabilities of protection for their aircrews, allowing them to effectively and safely generate combat airpower in a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) contested environment, which is critical to deterring our near-peer adversaries,” said Lt. Col. Paul D. Hendrickson, Materiel Leader for Air Force CBRN Defense Systems Branch part of the Air Force Agile Combat Support Directorate. “At the same time, we’re dramatically improving our ability to modernize and field the right next-generation protective capabilities to our warfighters at the speed of relevance … saving both time and money.”
Steve Singleton, NGAP Program Manager from the AF CBRN Defense Systems Branch further elaborated that “following the successful initial efforts in 2018 where we conducted ground tests on the F-22, F-15E, F-15C, F-16 and A-10 aircraft, we learned enough to move forward with our in-flight tests which we started in 2020 on a C-130J and now on the F-15E and F-22. These tests directly support Pacific Air Forces fight tonight requirement and are underpinned by the recently published National Security Strategy.”
This collaborative effort by the Air Force’s CBRN Defense Systems Branch along with the Joint Program Executive Office for CBRN Defense, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing (711 HPW) and 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron is aligned to conduct evaluations across multiple DoD airframe platforms over the next few years.
As already reported in fact, the 711 HPW and the 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron executed an in-flight vapor purge test in a F-15E Strike Eagle, Aug. 16-19, 2022.
The objective of the test by the 711 HPW was to evaluate cockpit environmental conditions after a chemical weapon attack.
1st Lt. Gunnar Kral, the Lead Engineer for NGAP with the AF CBRN Defense Systems Branch added “If a pilot must operate in a chemically contaminated environment, they have their chem suit, their gloves and mask and it can reduce their capabilities to execute at maximum performance. What we are doing through the Next Generation Aircrew Protection Program is investigating how we can reduce their protection levels safely, allowing them to maximize mission effectiveness to fly, fight and win”.
The 711 HPW leads the development, integration, and delivery of Airman-centric research, education, and consultation enabling the Air Force to achieve responsive and effective global vigilance, global reach, and global power now and in the future. Established under the Air Force Research Laboratory, the 711 HPW is comprised of the Airman Systems Directorate (RH) and the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM).
The Wing’s multidisciplinary workforce is comprised of more than seventy occupational specialties across science, technology, and aerospace medicine. Leveraging a convergent sciences approach and supported by state-of the-art research facilities and classrooms, the Wing provides the Air Force with unparalleled expertise to maximize Airman availability, enhance Airman performance, and ensure resource efficiency — now and in the future.
The 711 HPW also functions as a joint Department of Defense Center of Excellence for human performance sustainment and readiness, optimization, and enhancement through partnerships with the Naval Medical Research Unit-Dayton and nearby universities, industry, and medical institutions.
Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Makenna Gott / U.S. Air Force