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Bengals’ aircrews test new flight gear

By Cpl. Anthony Guas | | December 9, 2005

Fifteen Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 aircrew are testing a new flight suit designed to protect them from chemical and biological contamination.

The new suit, which is called the Joint Protective Air Crew Ensemble, was designed to replace the chemical protective undergarment currently worn underneath the flight suit.

The Joint Protective Aircrew Ensemble is a program managed under the Joint Service Materiel Group Individual Protection Commodity Area according to the Naval Sea Systems Command Web site,   www.dcfp.navy.mil/cbrd/ip/jpace.htm.

The Navy is the lead service for development of an ensemble providing chemical and biological protection for all service aircrews, including those in both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, according to the Web site.

“The Marine Corps has been using a variation of aviation NBC gear for many years,” said CWO3 Steven Dancer, the Marine Aircraft Group 31 NBC defense officer. “This new suit has a lesser impact on the pilot and keeps the logistical burden down.”

The new suit has increased biological and chemical agent protection, flame protection and shelf/service life. Additionally, the heat stress from wearing the suit has been decreased.

“A lot of the users got together to better the suit,” said Dana Thompson, a chemical individual protective equipment analyst contracted from the Air Force Operational Testing Evaluation Center. “The main issues were to decrease thermal burden and to make it a one piece suit.”

The project began in 1999 and is currently in the operational phase, according to Thompson. The Bengals’ aircrews will wear the flight suit for a couple of months, to test their durability.

“The suits are supposed to be worn 480 hours and only laundered four times (during the test),” Dancer said. “They are also supposed to last 16 hours after contamination.”

In a threat, the new suits will take less time to put on, according to Dancer. Unlike MOPP gear, these suits can be worn during flight, thus freeing the pilots of the burden of having to carry around extra gear.

“The new suit is more versatile,” said Capt. Michael Greene, a VMFA(AW)-224 weapons and sensors officer. “It is not so bulky and designed better for flight.”

The Bengals feel privileged that they have the chance to test the suits and provide feedback that will make it better for other service members.

“It’s good that someone actually listened to our critique and developed something different,” Greene said. “I think that it’s great the squadron has the opportunity to help in the development.”

After the testing has concluded, the data will be compiled, and submitted for review. The milestone decision authority will use the Bengals’ feedback to help them decide if these new suits will be purchased.

“If there are no problems then they will vote to keep them,” Dancer said. “They should be out to the fleet by FY07.”

So far, the Joint Protective Air Crew Ensemble has been tested for about 50 hours and according to the Bengals, the aircrews prefer the new suit since it provides more protection and is more comfortable.