US Air Guard unit provides testing ground for mask development

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AFNS) — Devel­op one air­crew mask that can be used on over 100 dif­fer­ent air frames. That is the chal­lenge for researchers assigned to the Joint Ser­vice Air­crew Mask-Fixed Wing Pro­gram.

Erin Kennedy, a chem­i­cal engi­neer for the Army and the Joint Ser­vice Air­crew Mask-Fixed Wing Research Team test and eval­u­a­tion lead, gets feed­back from Tech. Sgt. Michael Lin­damood dur­ing a field eval­u­a­tion of the mask at the West Vir­ginia Air Nation­al Guard in Mar­tins­burg, W.Va., Dec. 7, 2011. The Depart­ment of Defense research team had air­crew in each of the fly­ing posi­tions don the mask and accom­pa­ny­ing gear and per­form their duties on a C‑5 Galaxy air­craft. (Air Nation­al Guard photo/Master Sgt. Emi­ly Beightol-Dey­er­le)
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In ear­ly Decem­ber, JSAM-FW researchers vis­it­ed the 167th Air­lift Wing, a West Vir­ginia Air Nation­al Guard unit here, to eval­u­ate the JSAM’s abil­i­ty to inte­grate to the C‑5 Galaxy air­craft. Nicole Fletch­er, an Army chemist and JSAM-FW sys­tems engi­neer, said the mis­sion was to “nail down con­fig­u­ra­tions so that they can start work­ing on logis­tics and test plans.”

Kevin O’Neal, a com­bat devel­op­er with the Air Force Air Com­bat Com­mand, said the team hoped to ham­mer out a uni­ver­sal com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­fig­u­ra­tion for the mask and deter­mine which hoses can be used for the breath­ing sys­tem.

The 167th Air­crew Flight Equip­ment sec­tion host­ed the JSAM-FW team as it worked with 167th Air­lift Squadron air­crew mem­bers in each of the fly­ing posi­tions. Pilots, load­mas­ters and flight engi­neers donned the mask and accom­pa­ny­ing equip­ment. They then per­formed var­i­ous func­tions of their duty mis­sion. After­ward, each Air­man com­plet­ed a ques­tion­naire, pro­vid­ing feed­back to the JSAM-FW team.

Maj. Jeff Muss­er, a pilot with the 167th Air­lift Wing, vol­un­teered to par­tic­i­pate in the assess­ment. He said the mask was def­i­nite­ly bet­ter than what air­crews are cur­rent­ly issued.

“It’s less cum­ber­some,” Muss­er said. “There’s increased vis­i­bil­i­ty, and it’s eas­i­er to breathe through.”

Muss­er also not­ed that hav­ing a fil­ter can­is­ter that can be changed to either side of the mask is a good fea­ture for pilots who may sit in either the right or left seat of the cock­pit.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Lin­damood, a load­mas­ter with the unit, also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the team’s eval­u­a­tion and echoed Musser’s sen­ti­ments on the mask.

“It’s bet­ter than what we have now,” he said. “It’s user-friend­ly, and as far as assem­bly, it’s less to car­ry around. It does­n’t bog you down or get in your way.”

As part of a Depart­ment of Defense mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram to improve the cur­rent air­crew eye and res­pi­ra­to­ry pro­tec­tion, the JSAM-FW project falls under the Joint Ser­vices Joint Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office for Chem­i­cal and Bio­log­i­cal Defense.

Chief Mas­ter Sgt. Dan­ny Effland, the sec­tion chief for the 167th Air­crew Flight Equip­ment sec­tion, said the JSAM will poten­tial­ly replace the AERP. Effland was respon­si­ble for coor­di­nat­ing the team’s vis­it to the unit.

He explained that when the AERP — made up of the mask, blow­er unit and inter­com sys­tem — is issued to air­crew before a mis­sion, it adds an addi­tion­al 45 min­utes to the crew day due to the 26 steps need­ed to pre­flight the equip­ment.

Effland said with the M‑53 Air­crew Chem­i­cal Bio­log­i­cal Mask, all of that is elim­i­nat­ed.

“Time, man­pow­er and mon­ey are saved, and there’s prob­a­bly bet­ter pro­tec­tion,” he said.

The M‑53 mask is part of the JSAM sys­tem. The M‑53 works in the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive mode.

“Neg­a­tive mean­ing on ground, and pos­i­tive mode mean­ing we hook a blow­er up to it,” O’Neal said. The M‑53 also inte­grates night-vision gog­gles and laser eye pro­tec­tion.

The devel­op­ment of a joint air crew mask has been 10 years in the mak­ing. Ini­tial­ly, researchers were hop­ing to find one mask to meet the require­ments of all air­crew in every branch of the mil­i­tary on all air­craft. The progress was slow due to the chal­lenges of fit­ting air­crew for more than 125 air­frames, Fletch­er said.

It was deter­mined that find­ing a mask to meet all air­crew require­ments was unlike­ly, so the pro­gram split into fixed wing and rotary wing air­craft, she added.

There were still many chal­lenges to find­ing one mask to meet all require­ments for fixed wing air crew, but after dis­cov­er­ing the M‑53, a ground crew mask man­u­fac­tured by Avon Pro­tec­tion, the pro­gram has cat­a­pult­ed for­ward, O’Neal said.

Fletch­er explained that pre­lim­i­nary test­ing proved the M‑53 to be fea­si­ble for the joint mask cri­te­ria. After alti­tude cham­ber test­ing, a few changes were made to the mask, and now it looks like it may pro­vide a cost sav­ings in pro­cure­ment and sus­tain­ment.

Effland said it was an “awe­some expe­ri­ence” to have the team come to the unit and con­duct eval­u­a­tions.

“It’s great for the guys in the shop to see the behind the scenes of the equip­ment we issue and the steps it takes for the equip­ment to get here,” he said.

Effland added that he might not be around when the JSAM and M‑53 are stan­dard issue for the air­crew, but some of the young Air­men will still be serv­ing the unit. He said it will be great for them to know that they had a part in the process.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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