New aircrew masks tested at Dover
By Senior Airman Zachary Cacicia, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 08, 2016
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- A Joint Service Aircrew Mask Strategic Program team partnered with the 436th Operations Support Squadron's Aircrew Flight Equipment section to conduct comfort and endurance wear trials and developmental tests for the XM69 Aircrew Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense system at Dover AFB, Delaware Feb. 29 to March 4, 2016.
"The Air Force and the Department of Defense as a whole are fielding a new aircrew chem/bio protective system called the XM69," said Kevin O'Neal, Air Combat Command Headquarters AFE operations specialist. "Right now, we are conducting developmental testing evaluations and collecting comfort and endurance data that will be used to determine reliability and maintainability threshold requirements."
As of now, the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps all utilize their own unique aircrew CBRN system, in layman's terms, a gasmask used by aviators. This program is developing one single system that will be utilized by all four branches. The Air Force alone has 28,000 masks that will be replaced. The XM69 will eventually replace the legacy U.S. Air Force Aircrew Eye Respiratory Protection (AERP) system in the next several years. The new XM69 will be worn by all aircrew members, regardless of which airframe they are operating, with only minor differences between the mask depending on the airframe.
These masks are worn by aircrew members in the event they are exposed to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear environment.
According to O'Neal, the goal is one system with increased quantity, reduced prices, improved logistics, commonality and an overall improved mask.
"The new mask should be more comfortable and have reduced logistics costs for acquisition and sustainment," said O'Neal. "This will reduce the training burden on aircrews and AFE technicians."
The Joint Service Aircrew Mask Strategic Program team, which is comprised of scientists, engineers, AFE specialists and the program manager from the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, ACC Headquarters and Air Mobility Command Headquarters, traveled to Dover AFB and the 436th OSS/AFE to conduct the tests.
In short, these tests involved volunteer aircrew and AF Airmen wearing the new XM69 mask for long durations, in some cases as long as eight hours, to determine the mask's feasibility in terms of comfort and endurance.
"We have a survey that we have them fill out after the eight hours so they can provide their feedback," said Zachary Chadwick, Joint Project Manager protection test engineer. "There are questions about comfort, endurance and about how things worked."
Wearing a mask for hours may cause an individual to develop hot spots on their face, head or neck, or they may have a seal break. These are examples of issues that the team is looking to uncover, so that they may remedy any flaws before the XM69 goes operational.
"The volunteers are providing both objective and subjective suggestions from their experience," said Mike Freebury, AFE deputy branch chief for Headquarters AMC. "Everyone is going to react to wearing a chem/bio mask differently. Some people don't think twice, and others are more sensitive to it. So that's why we use several subjects with a lot of hours to get that feedback."
One of these volunteers, 1st Lt. Ben Bertelson, 3d Airlift Squadron pilot, had great things to say about the XM69.
"It's a lot better than the old masks; it's a lot more comfortable when fitted right," he said. "I'm glad to be part of this test, giving my feedback and opinion."
Dover AFB is the third Air Force base and first AMC base to host the Joint Service Aircrew Mask Strategic Program team.
"Dover's support has been huge," said O'Neal. "This is one of the best places I've been; we will end up with around 200 wear hours by the time we leave here."