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NEWS | Aug. 13, 2020

Hey, that suit looks cool!

By Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Researchers from Headquarters Air Combat Command’s science and technology department are exploring new and innovative ways to keep Airmen safe while working on the flightline.

A recent study conducted with the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis may provide new opportunities to keep Airmen cool as U.S. Air Force F-22 maintainers continue to endure extreme weather conditions to support America’s air superiority around the globe.

“Our science and technology team at Headquarters ACC heard about the challenging operating conditions that our low-observable maintenance Airmen have to work under,” said Dr. John Matyjas, HQ ACC chief scientist. “It’s hot, strenuous, and requires particular focus on the task at hand.”

The LO coatings constitute a considerable amount of the maintenance process and it’s crucial the 1st Maintenance Group Airmen get the job done. Getting this job done right is critical to maintaining the combat readiness of the fifth generation fleet.

According to 1st Lt. William Gibbs, F-22 fighter training unit assistant officer in charge, 1st FW leadership is constantly looking for ways to make the working conditions and environment better for the Airmen; after a tour of the 1st Fighter Wing, Dr. Matyjas had some ideas.

“We listened and began looking for innovative portable cooling solutions to meet the demand,” Dr. Matyjas said. “During our search, RINI Technologies graciously agreed to let our maintainers have a two-month ‘user experience’ with their cooling system.”

The patented personal cooling technology employs a custom-designed and uniquely developed set of sub-components including compressors, condenser, evaporator and water pump in one small package. The lightweight backpack-like package connects to a vest that acts like a car’s radiator.

“Our Airmen are excited about wearing them in harsh conditions while wearing Tyvek coveralls,” Gibbs said. “It's not a glamorous job, so we’re excited about something that makes it a little bit easier.”

During the summer months, Virginia gets hot and humid, and the coveralls do not breath at all.

“After wearing them for just 5-10 minutes, you take them off and you’re sweating,” Gibbs said. “It's very similar to the chemical gear in MOPP 4. Think about how miserable you are during those phase two exercises. Our guys do it every single day.”

According to Joseph Kendall, Deputy to the ACC Chief Scientist, Dr. Matyjas spends a significant amount of his time listening to Airmen to understand their challenges – the empathy phase of design thinking.  ‘Design thinking’ is a phased-process where the technologist, the operator, the acquirer, and sustainment all come together to build a shared mental model of the true nature of the problem presented to the team to arrive at the most promising systems-oriented solutions. Through this process, the operator not only gets the capability they need, but the acquirer better understands the trade-offs that are most important between affordability and utility. 

“If this is something that we can roll out on a large scale for the workforce and make their working environment a little bit more tolerable, which will translate into them being more in tune with what they’re doing work-wise,” Gibbs said. “Without having to struggle with being hot, tired and sweaty, I think [the Airmen] will produce even better quality of maintenance.” 

The feedback from the Airmen has already been positive regarding the cooling suits. Any concerns there were with bulkiness or balance issues were greatly outweighed by the assessments of greater comfort and ability to perform work for longer periods of time with increased focus. The Airmen also had an opportunity to provide innovative feedback to further enhance the next design.