JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
When servicing the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor, speed and precision are necessary to ensure aircraft are ready to carry out the Department of Defense mission. Extreme temperatures can cause our Airmen to overheat, which threatens maintaining a steady operations tempo.
Members from the 1st Fighter Wing have found a solution to aid Airmen in keeping their core body temperatures from reaching dangerous levels. Airmen from the 1st FW are testing a new cooling suit with the ability to maintain body temperatures at a safe 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
These battery-powered cooling suits work by regulating water through a vest worn by the user, which helps keep the body's areas containing vital organs cool.
This grassroots movement to explore these cooling suits started with the Airmen of the 1st FW themselves. One of the main shops using this technology is the Low Observable (LO) section. Their job requires donning protective gear to cover their entire bodies to keep out any potentially harmful materials while maintaining aircraft.
"We are one of the testbeds for this, and a lot of our feedback is being used by other bases," said 1st Lt. Devon Chatman, 1st Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight commander. "Other units have contacted us to see how we like the suits because they are considering implementing them into various career fields besides just LO."
During the summer of 2020, members of the 1st FW started testing these cooling suits, helping to identify positive aspects and areas that could improve.
"I sent my feedback, and right away, the company sent back pictures of ideas they had," said Staff Sgt. Mason Kelly, 94th Fighter Squadron LO journeyman. "They've been very receptive to issues that we have brought up and trying to make the product better. For LO across the board, I think this has been a great idea."
Mitigating lost time by keeping down the core temperature of service members allows for longer durations of work and helps cut down aircraft service times.
"LO is one of those systems that eats up a lot of maintenance time on aircraft because there are a lot of things outside of our control," Chatman said. "By controlling what we can, we can expedite our LO processes by allowing the uncontrollable time to be used more effectively."
Identifying that not all hangars have climate-controlled capabilities, members from the 1st FW have prioritized individuals who work within these environments by ensuring cooling suits as an option to assist during the workday.
"If you're in LO at one point or another, you're going to wish you had a cooling suit," Kelly said. "You never know what you're going to be working on the next day, so as a career field, I 100 percent think these suits are a good idea. With certain modifications I these suits could be a viable option and help extend the abilities of LO."
Helping to ensure the Air Force mission gets accomplished despite external factors is of utmost importance for the members of the 1st FW.
According to Chatman, creating a workplace environment that fosters conditions to improve workmanship demonstrates that Airmen are the priority.
"[The] biggest take away is that it has been the biggest move in the right direction to show LO Airmen that we care about their quality of life," Chatman said. "From the top down, the Wing has been a huge advocate for this to improve quality of life for our Airmen while they are working."