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Sun, Mar 07, 2010

F-35 Pilots 'Measure' Up, Move Closer To Training

New Gear Includes Everything From G-Suits And Helmets To Socks And Underwear

Pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida received measurements for the first F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter equipment February 25, moving a step closer to training in the military's newest fighter aircraft. The new pilot equipment includes everything from underwear to cold-weather outer gear to anti-G garments.

RFD Beaufort, the Lockheed Martin sub-contractor making the new equipment, took controlled measurements down to the millimeter to ensure comfort, safety and the pilot's capability to complete the mission in any scenario. Some of the equipment used by the first F-35 pilots will be based on legacy gear found on previous fighter aircraft.

"The wing continues to work toward establishing the first (Department of Defense) training center for the F-35 joint strike fighter," said Marine Col. Arthur Tomassetti, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander. "While measuring an individual for flight equipment might seem like a small step, every step brings us closer to being able to commence training at Eglin. The level of sophistication and technology on the new equipment is indicative of the advancement this new weapons system provides our Marines, sailors and Airmen.

"A lot of the engineering has improved since the legacy equipment," said Maj. Eric Smith, the 58th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations. "It is a great step forward with the next generation of aircraft."

Major Smith, who has flown A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and F-16 Fighting Falcons, said receiving measurements for the F-35 was much more detailed than previous experiences. "This seems a lot more science based as they are taking a lot more measurements," said the 15-year Air Force veteran. "With legacy equipment, all they do is ask for height and weight."

A normal F-35 pilot will wear flame retardant underwear, socks, a cooling garment, flight suit, anti-exposure suit trimmed to the individual pilot and waistcoats with pouches of drinking water, according to a RFD Beaufort representative. The complete gear with weapons will be about 30 pounds.

The extra efforts ensure a proper fit in case of an ejection by the pilot. Snagging pieces of clothing at top speeds during ejections could be detrimental to a pilot's life. Another safety measure is making every article of clothing flame resistant. The clothing is tested at 1,000 degrees Celsius for four seconds. Upgraded legacy flight suits now feature new arm restraints to prevent the pilot's arms from flaying in the event of an ejection, said Graham Robertson, a joint strike fighter trials and integrated logistics manager for RFD Beaufort. "If this equipment had been around in the past, we would have had a lot of pilots saved," he added.

The three pilots measured for the first pilot gear represented each military branch who will be at the first DOD joint strike fighter training center. "It is an improvement to legacy equipment," said Marine Maj. Tyler Bardo, a 501st Marine Fighter Attack Squadron aircraft maintenance officer. "It looks a little different. It looks more comfortable."

The pilots expressed their excitement for the new equipment and the technology that comes with it. "The technology is a great leap," said Navy Capt. Mike Saunders, the 33rd FW Operations Group deputy commander. "I think the biggest thing is the helmet. I actually tried it on for the first time today. It looks big and gargantuan, but it is really well-balanced."

Fitting the helmet is an entirely different process where laser scanners will map the pilots' head, said a VSI representative. VSI is the Lockheed Martin sub-contractor working on the F-35 helmet. The helmet, made of carbon fiber and Kevlar, features cameras equipped with night vision and a display system capable of projecting information such as airspeed onto the pilot's visor, according to a recent article in 'Airman' magazine.

FMI: www.af.mil

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