LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- Hendrick Ruck demonstrates the wear of the attenuating customized communications earpiece system while sitting the cockpit of one of Langley's new F/A-22 Raptors. Mr. Ruck is director of the Air Force Research Laboratory's research team from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman DeLicha E. Germany)
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- The attenuating customized communications earpiece system is made from silicone, which blocks out the higher frequencies while the form-fitted seal provides better protection from the noises on the lower end. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman DeLicha E. Germany)
by Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
6/30/2005 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- The most important word in a maintenance operation is “stop!”
To help spread the work, the attenuating customized communications earpiece system was developed by Air Force Research Laboratory scientists and local F/A-22 Raptor specialists. The earpiece makes it easier for pilots and maintainers to hear that life-saving word without having to give up hearing protection.
“It started with maintainers not being able to communicate with pilots,” said Capt. Kevin Divers, 27th Fighter Squadron aerospace physiologist. “We also needed something that could handle pressure changes and would be safe.”
The system filters out high-frequency noises from fighter aircraft while using tiny speakers to allow the wearer to hear radio communications.
“The real issue was the sound pattern around the F/A-22 was so loud, maintainers couldn’t hear,” said Hendrick Ruck, director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s human effectiveness directorate. “With these, communication is almost perfect.”
The system makes use of several features to reduce noise.
“By being molded, (the ear plugs) have good passive protection,” Mr. Ruck said. “They are perfectly fitted. They also use active noise reduction. They take the predictable noises and cancel the wave forms.”
All fighter aircraft have high-frequency noise, Captain Divers said. The plugs are made from silicone, which blocks out the higher frequencies while the form-fitted seal provides better protection from noises on the lower end.
Mr. Ruck said the goal was to improve communication among pilots, maintainers and crew chiefs.
“We looked at the noise in the cockpit,” he said. “How much noise can we take out and enhance communication? We put speakers in them and used special forces bone microphones.”
The system has exceeded expectations, Mr. Ruck said.
“Our tests are pretty good,” he said. “(The ear plugs) canceled out 47 decibels in tests, which we think is a record.”
Larger ear protection devices and foam plugs, like those used now, only block out a maximum of 40 decibels, Mr. Ruck said.
Captain Divers said there was an added advantage to replacing the speakers in the F/A-22 helmet with the new system.
“It shaves 5 ounces off the weight of the helmet,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you hit G-forces, that helmet feels heavier.”
Along with the F/A-22, the system is being considered for helicopter pilots and special operations forces troops. It was used by civilian astronaut Mike Melvill aboard SpaceShipOne, the first manned, private spaceship that made history June 2440 with its voyage into space.
“Before these plugs, we had problems because we were using little foamy earplugs,” Mr. Melvill said.
“When I switched to the new system, I had perfect hearing of what was going on from mission control throughout both of my flights and had no discomfort at all from the noise of the rocket motor,” he said.
Despite its other uses, Captain Divers said the real goal was keeping aircrews safe.
“It helps the pilots immensely,” he said. “In a combat environment, you don’t want to have to think about what’s being said. Clear communication is important.”