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Thermal curtains offer protection to B-52 aircrews

Matthew Yost and Jennifer Hoffman discuss a prototype B-52 Stratofortress thermal curtain they hold in front of a cockpit window Dec. 6 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Reflective on the outside and rubberized on the inside, the curtains will protect aircrews from the blinding light that results from a nuclear explosion. Mr. Yost is a B-52 engineer, and Ms. Hoffman is an engineering intern. (U.S. Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

Matthew Yost and Jennifer Hoffman discuss a prototype B-52 Stratofortress thermal curtain they hold in front of a cockpit window Dec. 6 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Reflective on the outside and rubberized on the inside, the curtains will protect aircrews from the blinding light that results from a nuclear explosion. Mr. Yost is a B-52 engineer, and Ms. Hoffman is an engineering intern. (U.S. Air Force photo/Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- Engineers here are designing a product to protect B-52 Stratofortress aircrews from a nuclear attack's blinding light.

Designed by members of the 540th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron's B-52 Communications Navigation and Weapons Flight, prototypes for the thermal curtains will be ready sometime in December. 

Final versions of the curtains are scheduled to be completed by October 2009. 

The design is elegant in its simplicity, said William Plasters, the flight chief.

"The new design is simple, quick to install, and can be removed easily to perform maintenance, or when not required," he said.

Resembling automobile windshield sunshades, the thermal curtains are about 1/10th of an inch thick, 40 to 50 inches long, by 30 inches tall, depending on the size of its respective window. Each curtain is made up of three material layers -- a reflective layer, a stiffener and a rubberized vinyl cloth. When the B-52 is not releasing a nuclear bomb or in close proximity to a detonating nuclear bomb, the curtains are not needed and each curtain can be removed and stored in its storage bag. When packed, the bag could weigh up to 30 pounds.

A set consists of seven shades and will cost about $2,500 per set. Benefits coincide with Air Force responsibilities.

"The nuclear mission is becoming more and more important and this is one of the things that completes the mission, while keeping an aircrew safe should (an aircrew) have to do a mission with nuclear weapons," said Matt Yost, a structural engineer for the flight.

If there is no imminent danger, Mr. Yost said the curtains should only be used for training purposes, which occurs twice a year. But, aircrews and maintenance personnel are actually using the curtains daily in warm weather, as sunshades, causing the curtains to wear sooner than expected.

To prevent the new curtains from early deterioration, officials suggest aircrews use fabric sunshades to keep the cockpit cool and only use the thermal curtains when necessary. Fabric sunshades cost less than $300 per set and one set covers 13 windows. Prototypes of these sunshades will be sent in December to the active squadrons for testing.

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