Navy trying out new, lighter aircrew survival vests

by Tommy Grant

The Navy is testing out new aircrew survival vests for helicopter and V-22 Osprey aircrews, lighter arrays the sea service hopes will cut down on overheating issues while reducing back and neck injuries.

The current vest — the Navy Aircrew Endurance Vest System — has been in use since 2010. But today’s improved materials, fabrics and design features mean the Navy can now seek out a more comfortable option for sailors, according to the Naval Aircrew Systems Program Office.

Assessments among West Coast crews kicked off in August and wrapped up in October, while those on the East Coast started in September and concluded in November.

Pilots, aircrew and maintainers with the MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawk, MH-53E Sea Dragon and CMV-22 Osprey aircraft participated in the fleet assessments, where they provided feedback on the vests.

The Navy will analyze the assessment results to determine whether to procure one or both of the tested vests, after reviewing data and fleet assessment results.

Fielding a lighter option that mitigates problems associated with the legacy system is especially critical as mission lengths expand, Naval Aircrew Systems Program Office program manager Capt. Carey Castelein said in a statement.

“In order to reduce acute and chronic neck and back pain, there are opportunities through advanced fabrics and design features which will reduce weight, bulk, and thermal burden of the vest system,” Cmdr. Luke Quebedeaux and Cynthia Stead, who are spearheading the project, said in an email to Navy Times.

The new vest the Navy plans to adopt is expected to weigh roughly 20 percent less than the current vest. Naval Air Systems Command is also investigating options to swap out vest-mounted survival gear for smaller and lighter equipment to reduce the overall vest weight by 40 percent.

“Due to improved materials, fabrics and design features available today, we are able to offer solutions that are better able to regulate thermal burden and distribute weight loads that may lead to neck and back pain,” Quebedeaux and Stead said in email to Navy Times.

As a result, the vests undergoing evaluation now are constructed with less bulky materials that aim to improve buoyancy and cut down on overall weight. Additionally, the vest systems are “designed with modular components to allow the user to easily configure their vest for the mission,” the project’s leaders said.

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