Nov. 3 (UPI) — Five female fighter pilots have recently tested G-force suits modified to better fit the frames of women and other body types besides the typical man, the U.S. Air Force said Tuesday.
The women pilots tested the modified version of the Advanced Technology Anti-Gravity Suit, from Oct. 26-30, at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, according to a U.S. Air Force statement.
The suits have been in use since 2001 to protect pilots from G-force induced loss of consciousness during maneuvers in fighter aircraft, but it was developed primarily for standard men’s body types.
Along with women, pilots with “shorter” or “hard-to-fit” frames often struggled with the suits limited adjustability, according to the statement.
The suits were modified to include wider lacing panels in the waist, thigh and calf, which allow the suit to be easily adjusted for different body proportions.
An option was also added for a “darted,” tailored, custom waist that does not reduce performance of the waist bladder that inflates during high-G maneuvers.
“In the past, some pilots with a shorter torso have had issues with ATAGS that were too large riding up and causing bruising on the rib cases, while pilots who are hard-to-fit may have had one size that fits through the legs, but need a smaller size in the waist,” Charles Cruze, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Human Systems Division engineer, said in a press release.
“Now, the waist can be darted up 3.75 inches, allowing for a more custom and accurate fit, preventing both of those issues,” Cruze said.
The flight testing began with the 46th Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base after the AFLMC successfully conducted endurance testing. The 96th Test Wing provided engineering and test planning expertise.
The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron executed nearly 20 sorties in F-16 D-model aircraft to test the modified ATAGS.
One of the pilots in each of the sorties wore standard ATAGS in case there was an issue with the modified one. Pilots did low- and high-G maneuvers to evaluate the modified ATAGS.
“These tests are important because they will ultimately increase the lethality of those who no longer have their mask slip down during a sortie, their G-suit crunch under their waist, or the extra fabric of a too big anti-exposure suit get in the way of their movements in the jet,” said Capt. Brittany Trimble, an F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot.
“These don’t seem like big issues, but everything counts in the air, and having gear that fits and works as intended should be the standard,” Trimble said.
Pilots were also asked to evaluate the modified ATAGS “during regular activities like sitting, standing, walking and climbing into and out of the aircraft,” 46th Test Squadron lead test engineer Sharon Rogers said.
Rogers said the squadron will provide test reports once flight testing is finished.
The modified ATAGS are expected to be given to the pilots and aircrew who need it within a year or two.
Maj. Shanon Jamison, an F-16 pilot, said the tests were an opportunity to help ensure pilots have gear that works to prevent G-induced loss of consciousness, or G-LOC, and for female fighter pilots to connect.
“It is great to see the Air Force bring female pilots together to test these new improvements, and it also gave us a chance to share our career experiences with one another,” Jamison said.
“There are things we have experienced in our career that many of our colleagues cannot understand, from as simple as worrying about getting your hair caught in a harness to as complex as how to return to flying while juggling breastfeeding your infant,” Jamison said.
Most Air Force flight equipment was designed based on body measurements in the 1960s before women were allowed to become fighter pilots.
In 2018, former Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein initiated a review to ensure that both men and women have equipment that adequately fits them.
Other gear is also being modified for women like the security forces Airmen at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., who started receiving a new body armor system on Oct. 27.