Anti-aircraft fire whizzes past Lt. Jack “Deadeye” Gunner as he banks his fighter hard to the left. He looks down and fires at the enemy combatants, then turns his focus ahead as several Fire Scout unmanned aircraft swoop in to assist.
Suddenly, Gunner's aircraft shudders under the impact of hostile fire. As his fiery aircraft spins out of control, he deploys his ejection seat and parachutes safely to the ground. Gunner lands, thankful for the gear and systems that kept him alive.
Just as fictional pilot Gunner depended on life-saving technology, real U.S. military members use technical advancements created by researchers every day.
Innovation that develops life-saving technology is alive and well at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Human Systems Department (HSD), home to 26 different laboratories, harvests this spirit of innovation every day through its research, development and forward thinking.
Technologies and capabilities developed in the HSD laboratories ensure the safety, survivability and highest levels of human performance within the fleet through innovative designs both in the labs and through partnerships with industry.
The department held an open house on April 25 to showcase its resources, expertise, ongoing work and future capabilities development efforts. Visitors embarked on self-led tours through the various laboratories while team members gave presentations and demonstrated the department's capabilities.
"This open house was just what program team members needed to connect with our folks in the HSD Labs. From flight suit design to cockpit ergonomics, the HSD is dedicated to keeping aircrews at the top of their game," said NAWCAD Commander Rear Adm. Randy Mahr.
The HSD pursues technological advances on existing equipment to better suit the needs of customers. For instance, the Textile Technology Analysis Lab performs instrument-driven tests to evaluate the fire-resistance of military garments and prototypes. Data gathered from these tests results in modifications made to improve garment quality, protecting wearers such as the fictional Gunner should he be exposed to flames.
Labs such as those in the Crashworthy Systems Branch continue to refine computer-based models, which simulate crashes to enable the exploration of new equipment configurations, properties and types. The goal is to find ways to better protect aircrew.
“We have a virtual test facility,” said Dr. Ed Sieveka, a mechanical engineer for the Crashworthy Systems Branch. “Modeling can help with new experiments, and help with the creation of new seats.”
In the Operator Vehicle Electro-optics and Habitability Branch, the Helmet Mounted Displays Lab is developing helmet displays to allow an F-35 pilot's head angle to direct air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons seekers or other sensors to target. This would allow “targets to be designated with minimal aircraft maneuvering, minimizing the time spent in the threat environment, and allowing greater lethality, survivability and pilot situational awareness,” Strategic Initiatives Manager Joe Notaro said.
The Crewstation Technology Lab in the Human Factors Engineering Branch is using the science of ergonomics to enhance job performance. Lab workers set up geometrically accurate representations of actual work areas and then redesign them to help operators perform more quickly, effectively and accurately. The lab is working on improving data displays and the workspace areas of Unmanned Aerial System operators.
The opportunity to tour these and other HSD labs drew 305 visitors to the open house over the course of the day.
“The purpose of the event was to highlight the capabilities, facilities and expertise available to customers,” said Capt. Scott Adley, military director of the Human Systems Department.
“The event was a great success,” said Adley. “In a fiscally constrained environment, it's more important than ever for us to make our customers aware of how we can be of service to them. The Human Systems Department took a big step in that direction with this event.”