By Senior Airman Dylan Gentile, 919th Special Operations Wing
The 5th Special Operations Squadron demonstrated the unique capabilities of the unit while testing a new protective mask for the 53rd Wing.
The squadron tested the Joint Service Aircrew Mask for Strategic Aircraft, which is slated to replace the current Aircrew Eye and Respiratory Protection System equipment. The equipment protects aircrew against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear threats in the air.
The 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron, which falls under the 53rd WG at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is responsible for testing new equipment in electronic warfare, armaments and avionics, chemical defense, reconnaissance, and aircrew training devices. They selected the 5th SOS to assist in testing the mask.
“The 5th SOS is perfect for the test because we’re all instructors and evaluators with thousands of flight and combat hours,” said Maj. Justin Eulberg, 5th SOS AC-130J Ghostrider evaluator and pilot. “It was very natural for the 5th to take on that role and apply our experience to the ergonomics of this equipment.”
Eulberg was one of the pilots flying during the JSAM SA tests.
The 28th TES needed a dynamic environment with many moving components to test the practicality of the new system. The 5th SOS operates AC-130J Ghostriders, which offer a diverse culmination of specialties all happening within a limited space, creating the ideal testing environment for the new system.
“We’ll have gunners in the back moving around loading ammo, sensor operators talking over radios and pilots flying, so the work load is heavier [than a standard airframe,]” said Eulberg. “In their own terms, [the 28th TES] wanted to test it on one of the most difficult airframes last.”
JSAM SAs are more comfortable and designed to include a helmet and hood in the event of a CBRNE threat, according to aircrew who conducted the assessment. The dual helmet-mask design is also capable of supporting communications equipment, doesn’t fog up as easily as the AERPS and doesn’t require a second blower to provide oxygen.
“I’m 100 percent for this new system, I think it could potentially save lives downrange” said Master Sgt. Justin Spurling, 28th TES aircrew flight equipment manager. “The updated technology will keep our aircrew safe in a CBRNE environment and is much easier to maintain.”
Spurling assessed and routed the results of the test to Air Combat Command for further evaluation.
The 5th SOS was the last squadron to test the JSAM SA before C-130 platforms across the U.S. Air Force could field the system. The tests yielded positive results, rating higher than the AERPS in a range of topics from hypoxia prevention to ease of respiration.
“We have our fingers in a lot of different pies, not just training at the school house,” said Eulberg. “We also conduct tests and augment our active duty counterparts. Our participation in the test changed the future of how we protect aircrew against CBRNE threats.”
The tests lasted eight days and required aircrew to evaluate the effectiveness of the mask in a variety of scenarios.
“These tests play an important role in the larger modernization of the Air Force,” said Spurling.
Reserve instructors and evaluators have conducted similar tests in the past on new equipment and processes that fall under United States Special Operations Command priorities such as crew workload tests.
“The 5th SOS is in a unique position because of how diverse the expertise is within the squadron,” said Eulberg. “We offer a unique melting pot of experience, there’s just not another squadron like it in the Gunship community.”