Flight equipment is on its way through a major overhaul. The biggest change coming to the equipment is it is being designed with measurements from female aviators.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, held a Female Fitment Event, June 4, where Air Force and Navy female aviators gathered to have their measurements taken, which will be used to design new prototypes for female flight equipment.
“We wanted to bring together a large enough group of women to get our different sizing both in our uniforms, helmets and masks,” said Lt. Col. Shelly Mendieta, plans and requirements officer. “When you go to a squadron to go to a fitment event, there’s usually only a couple of women, so to get a full spectrum of what is going to work for women aviators, we needed to bring them all together in one place.”
In the past, flight equipment has been designed to the measurements of males because there are statistically more male aviators. This means more male measurements were used as opposed to their female counterparts. Department of Defense leadership hopes to change that.
“The chief of staff of the United States Air Force is committed to seeing us make progress and better integrate humans into the machine environment mix,” said Brig. Gen. Edward Vaughan, Air Force directorate of readiness and training, assistant to the director. “What has happened over the years is that a lot of our data and information we use to design these systems have traditionally been based on men.”
Female aviators using flight equipment designed to the specifications of males presents a problem for their combat effectiveness. When it comes to the mission, the tools Airmen use play a big role in mission success.
Vaughan explained that if flight equipment, from harness straps to flight suits, does not meet the needs of the human, as well as of the various machines used for our missions, then service members are not going to be as effective and ready for combat.
The information gathered from the event is going to be crucial in the development of not only female flight equipment, but female aviators as a whole across multiple branches.
“The goal is to ensure that the equipment that we are developing is going to fit properly, so that we have a safe and ready force,” Mendieta said. “By measuring a spectrum of women at different stages in their career, we can ensure that we have better equipment.”
Many officers participating in this event are hoping to be able to disseminate information to other bases regarding female flight equipment.
“When I look across the enterprise, this is a historic event and it’s important that we get this word out,” Vaughan said. “It’s not just the data that we are collecting and the fact that we are going to improve the equipment we use in combat, it’s also important to make people aware that this is one of the challenges that we are facing right now. It’s an Airmen challenge.”
For many female aviators, this marks a monumental push to ensure they are combat ready and their opinions are being heard.
“Women have been flying in the Air Force for a very long time,” Mendieta said. “We have made progress but this is the first time in my 20-year career that we have had the kind of momentum that we have to get this right. We have the opportunity to get this right and we have to grab that and take it for all it’s worth.”