Gripen Pilot Equipment: The Interplay Between Man and Technology
During a long-haul mission, pilots are strapped to their seats for several hours while flying amidst all kinds of weather. At a time like this, the pilot equipment becomes a crucial factor behind the ease with which the pilot conducts his mission profiles.
A typical set of pilot equipment consists of a G-suit, helmet, oxygen mask, flight suit, insulating suit, arm fixing jacket including life jacket, boots, and an emergency transmitter among other things.
As far as pilot survivability is concerned, one cannot overlook the importance of a G-suit. When exposed to high G-forces, the G-suit is pressurised, and this pressure prevents blood loss to the brain which can cause a temporary blackout. As G-forces increase, the G-suit expands, compressing the areas where blood might pool up. For example, the air-pocket in the jacket expands to add pressure to the pilot’s chest and ease breathing.
The helmet, on the other hand, provides the Gripen pilot with vital information during a mission. Gripen’s Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) shows the data in the helmet visor, enabling the pilot to react faster. With the help of an HMD, the Gripen pilot can lock on a target and fire a missile without struggling to look for information at multiple places. The mask is also an important pilot equipment that helps the pilot in breathing at higher altitudes where oxygen concentration is high.
According to Jenny Avehag, Product Representative for pilot equipment at FMV, a lot of changes were made while designing the pilot equipment for the Gripen C/D fighters. "A great deal of design work happened during the 90s, based on the Viggen, but it was realized that Gripen C/D would require more. Several tests were conducted to make sure everything was compatible with the high 9G forces,” she says.
While designing pilot equipment, one important objective is to create an environment where everything is within reach for the pilot. The material used for the flight-suit and the G-suit shouldn’t be something that is uncomfortable for the pilot.
For Jenny, it is this interplay between man and technology that makes the area of pilot equipment design so interesting. She finds it fascinating that it is so many things at a time. “This is the ultimate combination of aviation, mechanics, textile materials, design and aviation medicine,” she says.
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