USAF assesses F-15E cockpit readiness for chemical attack

The US Air Force conducted an in-flight vapor purge test in an F-15E Strike Eagle last month.

The test is part of a larger Pentagon effort to assess the cockpit environment after a chemical attack, leading to improved development of protective gear. Other aircraft will be evaluated in the years to come.

In the recent test, liquid methyl salicylate, a common ingredient in breath mints, was sprayed into the idle jet before taxiing to simulate a chemical weapons attack, the service said in a report.

The heat from the engine vaporized the chemical and it flew into the cockpit, exposing the crew.

Air Force Research Laboratory analysts use the orange spray carts to insert wintergreen oil into the idling F-15E Strike Eagle before taxiing. Photo: Ilka Cole/US Air Force

Airborne Chemical Purge

Later, the aircraft’s environmental control system activated during flight, purging the gas. This allowed the crew to complete their mission without “chemical/biological protection suits and respirators,” the service said.

“The data helps us understand what is happening inside the aircraft as it operates after a chemical weapons attack and flies through a contaminated environment,” Senior Chemistry, Biology, Radiology and Nuclear Analyst William Greer said.

“What we are learning ultimately helps inform aircraft design teams about opportunities to improve aircraft environments and, with better crew equipping, enables crews to execute their missions more effectively in an environment of chemical threat.”

Next generation aircrew protective equipment

The test measured the duration of the purge. Another element of the test involved exposing the crew to various chemical simulants to detect any leaks or hot spots.

“Each aircraft is different in size and air capacity, which contributes to how quickly the chemical is purged from the aircraft,” said the first mate, test engineer for 28 Test Squadron and devaluation. Andrew DeNicola said.

“Even a small change in crew dexterity can affect the way the aircraft flies or the types of missions it can accomplish, so if we can minimize the amount of time a member has to put on their protective gear, it will improve tactics, techniques and operational procedures.”