WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio –
Comfort and safety are two priorities for an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center team, racing to develop maternity flight suits for female aircrew.
In September 2019 the Air Force updated its policy to reduce restrictions on pregnant aviators who perform flight duties and have uncomplicated pregnancies.
This update allows many women the choice to keep performing flight duties during their pregnancy, maintain currency, and prevent postpartum re-qualification training.
In an effort to quickly provide women with accommodating flight suits, the team is working a three-phased approach simultaneously, with the first phase being a temporary fix to modify the one-piece (27/P) flight suit – currently worn by most aviators – and which is not specifically designed for pregnancy. This interim solution is currently being rolled out.
“This [temporary fix] is trying to give females something that allows them to continue to fly,” said Tracy Roan, chief of the Air Force Uniform Office, which falls under AFLCMC’s Human Systems Division. “Right now we are finding out that females are wearing their spouse’s flight suits or they are ordering two or three sizes up. What ends up happening is that the flight suit they are wearing is large in a lot of areas. It’s extremely large in the chest, shoulders, and the sleeves are too long. This modification while it’s not a 100 percent perfect solution, accommodates without them having to buy something that is so large across the board.”
The second phase is the development of a novel one-piece maternity flight suit for female aviators that will accommodate them throughout the entire pregnancy. It is being designed with extra fabric in front and adjustment tabs on the side to allow for growth.
Currently, the uniform is undergoing a number of tests, to include burn and extended wear testing.
Additionally, it will be evaluated to ensure it integrates with aircraft, and is safe to fly. In person fit tests are expected to begin early next year, with initial production of the flight suit in December 2021.
The third phase the team is working to develop is a novel two-piece maternity flight suit that will be a second long-term/permanent solution for maternity flight suits. Currently, the team is looking for a fire retardant stretch fabric that can be used for an expansion panel on the trousers.
Due to the body expansion during pregnancy that causes the uniform to sit away from the body, the uniform must be designed differently than a standard two-piece flight suit to protect the wearer from flash flames.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some delays in the modification and development of maternity flight suits, the Human Systems Division continues to work to ensure female aircrew have the uniforms, and equipment they need to be successful.
“Best performance requires our warfighters possess gear that fits properly,” said Maj. Saily Rodriguez, the program manager for Female Fitment. “Our senior-most Air Force leadership champion women having equal access to well-fitting gear so that they too can safely and most effectively accomplish their assigned duties. In the Human Systems Division, it is our responsibility to fully envelop female requirements within each of our development programs. Challenges are present and require innovative thought, but the benefits tremendously bolster our Air Force mission.”
Airmen with questions about maternity flight suits can contact the Human Systems Division at AFLCMC.WNU.CombatReadyAirman@us.af.mil