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Vapor purge experiments give Air Force a competitive edge

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mercedes Porter
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

A team of research chemists and scientists from the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, worked alongside the 317th Airlift Wing to conduct vapor purge experiments using C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Aug. 26, 2020.

Typically a vapor purge is a normal process where air exchanges in homes and offices, as well as systems such as aircraft, replace stagnant or foul air with fresh air.

“To understand how quickly air exchanges can remove chemical vapors from a particular airframe, we are conducting tests to determine the effective air exchange rate which accounts for naturally occurring mixing,” said Maj. Michael Horenziak, 711th HPW research bioenvironmental engineer. “The aircraft is then taken up to a predetermined altitude where the doors are opened to allow the aircraft to purge the contaminant.” 

The chemical methyl salicylate was used in the aircraft and is a common ingredient used in mint candies and was used specifically to keep Airmen and equipment safe. The ingredient was used to simulate common chemical warfare agents that the aircrews could potentially come into contact with during combat.

“Measuring how quickly the methyl salicylate chemical agent purges from the aircraft allows us to measure and predict extremely low residual contamination that can still have an effect on aircrew,” said Horenziak.

The vapor purge experiments are important for future Airmen and will allow new tactics, techniques and procedures to be developed for aircrew.

Horenziak explained that although the gear used today protects aircrew, it can degrade performance significantly as the gear hinders movement, adds a thermal burden and restricts vision. Their team is hoping their data can help alleviate these issues.

“These tests help us determine the capabilities of our C-130Js under chemical warfare,” said 2nd Lt. Caitlin Myers, 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron blue aircraft maintenance unit assistant officer in charge. “It was a good opportunity to meet new individuals in the Air Force community and get to see their research carried out on our Dyess tails.”

Dyess AFB hasn’t been the only base used during the vapor purge processes. Tests have occurred across the Department of Defense in areas like Tyndall AFB, Florida, to assess the F-22 Raptor, at Eglin AFB, Florida, evaluating the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, where they evaluated the A-10 Thunderbolt II and at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas where earlier C-130 tests were accomplished. 

“Our end goal is all about finding better ways to protect our airmen,” said Horenziak. “As we grow our understanding of the operational threats, the people who define equipment requirements and while developing tools and equipment to protect our Airmen, we can use this knowledge to deliver new equipment that will safely improve aircrew performance.”