Prototype flight deck jerseys, displayed here on the carrier John C. Stennis, are undergoing wear tests. (MC2 Kenneth Abbate / Navy)
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Sailors on the carrier John C. Stennis are testing five prototypes of new flight deck jerseys and they’re seeing big improvements over the cotton “legacy” ones.
The new mock turtlenecks were designed by the Office of Naval Research’s TechSolutions program, which takes feedback from the fleet for innovations and can deliver selected prototypes in 12 to 18 months. In this case, a request for comfortable, quick-drying, flame-resistant flight deck gear came from a force master chief at Naval Air Force Atlantic in April 2011, said Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Charles Ziervogel, head of the TechSolutions program.
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The Office of Naval Research’s TechSolutions program runs on suggestions from the fleet. If you have an idea for how technology could make a sailor’s life better, you can submit a proposal at www.onr.navy.mil/techsolutions or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than 600 Stennis sailors have been wear-testing the prototypes since December. About 1,000 sailors on the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower are also wearing them.
Deployed to 5th Fleet, several Stennis sailors recently shared their wear experiences with Navy Times, via phone.
“The breathability is outstanding on these jerseys,” said Aviation Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Devin Walters, a Stennis sailor. “It’s pretty great for working up on the flight deck [when] you’re sweating a little bit, or [when] you’re doing a wash job on an aircraft. They dry much quicker and it’s just more comfortable.”
Each prototype consists of a different blend of synthetic materials, Ziervogel said. He declined to provide specifics until a final design was chosen.
The test on the Stennis will last through April. Fabrics deemed suitable will be forwarded to the Defense Logistics Agency for possible purchase. Ziervogel estimated the gear could be fielded fleetwide by fiscal 2014 or 2015. A new pair of trousers with the same improvements is also being developed by ONR and will be tested later this year on a yet-to-be-named carrier.
Sailors complained that the legacy jerseys, made of 100 percent cotton, do not dry fast enough.
“If you sweat on the legacy jersey, you would have to take the shirt off and let it air dry if you wanted it to dry real quick. Otherwise, if you wore it, you’d be pretty moist the rest of the day,” said Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class (AW) Daniel Derr, a sailor aboard Stennis.
Sailors also complained about the legacy jerseys loosing elasticity, leading to saggy shirts and drooping sleeves that would not stay up when rolled. The sailors who spoke with Navy Times agreed that the new jerseys hold their shape and elasticity after extended wear.
“You need to have your hands free, and it’s convenient that your sleeve doesn’t droop down to your fingers,” said Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Raymond Smith.
The new versions do have a couple of drawbacks. Stenciling on almost all the prototypes fades a lot faster than on the legacy jerseys, Derr said.
Also, Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class (AW) Andrew Delacerda found that one of the prototypes shrinks when washed.
While cotton will not melt to your skin or exacerbate burn injuries, the legacy jerseys lack any flame resistance. The new jerseys have incorporated flame-resistant material.
The new jersey initiative was underway before the Navy formed two working groups to assess the fire risk to sailors on ships.
These groups were created after an October test found that the Navy working uniform fabric would melt and drip when exposed to flame.
Ziervogel said there has been some conversation between the working group study and the jersey wear-test.
The new jerseys may cost more than the old, though the exact purchase price is not yet determined, Ziervogel said. In 2012, the Navy purchased 66,344 cotton flight deck jerseys and spent $666,697, a spokesman at the Defense Logistics Agency said. Each jersey costs about $10. In the long term, however, the project should save money because of greater durability.
“Instead of having to go through five jerseys in a deployment, they’ll hopefully only go through one,” Ziervogel said.
Overall, sailors seemed more than satisfied with the prototypes. Even the force master chief who submitted the request to ONR is happy.
“It’s like putting on your grandfather’s jersey and then putting on Under Armour — there’s no comparison,” said Force Master Chief (AW/SW) Garry McClure, who serves as the force master chief of Naval Air Force Atlantic, in an ONR release.