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Personal Protective Equipment (Part Two)

Posted 9 years 22 days ago ago by Admin

Personal Protective Equipment (Part Two)

By Dr. Dudley Crosson

This is the concluding part of our article on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) / Aviation Life Support Equipment (ALSE).  Last month we looked at the helmet.  Now I would like to consider all other components of what a flight crew should wear.

Flights Suits

Flight suits can be comfortable in some ways, and uncomfortable in others.  While in nominal conditions they feel fine, having to wear them in hot and humid weather has a tendency to change one’s attitude.  In either case, they must meet a certain criteria in order to provide adequate protection. First and foremost, they must be both long-sleeve and made of some fire-resistant material such as Nomex®.  It is not wise to allow short-sleeve and/or polyester flight suits.  Polyester exposed to fire responds much like shrink-wrap.  It will shrink and adhere to the body.  Short-sleeve flight suits simply do not provide enough coverage.

Along with a long-sleeve fire resistant garment, one should always wear underwear.  The way a flight suit provides protection is it provides a layer of air between the user and the garment.  Prior to launch, it is important to have the flight suit zipped up, gloves on and tucked in the sleeves, sleeves down and secured around the gloves, collar up to protect the neck, and legs zipped and long enough to provide coverage over the boots.

While underwear is not commonly discussed, it can provide a much-needed layer of protection.  Wearing underwear places another layer, which creates an air-cloth-air-cloth envelope.  This illustrates an important point; the flight suit should never be tight fitting.  The tighter the suit, the less air space provided.  A t-shirt should always be tucked in, so that in the case of fire it helps keep the elastic on the underpants from melting to the skin.  In the case of bras, a jogging bra provides cotton coverage around the elastic portion.  Underwear should be made from cotton, wool, or a fire-resistant material, or any combination.  Fire-resistant items such as underwear, socks, etc. can be found on websites providing NASCAR driver’s supplies.  Another company that provides several selections of fire-resistant items is Massif.

There are always disagreements as to the best way to care for a flight suit.  Essentially, either washing it like other clothes or dry cleaning are adequate.  Most accept that it should not be put in the dryer.  If cared for properly, a flight suit should last about four years.


It is pretty well accepted in the public safety community that flight boots are necessary, but sometimes the selection process falls short of an acceptable boot.  The main functions of the boots are to provide stability and protection of the ankles and feet.  The good news is they do not have to be all leather, although leather is a great material for aviation.  There are boots that feel a little cooler made of part leather and part fire-resistant Gortex®.  An example would be Belleville Boots that has several models approved by the Department of Defense (www.bellevilleboot.com) . A few characteristics to remember when selecting boots are that they be at least eight inches high, can be secured snugly, are fire resistant, and able to be laced all the way to the top.  There are also a couple of options that need to be avoided.  The first is to stay away from zippers.  While this makes the boots easy and fast to put on, zippers have never been tested and approved for aviation.  Also stay away from gum outer soles such as those on running shoes.  The gum soles melt at very low temperatures.

Care for boots are just like any other shoe. Once there is an area that is wearing thin, then it is time to replace the pair.


Gloves need to also be made from fire-resistant material, generally either Nomex® or leather.  While the goal is to provide the same protection as the flight suit, gloves must also retain the ability for tactile identification. 

Caring for gloves is very easy.  The best way is to put them on and wash your hands in the sink with as hot a temperature as you can tolerate.  Just use a soft liquid detergent.  Then let them air dry.

Summary of Entire Article Series

When wearing a helmet, ensure:

·         proper fit, and occasionally test it to make sure straps have not stretched.

·         a visor is always down.

·         it provides acceptable noise protection, even if earplugs need to be added.

When wearing flight suits, ensure:

·         both it and gloves are made of fire resistant material such as Nomex®. 

·         it has long sleeves and they are always down and secured.

·         the collar is always up.

·         underwear and socks are always worn and made of either cotton, Nomex®, wool, or any combination.

·         the t-shirt is always tucked in.

·         there are no metal objects being worn such as badges, necklaces, rings, etc.

·         there is good coverage over the boots.

When wearing flight boots, ensure:

·         they have been tested and are approved by some authority for use in aviation.

·         they have no zippers or Velcro®.

·         the outer soles are not made of ‘gum.’

·         they lace all the way up, at least eight inches high.