2006 Volume 44 Issue 3 Pages 433-440
The objectives of the present study were to define the lowest ambient air and cabin temperatures at which aircrews wearing immersion protection are starting to experience thermal discomfort and heat stress during flight operations, and to characterize during a flight simulation in laboratory, the severity of the heat stress during exposure to a typical northern summer ambient condition (25°C, 40% RH). Twenty male helicopter aircrews wearing immersion suits (insulation of 2.2 Clo in air) performed 26 flights within an 8-month period at ambient temperatures ranging between -15 and 25°C, and cabin temperatures ranging between 3 and 28°C. It was observed based on thermal comfort ratings that the aircrews were starting to experience thermal discomfort and heat stress at ambient and cabin air conditions above 18°C and at a WBGT index of 16°C. In a subsequent study, seven aircrews dressed with the same clothing were exposed for 140 min to 25°C and 40% RH in a climatic chamber. During the exposure, the aircrews simulated pilot flight maneuvers for 80 min followed with backender/flight engineer activities for 60 min. By the end of the 140 min exposure, the skin temperature, rectal temperature and heart rate had increased significantly to 35.7 ± 0.2°C, 38.4 ± 0.2°C and between 110 and 160 beats/min depending on the level of physical activity. The body sweat rate averaged 0.58 kg/h and the relative humidity inside the clothing was at saturation by the end of the exposure. It was concluded that aircrews wearing immersion suits during the summer months in northern climates might experience thermal discomfort and heat stress at ambient or cabin air temperature as low as 18°C.