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  • Libelle Action
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 3:55 PM on Nov 05, 2009

    Running through notes from the Defence IQ Fighter Conference late last month:  I had a quick sidebar conversation with Col Andreas Schick, boss of the Typhoon-equipped JG73 Steinhoff and one of the speakers, about an interesting technology development that seemed to have disappeared off the scope.

    At the Dubai air show in 2003, German air-safety equipment supplier Autoflug showed a new g-suit, known as Libelle or G-Multiplus, which it had developed in partnership with its Swiss inventor.

    Normal g-protection ensembles use aircraft-supplied compressed air to apply pressure to the lower body, delivered through a g-controlled valve. After a number of mishaps in the 1980s due to G-LOC (g-induced loss of consciousness), attributed to the fact that new fighters could reach high g levels much more quickly than the F-4 generation, g-suits were designed with more coverage and rate-sensitive valves.

    Libelle dispenses with all that. Instead, it is made of a non-stretching fabric and incorporates a system of bladders along the legs and around the torso, filled with a liquid of the same density as blood. Under g, the liquid is forced downwards, the bladders expand and the suit tightens. The inventors claimed that it was more comfortable than a standard suit (exerting more even pressure) and quicker and more accurate in its response to g, and claimed that centrifuge tests showed higher tolerance.

    It was reported a short while later that the Luftwaffe had chosen Libelle suits for the Typhoon, and the Pentagon selected it for a Foreign Comparative Testing program in FY2004, but then it all went quiet.

    Col Schick said in Athens that the suit is still under test, and that it is up to the pilots whether to use it. Issues:  the original design could not be donned as fast as a conventional suit, which is a disadvantage in quick reaction alert (QRA) operations. Also, it still has to be used in combination with physical conditioning and a "straining" maneuver, but the Libelle technique is not the same as what's needed for a standard suit, so a pilot has to wear one suit or the other all the time. The first design also had problems when used with an immersion suit for overwater operations. However, the suit is still being used and the design is being improved.

    The Autoflug suit is being used in the Red Bull air race series. (The recip-powered racers can't deliver the air needed for a standard suit.) By the way, it's not a new idea. A liquid-filled suit was developed in Canada during World War 2, in parallel with the conventional suit, and was tested (possibly among other places) by Hurricane pilots based in Ceylon. It had to be filled with water pre-flight - which, as in the case of Libelle, ruled it out for QRA. With the jet age, the US adopted the compressed-air suit and the liquid design faded into obscurity.

    Tags: ar99, luftwaffe, typhoon

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