The US Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) has developed a new combination of helmet and respirator mask that will keep soldiers safer and more comfortable when buttoned down against chemical, biological, or radiation threats. The system, which bears a surface resemblance to helmets worn by Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Halo’s Master Chief, uses built-in fans to both cool a soldier’s face and keep the mask pressurized to prevent contaminated air from leaking in.
As someone who has spent hours in a gas mask, I can testify to how uncomfortable and distracting it can be—especially in high heat or humidity. Doing anything in full Nuclear-Biological-Chemical gear is an order of magnitude harder under the best of conditions. By adding a blower to the mask, the Army is hoping to make it easier for soldiers to focus more on the mission and less on the sweat pooling around their eyes.
The mask, which connects to a belt- or backpack-mounted battery, is based on a commercial version of the Avon M50 filtration mask used throughout the US military. A blower built into side of the mask pulls air into its nose cup to ensure consistent air flow during an inhale. When the wearer exhales, a valve closes and air is diverted to the area around the eyes, over-pressurizing the face mask area to prevent contaminated air from leaking in if the seal is broken.
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