MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — With the F-35 reaching initial operational capability for the US Marine Corps earlier this year, one firm is producing ways to reduce noise levels for support personnel and mechanics working on the jump-jet on deck.
While accounts vary of how loud the F-35 can get, with a 2014 study produced by the F-35's Joint Program Office concluding that it produced noise levels comparable to an F/A-18 Super Hornet, ongoing exposure to the on-deck noise produced from the jet can pose a risk of hearing loss for flight deck personnel.
"The seriousness of the problem continues to grow," said Aegisound CEO Mike Vaudrey at the Modern Day Marine expo held at Marine Base Quantico, where the company's noise-canceling headsets were on display. "The hearing protection they have been wearing was designed for environments that were not as loud as they are today."
By combining digital active noise reduction (DANR) with two forms of passive noise reduction, Christiansburg, Va.-based Aegisound reduces engine noise to the point where radio communications are possible.
Aegisound's solution for simultaneous communications and hearing protection for mechanics working around active F-35s is three layers of hearing protection: large cups over the ear, custom fit earbuds inside the ear and DANR electronics within the earbuds. Used together, the headset can reduce noise levels by more than 30 decibels.
When paired with a digital noise-cancelling microphone, the Aegisound headset allows for two-way communications when attached to the wearer's radio or phone.
The top-of-the-line headset can run up to $5,000 each, but a relatively minor cost up front could save money down the line, as hearing loss on active duty can lead to huge expenses later on. The American Tinnitus Association projects that tinnitus and other hearing loss-related claims will cost the Department of Veterans Affairs $2.75 billion in 2016, up from $720 million a decade earlier.
Aegisound supplies its headsets to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the F-35. In 2010, the Mentor-Protégé agreement between Lockheed Martin and Aegisound won a Nunn-Perry award from the Department of Defense recognizing the success of their business relationship.