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New hearing protection.

After surveying more than 1,000 flight-deck personnel, NAVAIR took away some important lessons for developing new hearing protection.

The goals for new hearing protection are:

* Motivate (not just dictate) earplug use.--Provide individual custom design, improved comfort.

* Ensure earplugs are worn correctly.

--Customize earplugs so they fit like puzzle pieces.

--Notify user if an acoustic leak is present and needs to be fixed.

--Track personal noise exposure more closely.

--Improve hearing-conservation training.

--Increase supervisor involvement and accountability through the chain of command.

* Provide hearing-protection alternatives that are logistically smart (a good value, easy to buy, use and maintain).

--Not everyone works in the worst-case scenario (150 dB jet noise).

--Not everyone needs the most costly and capable hearing protection.

* Offer hearing protection alternatives.

--No single product is good for everyone.

--These alternatives and any related advancements should be plug-and-play compatible.

* Provide non-radio deck crew the ability to speak to each other while protecting their hearing level and allowing them to maintain situational awareness.

Through the small-business innovation-research (SBIR) program, NAVAIR is working with four companies to develop a suite of hearing protection and communication technologies to meet these goals. Hearing protection and communication options will allow users to tailor their selection to their work-noise environment. As shown in the figure, there is a progression of capability, starting from what has been used on the flight deck for decades up through active noise reduction (ANR), deep-insert, custom communication earplugs worn under improved earmuffs and used with a digital noise-canceling microphone.



By using deep-insert custom earplugs, the user can achieve a more assured earplug fit, compared to foam and flanged earplugs, and thereby achieve a good, consistent hearing-protection level. It is this assured fit by deep-insert custom earplugs that allows ANR to cancel noise in the small trapped space between the earplug inner tip and the eardrum. By canceling noise here, instead of in a headset for example, the ANR electronics benefit from all the combined passive attenuation of the earmuff and custom earplugs, which leaves a much lower noise level for the ANR to reduce.

Future endeavors funded by the Office of Naval Research and the SBIR program include two new NAVAIR projects. One is developing a way to improve how ear-canal shape is captured to make custom earplugs. Another effort is to develop in-ear noise measuring for flight-deck use. This dosimetry capability will allow users the ability to ensure their hearing protection is worn correctly by detecting and notifying them of acoustic leaks, and it will track their daily noise exposures more accurately--a critical element to NMCPHC and BUMED's hearing-conservation program. Another NAVAIR SBIR effort is developing the capability for flight-deck crews in non-radio jobs to talk to each other through their hearing protection, while also receiving safe levels of sound cueing.

All of these hearing-protection and communication technologies are being designed to integrate with both the legacy and the new flight-deck cranial.

Valerie Bjorn and Jim Wilt

Ms. Bjorn works at NAVAIR with Human Systems, Code 4.6, and Mr. Wilt is with the Personal Protection Branch, Code
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Title Annotation:Air Wing TOOLBOX
Author:Bjorn, Valerie; Wilt, Jim
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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