New ergonomic seats installed in E-3 fleet

A maintenance crewmember at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., installs a new operator stations seat aboard an E-3 Sentry recently. The new seats are expected to help alleviate back and neck stress for crews on long-duration missions. (Courtesy photo)

A maintenance crewmember at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., installs a new operator stations seat aboard an E-3 Sentry recently. The new seats are expected to help alleviate back and neck stress for crews on long-duration missions. (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) -- For operators occupying the 19 control stations aboard E-3 Sentrys, 12-to-14-hour missions will become a bit more comfortable after new ergonomically designed seats are installed on the U.S. fleet.

This Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft is the first of five legacy platforms to receive the new seats under a program known as fixed aircrew seat standardization. The FASS seats also fit the C-5 Galaxy, C-130 Hercules, KC-135 Stratotanker and E-8C Joint Stars, though no funds are currently available for retrofitting these platforms.

The FASS program seeks to establish a single design for a family of replacement mission crew seats containing interchangeable parts for the five different platforms. On the E-3, FASS is replacing the original seat frames, which have been in Boeing 707s since their original constructions in the late 1970s.

"The current E-3 seats are not designed for crew efficiency over long AWACS' flight and mission profiles," said Paul Zauner, the 551st Electronic Systems Group program manager for integration of the seats onto the domestic AWACS fleet.

The Air Force Flight Surgeon's Office recently published a study correlating the current crew seat design with crewmember lower back problems.

The old seats lack adjustable lumbar support, back tilt and neck adjustment features and contain improper padding for long missions. Because of this, Mr. Zauner said, crewmembers are forced to compensate by constantly stretching back muscles. That can result in fatigue and greater inattention to scope activity.

The new seats are expected to help rectify those problems. Managing the independent platform upgrades as part of the FASS specification will also eventually allow greater supply interoperability between platforms, he said.

The Human Systems Group at Brooks City Base, San Antonio is managing the overall FASS effort. The 648th Aeronautical Systems Squadron, also located at Brooks City Base, is managing the contract with Goodrich Corp's Aircraft Interior Products Division, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The AWACS integration required completion of an operational safety, suitability and effectiveness checklist to ensure the seats met requirements in air vehicle support, configuration management and technical data, logistics engineering and general engineering, Mr. Zauner said.

The 551st ELSG's Technology Transition division manages the overall OSS&E process, which ensures that all changes to the E-3 are integrated in a organized manner.

The contractor has completed 14 sets of seats so far, and the maintenance crew at Tinker AFB, Okla., has installed the new mission crew seats on four airplanes. There are 32 total E-3's in the U.S. inventory.

"It doesn't take a lot of time to install them, so the maintenance crews do it as a flightline modification, meaning and there's no downtime associated with the process," Mr. Zauner said.

AWACS aircraft provide integrated command and control, battle management, surveillance, target detection, and tracking capabilities and an accurate, real-time picture of the battle space to the joint air operations center.