Enhancing Seated Aircrew Endurance
Navy SBIR 2019.1 - Topic N191-015
NAVAIR - Ms. Donna Attick - donna.attick@navy.mil
Opens: January 8, 2019 - Closes: February 6, 2019 (8:00 PM ET)


TITLE: Enhancing Seated Aircrew Endurance


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Biomedical, Human Systems


OBJECTIVE: Develop and validate technologies that have the potential to improve aircrew endurance and mitigate musculoskeletal pain associated with military aviation.

DESCRIPTION: The musculoskeletal pain associated with military aviation has continued to be identified as an issue of significant importance to the fleet. Chronic injury and fatigue have been identified as significant cost drivers to both the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Administration (VA). Lost work days, reduced operational readiness, and increased medical costs (during active duty as well as post-career) are all consequences of the poor work environments in naval aircraft cockpits and at work stations. 

Technologies are sought that would decrease the fatigue and pain experienced by naval aviators and aircrew during and after long-duration flights (3+ hours). Technologies proposed should be compatible with or have the potential to be compatible with current naval aviation aircraft platforms. Currently identified drivers of pain and fatigue include, but are not limited to, inadequate cushion support (i.e., seat back, seat pan, and lumbar), poor seated posture (i.e., "helo hunch"), cockpit geometry, mass of required body-borne flight equipment, thermal environment, and whole-body vibrations [Ref 4]. Both materiel and non-equipment solutions would be considered. Performance gains will be characterized in a laboratory-based environment using a combination of agreed-upon objective and subjective measures over a representative flight duration. The measures will depend upon technical approach with the overall goal being the reduction of pain experienced during/after flight. Alternatively, provide analysis or other data that supports the validity and effectiveness of proposed technology/process/solution.

Note: NAVAIR will provide Phase I performers with the appropriate guidance required for human research protocols so that they have the information to use while preparing their Phase II Initial Proposal. Institutional Review Board (IRB) determination as well as processing, submission, and review of all paperwork required for human subject use can be a lengthy process. As such, no human research will be allowed until Phase II and work will not be authorized until approval has been obtained, typically as an option to be exercised during Phase II.

PHASE I: Identify one or multiple approaches to mitigating aircrew fatigue/pain. Determine and demonstrate the potential for compatibility with current naval aviation platforms. (Note: If applicable, an aircraft seating system may be selected by the Government to support demonstration of proposed approach.) Develop/fabricate mockups and/or prototypes, as applicable. If funding and maturity of the proposed technology/process/solution permit, provide functional prototype or subsystem to support quantification of performance gains. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding human research protocol for Phase II.

PHASE II: Further develop and iteratively improve the design based on performance results. Incorporate user feedback and test data, where possible, to optimize the design of fatigue reducing technologies/processes/solutions. Perform lab-based evaluations to quantify the performance gains of proposed technologies/processes. Develop and implement, to the extent possible, an airworthiness/qualification test plan if positive results are obtained.

Note: Please refer to the statement included in the Description above regarding human research protocol for Phase II.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Finalize the technology and complete qualification/airworthiness testing. Evaluate the system during flight testing. Transition the technology/approach to additional platforms. Technology developed during this effort would be applicable to environments in which personnel are required to be seated for extended durations. Direct applications of the developed approach/technology could be pursued across civil, commercial and military/government aviation. Depending upon the approach, additional applications could exist for other sectors, including ground transportation and office work.


1. Bongers, P., Hulshof, C., Dijkstra, L., Boshuizen, H., Groenhout, H., and Valken, E. “Back Pain and Exposure to Whole Body Vibration in Helicopter Pilots.” Journal of Ergonomics, 1990, pp. 1007-1026. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00140139008925309?needAccess=true

2. Cunningham, L., Docherty, S., and Tyler, A. “Prevalence of Low Back Pain (LBP) in Rotary Wing Aviation Pilots.” Journal of Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine, 2010, pp.774-778. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45492712_Prevalence_of_Low_Back_Pain_LBP_in_Rotary_Wing_Aviation_Pilots

3. Hamon, K., and Healing, R. “Eliminating Avoidable Helicopter Seating-Related Injuries to Improve Combat Readiness and Mission Effectiveness.” American Helicopter Society International, Inc. 70th Annual Forum, Quebec, 2014. https://vtol.org/store/product/eliminating-avoidable-helicopter-seatingrelated-injuries-to-improve-combat-readiness-and-mission-effectiveness-9482.cfm

4. Phillips, A. “The Scope of Back Pain in Navy Helicopter Pilots.” Monterey: Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, 2011. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a543155.pdf

5. Walters, P., Cox, J., Clayborne, K., and Hathaway, A. “Prevalence of Neck and Back Pain amongst Aircrew at the Extremes of Anthropometric Measurements.” Army Aeromedical Research Lab, Fort Rucker, 2012. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a564323.pdf

6. Walters, P., Gaydos, S., Kelley, A., and Grandizio, C. “Spinal Pain and Occupational Disability: A Cohort Study of British Apache AH Mk1 Pilots.” Army Aeromedical Research Lab, Fort Rucker, 2013. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a587285.pdf

KEYWORDS: Endurance; Cushions; Back Pain; Aircrew; Seating; Ergonomics



These Navy Topics are part of the overall DoD 2019.1 SBIR BAA. The DoD issued its 2019.1 BAA SBIR pre-release on November 28, 2018, which opens to receive proposals on January 8, 2019, and closes February 6, 2019 at 8:00 PM ET.

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