Naval Aircrew Life Preserver Unit Automatic Inflation Device

Navy SBIR 21.2 - Topic N212-109
NAVAIR - Naval Air Systems Command
Opens: May 19, 2021 - Closes: June 17, 2021 (12:00pm edt)

N212-109 TITLE: Naval Aircrew Life Preserver Unit Automatic Inflation Device

RT&L FOCUS AREA(S): Autonomy


OBJECTIVE: Optimally design and develop life preserver units (LPU) that automatically inflate for downed rotary-wing and non-ejection seat aircraft in which naval air crew have egressed their aircraft.

DESCRIPTION: The current LPU require either manual activation or oral inflation which require aircrew that are conscious and physically able to activate or orally inflate the LPU. Aircrew in non-ejection aircraft must manually activate their LPUs. In the event of partial or total non-inflation, aircrew must tread water while orally inflating their LPUs. A recent fatality occurred when an aircrew member was unable to manually or orally inflate the LPU and, subsequently, drowned. In other occurrences, injured or unconscious aircrew have been unable to manually or orally inflate their LPUs leading to loss of life.

This SBIR topic seeks a capability that would auto-activate LPU inflation. Innovative solutions must include consideration of whether aircrew are within the aircraft trying to egress or outside the aircraft and incapacitated. Critical escape and survival equipment should work on time, every time, with minimal/no user input (similar to ejection seat technology).

Major concerns related to early auto-inflation are creating a larger presented volume relative to egress paths, additional bulk to snag on the structure, vulnerability of the LPU to puncture or tear, or the occupant floating up and having to move downward against buoyancy to egress. Keeping the device stowed until needed is required for operational, evasion, and reserving LPU function for when actually required. Most of these concerns are serious to the point of being showstoppers, if they are realized. However, this topic presents the opportunity to preserve human life in situations where life could be lost, and that may result in an incremental improvement in survival for aircrew and other aircraft occupants. An automated system may be able to replace horse collar flotation devices for passengers who have not had egress training while wearing devices. While passengers are not the norm, this could also be important in increasing the odds of survival among passengers.

Under certain conditions, aircrew may desire not to have LPU automatic inflation or to disable it after water entry. For example, the aircraft might be in shallow water or partially submerged and the aircrew might want to remain inside. Or aircrew could be in a mission or survival situation where water entry is desired but LPU is not needed, e.g., shallow water crossing. Also in some situations—e.g., fixed wing ditch—aircrew can enter a raft without inflating the devices and save inflation for a more critical situation such as leaving the raft, for rescue, or capsize. As such, designs should include an optional disable capability.

The logic, data acquisition and flow, algorithm development, and the means to implement/package it with the LPU system will be key portions of the effort and will determine success. It is not required, but highly recommended that performers interact with the qualified naval LPU manufacturers as needed.

Additional considerations:

  1. "escape buoyancy" should be addressed in the topic. Escape buoyancy is the total buoyancy from trapped air and insulation that is present in a survival suit "system" and still allow the wearer to escape a submerged helicopter. This includes net positive buoyant items that are part of the systems such as any foam mittens, hood, thermal liners and suit insulation, and trapped air.
  2. does not appreciably increase the weight and bulk burden of the LPU;
  3. operates in windy or calm air and in turbulent or calm water conditions;
  4. operates at a submerged depth of less than or equal to 30 ft (9 m);
  5. operates in cold water (32 °F (0 °C)) through the range of freshwater and seawater salinities;
  6. operates in chlorinated swimming pool water;
  7. operates reliably in cold and hot ambient air (-65 °F [-54 °C] to 160°F [71.1 °C]);
  8. resists inadvertent actuation while traversing ship ladders/hatches, operating within 120 knot rotor outwash, conducting pre-flight inspections and boarding aircraft, flying routine missions, flying combat missions, and egressing aircraft in routine or emergency situations;
  9. does not create hazards (e.g., injury, foreign object debris, snag/trip, static discharge) in any mission or survival operations to include survivable vertical crash loads (those less than or equal to 5Gs);
  10. does not interfere with vest or vest gear, armor/armor release, seat harnesses, fall arrest tethers, helmets or head-mounted gear, communication cords and devices, clothing or other body-mounted gear;
  11. does not impede water survival or land survival procedures to include raft boarding and hoisting;
  12. does not contribute to wearer’s burn injury hazard;
  13. does not give away wearer’s position in covert day or night operations;
  14. is tolerant of naval aviation environments (e.g., salt spray, humidity, drop impact, exposure to petroleum/oil/lubricant contaminants; exposure to sun);
  15. has an obvious visual indicator for correct rigging;
  16. possibly a design consideration is when/how to fully inflate. The key word here is "fully". Crews are wearing net negative buoyant gear loads, and it is possible that a flotation system could be designed that inflates in stages (immediate inflation, then to neutral state to enable egress or reduce effort to tread water/drown proof, then 15 s later to full state to serve as a surfacing aid and for flotation).
  17. inflation at depth considerations. Crews surfacing quickly and holding their breaths can cause air trapped in their lungs to expand. This may rupture lung tissue (i.e., pulmonary barotrauma), which can lead to gas bubbles being released into the arterial circulation (i.e., arterial gas embolism).

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: Develop, design, and demonstrate feasibility of new and innovative solutions that have the potential for auto-activation for downed aircrew that are egressing an aircraft or who are on the outside of the aircraft and incapacitated. An analysis of the auto-activation for the range of the downed aircrew scenarios, in which it is or is not appropriate, must be performed, and the risks associated with auto-activation for the range of those scenarios must be addressed. Those trades must be realized in the proposed solution. The risks to the wearer of fully inflating an LPU in a submerged aircraft must be addressed, mitigated, and reported on as a part of Phase I. 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: Develop and produce a prototype naval aircrew LPU inflation device. Perform laboratory and human validation testing to evaluate performance in mission-representative scenarios. Develop life-cycle costs and supportability estimates.

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 prototype, validate, integrate and transition to naval platforms. Coordinate with naval platforms to test and qualify production representative units as needed.

Commercial air and sea safety, general aviation over water safety, and recreational boating industries could all benefit from this technology.


  1. Kovach, G. "Deadly Osprey crash spurred safety changes." The San Diego Tribune, June 30, 2015.,Marine%20Corps%20photo%2Freleased.)&text=The%20V%2D22%20Osprey%20that,mode%2C%20Marine%20Corps%20investigators%20concluded.
  2. Quinn, R. "Beach Marine one of four killed in Iraq copter crash." The Virginian-Pilot, December 7, 2006.
  3. "Naval Safety Center Annual Report 2019. Naval Safety Center, p. 15.


KEYWORDS: Aircrew; LPU; life preserver units; flotation; auto-inflation; water survival; egress


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the overall DoD 21.2 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

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