KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Air traffic controllers (ATC) rely on their superior communication skills to communicate from ground to aircraft and vice versa. These highly trained Airmen manage the flow of aircraft through all aspects of flight, ensuring efficiency of traffic on the ground and air while monitoring numerous variables. Their vigilance is key to keeping bases, airspace and Airmen all over the world safe.
This alone requires focus and clear, concise communication, so when regular military training necessity brought its own challenges to the communication process, ATC Airmen with the 8th Operations Support Squadron (OSS) faced those challenges head on.
Through regular training and evaluation, Airmen test their abilities to quickly don various levels of gear associated with the Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP), commonly referred to as MOPP levels. One of the common components associated with MOPP levels is the Avon M50 gas mask, which protects the wearer from airborne chemicals.
Though verbal communication is possible through the M50, typically the person wearing the mask must shout to clearly articulate what they need to say. This is where members of the 8th OSS found a solution to overcome this shouting match. One that is now being adopted by other units across the Air Force.
“We were using something called a ‘Y-cord’ while using our gas masks, which was getting the job done, however, once the ‘pig snouts’ came about, we played with them and noticed an immediate difference,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon White, 8th OSS air traffic controller.
The voice projection unit plus microphone, also known as the “pig snout,” is a battery operated, two-part system, connected to the Avon M50 gas mask. This device consists of a small voice transmitter within the gas mask along with the detachable transmitter on the outside, [the pig snout], and is used for projecting one’s voice and communicating with increased clarity through a gas mask.
After testing this device for a few weeks, ATC Airmen and Kunsan’s F-16 fighter pilots put it to the real test during a routine base exercise with outstanding results in communication.
“Clarity of voice is a big one,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon White, 8th OSS air traffic controller. “Now, with the pig snouts, it’s a lot better for projecting our voice to communicate with one another.”
Observers without masks stood by, ready to interject and safeguard lives but the tests proved highly successful.
“With the pig snouts, you don’t have to exert nearly so much energy just trying to get your message across through our gas masks, especially if we are a few feet away from each other,” said Tech. Sgt. Bruce Black, noncommissioned officer in charge of air traffic control. “You can pretty much have a normal conversation.”
Kunsan’s air traffic controllers are some of the first to employ these voice projection units at this time, with hopes to making this a mainstream tool across the Air Force.
“Hopefully we provide enough feedback and information to the rest of the Air Force, so they can start issuing this device to Airmen who participate in exercises like us and wear gas masks often,” said Black. “Not only for exercise purposes, but for real world, and so on.”