NASA pilot Dana Purifoy (NASA photo) In May 2004, The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft division (NAWCAD) contracted Dryden to test and evaluate a new system called SAILSS (Smart Aircrew Integrated Life Support System).
SMART connotes intelligence. Smart systems know what to do and when to do it. Smart AILSS, or SAILSS, links the knowledge of aircrew medical state to the aircraft, and the computer not only knows what the aircraft is doing but how the aircrew is doing in response to those stresses imposed. But, what's unique is that the computer also controls the support systems helping the aircrew perform better, longer, and more confidently. SAILSS monitors the pilot's physiological data to determine state (e.g. pulse, breathing rates, oxygen, flow, brain wave and muscle activity) via sensors embedded in garments, mask and the helmet. The data collected is used to adjust the control of life support equipment, including the anti-G suit, positive pressure-breathing oxygen systems for G and high-altitude protection, and provides the capability to adjust the cooling flow to the ensemble.
The overall goal is to develop an integrated system that consists of a suite of sensors, signal processing, algorithms, control valves, and a computer. The current targeted sensors are: EEG and SpO2 in the helmet, EMG, ECG and RH in the sensor shirt, and respiration and mask flow/ pressure in the oxygen mask. The use of Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) will be investigated as an adjunct measure of cerebral oxygenation and consideration shall be made to incorporate this into the sensor suite within SAILSS. It is expected that arrays of sensors will be used to test and evaluate the most strategic sensor placement locations, albeit early in the program before refinement leads to a simpler approach. This is one of the major activities under SAILSS. Accordingly, the data acquisition and processing will be built to accommodate such approach. As this will be an iterative task the contractor expects full NAVY participation as the design and integration evolve.
NASA F-18 preparing for a flight during the Smart Aircrew Integrated Life Support System tests. (NASA photo) The Navy Aircrew Integrated Life Support System (AILSS) team has just completed a first flight by NASA pilot Dana Purify of a state-of-the-art integrated computer system in an F/A-18 at the Dryden flight Research Center. As if taken from a chapter in a Star Wars episode, this marks the first time that a system of this kind has ever flown in an aircraft. The R2-D2 like system acquires real-time medical state data from the pilot and the aircraft and then controls the on-board systems based on the combined man and machine state and environment. First flight comes on the heels of two manned centrifuge evaluations in one year, demonstrating the closed loop computer control and real time data acquisition and decision making of the computer.
"The computer seems to know more than anyone how well things are going, what has occurred, what is going to happen, and what to do about it", said AILSS engineering lead Cesar Gradilla.
The First Flight occurred on July 1, 2004 and was a major milestone in the development of the state of the art integrated monitoring and control system technology that has been in work for over a decade.