Pilot Flying With ACCES

When operating some of the world’s most high-tech and advanced aircraft, things can get pretty noisy for military pilots while they’re in the cockpit. Even during pre-takeoff inspections, constant loud noises created by the engine, warning systems, cockpit cooling fans and other parts of the aircraft are not only potentially harmful to pilots’ hearing, but the noise can also hinder pilots’ ability to properly communicate. With few (if any) things being more important to a pilot than their ability to clearly communicate, the Air Force needed to find a way to better protect pilots’ hearing without further restricting their ability to communicate in the cockpit, but how could this be accomplished? Enter Westone.

With our headquarters located in Colorado Springs, CO, Westone has always taken great pride in serving the military community, especially all the local service members populating our surrounding and nearby areas including Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy. Although Westone had already been helping out individual service members with their hearing protection needs for quite some time, our official partnership with the military didn’t truly begin to form until the late 1990s when Westone was first contacted by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

At that time, the AFRL was having some high-noise related communications problems with their F-22 Raptors. The initial problem actually occurred during the aircraft’s final inspection prior to takeoff, when the crew chief would inspect the underside of the aircraft for fuel leaks while the pilot would have the engine at a high-powered setting.  This inspection naturally created a lot of noise, which was not only dangerous to the pilot and crew’s hearing, but also restricted the pilot’s ability to communicate with the crew chief. Having heard of Westone’s work with creating products for performing musicians, the AFRL contacted Westone to see if we could assist in coming up with a solution to their problem. From there, the AFRL was put in contact with Westone’s New Product Development Team where they were then introduced to two of Westone’s brightest minds: Karl and Kris Cartwright.

“The Darth Vader style facemask and headphones in use by the ground crew were not enough to overcome the incredible noise level (140dB) created by the aircraft, so we had to come up with a different kind of solution.” Kris recalled when questioned about he and Karl’s earliest work with the AFRL. “Fortunately we were able to come up with a solution that was adopted not only for the F22 platform, but is now also flying in almost every aircraft that the Air Force has in service today.”

According to the Cartwrights, the biggest obstacle to overcome in their project with the AFRL wasn’t necessarily creating a custom earpiece for pilots to wear; it was how to get all the other required components into the custom earpieces. “I think we all felt pretty confident that a custom-fit earpiece was the solution,” Kris remembered, “it was all the other stuff that we had to come up with to make it all work that was a challenge.”

Pilot Helmet With ACCES Earpieces

Through combining the AFRL’s seemingly endless knowledge of aerospace technology with Westone’s decades of custom earpiece production expertise, the two sides worked assiduously to create an entirely new communications system for pilots which was eventually completed in the early 2000s. Unbeknownst to both parties, the creation of this new system would also simultaneously lead to the creation of something else for Westone: our Military Department.

 The new Attenuating Custom Communications Earpiece System, or, as it’s more commonly referred to today: ACCES®, was a revolutionary new product the likes of which Westone, nor the Air Force, had ever seen. ACCES® consists of a pair of proprietary custom silicone earpieces that are paired with a communications cable, which is worn underneath a pilot’s helmet or headset during flights. This system was designed from the ground-up to incorporate a custom earpiece for improved consistency of fit and attenuation when compared to similar devices that use generic foam tips instead of a custom earpiece. Thanks to the combination of the custom earpieces and the communications cable that plugs directly into each earpiece, all the necessary communication that pilots must be able to hear before and during flights is transferred clearly, safely and directly into their ear canals to greatly improve pilots’ speech intelligibility within the cockpit.

Today, almost 20 years after the initial creation of ACCES®, over 90 percent of all Air Force fighter pilots fly with ACCES® as their go-to, in-flight communications system, and more and more pilots from the Navy, Army, Marines and Coast Guard continue to enquire about ACCES® with each passing year. ACCES® is no longer utilized by just F-22 pilots, as today over 20 different platforms of various military aircraft are now compatible with ACCES®, including fighter, bomber and cargo planes from all branches of the US military. Some of the specific types or platforms of aircraft that have flown with ACCES® include the F-35B Lightning II, B-52 Bomber, C-17 Globemaster III, A-10 Warthog, the T-6 Texan and the T-38 Talon among others. Even some helicopter platforms have flown with ACCES® for quite some time, such as the HH-60 Pave Hawk or the CH-147 Chinook.

The popularity of ACCES® has spread so far that nowadays, some commercial airline pilots, forestry pilots and police air ops pilots utilize ACCES® while they fly, as many of these individuals are retired veterans who have grown accustomed to flying with their ACCES® earpieces and now refuse to fly without them! 

Various Military Bases Around The World Use ACCES

Over the last two decades, we have found it extremely rewarding to get to  work so closely with thousands of different service men and women from various bases around the world. We have sent our earpieces to more than 80 different US military bases, including five international bases in Europe and Asia. As if they didn’t have enough going on, our Military Department also hosts a quarterly Standard Ear Impression Technique, or “SEIT” course, which was initially created over 10 years ago to train active service men and women on how to take proper ear impressions. After completing this course, attendees receive a course completion certificate before returning to their own respective bases scattered across the globe to take ear impressions for their fellow service members. 

We are honored to get the chance to work hand-in-hand with the brave men and women who risk everything to serve this country, and we hope that they find our own services to them just as rewarding. As our military department continues to grow, just as it steadily has for the past 20 years, we look forward to the challenge of finding new ways to help protect and enhance the hearing of today’s brave service members, and all of those yet to come who will follow in their footsteps.