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New M50 respirator has got that Darth Vader look

Edgewood Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs

Published: 04:52PM July 17th, 2014

Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen all agree: They like the look and feel of the new M50 respirator, said U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, who developed the masks.

Otherwise known as the Joint Service General Purpose Mask, the M50 was developed by Edgewood on behalf of the Joint Program Executive Officer for chemical and biological Defense.

The Army is now in the process of fielding more than a million of the masks to service members across all four branches.

“I noticed the difference between the M50 and the old M40 mask as soon as I put it on,” said Marine Sgt. James Tuthill, a training NCO stationed at Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. “I train Marines to be prepared for chemical, biological and radiological hot zones, and this mask provides them with better visibility, easier breathing and greater comfort wearing it. And on top of all that, it just looks cool.”

Many who use it compare it to the “Darth Vader mask” from Star Wars. It has symmetrical filters on each side, instead of just one for the M40, and a wrap-around visor, rather than goggles, for increased peripheral vision.

The changes do not end there. It has a silicon and butyl face piece that is flexible enough to fit all face sizes from the second to the 98th percentile of the adult population, Edgewood representatives said. They added that its upgraded valve design makes breathing 50 percent easier, and it is cheaper than its predecessor. Its production cost per mask, including filters, a mask carrier and a decontamination kit, is $280.

Designing a truly inter-service respirator challenged the designers at ECBC to accommodate the differences in service uniforms — including hoods, gloves and helmets, and each service’s internal communications gear.

Considered one of the most heavily tested pieces of personal-protection equipment ever developed by the Department of Defense, the engineers and scientists of the Joint Service General Purpose Mask Team worked on refining it over the course of 15 years.

“We have been involved with every step of the design, validation, the testing and modification process, as well as filter testing, and product quality and deficiency reporting,” said Akanksha Raja, the team’s systems and logistics engineer.

The Air Force has already received 345,448 M50 masks, the Marines received 131,289 and the Navy 274,333. When fielding them to the Army is completed in 2019, it will have received 1,245,978 masks.

Meanwhile, the developing team is busy creating a special operations version of the M50, known as the M53.

It has only one filter to allow for better aiming and shooting, and will be able to readily use “blown air” from an external source. This version is for known “hot zones,” and other federal agencies have expressed an interest in acquiring it.

ECBC already has technologies for the next generation respirator under design. Researchers are working to make it lighter and less bulky. The new design will also feature upgrades that allow a flow of air into the nose cup and eye cavity of the mask to keep users cooler. They are also developing physiological monitors and sensors that will control fan speeds for the air based on the breathing demands of the user. The next generation respirator will also integrate the most advanced communications technology inside the mask.

Until that version is ready for fielding, Sgt. Tuthill can say with confidence, “I know that my Marines have a great new tool for war fighting.”