Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, has a rich history as a proving ground for various major developments.
The base was built on and partially named after land that was once used by local inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright to test and perfect the world's first successful airplane. During World War II, German aircrafts were sent back to the laboratories for analysis. Beginning in the late 1940s, Wright-Patt's Air Technical Intelligence Center began its infamous investigation into reports of UFO sightings. In the late fifties, the base was the site of medical examinations to determine the final selection of the Mercury astronauts who eventually landed on the moon. Thousands of aeronautical inventions have been birthed at the base, including advanced gas turbine engines, aircraft electronic controls, stealth technology and precision-guided bombs.
And this year, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base designed and tested one of its latest innovations: better-fitting Air Force maternity uniforms.
Time for change
Earlier this fall, the base published calls for volunteers who were willing to wear the new maternity service dress shirt. At the time, officials told Military.com that they were looking for around 30 to 50 pregnant airmen to participate in the wear test.
"The greater the number of participants the more accurate the results, due to the ability to fit many different body types and stages of pregnancy," said base spokesman Daryl Mayer.
The updated maternity uniform was designed with an eye towards improving the comfort, fit and functionality of Air Force uniforms. As such, the new shirt now features darts on the front and back for a more fitted appearance, and is also made of a stretchier material that boasts better stain resistance and more opacity.
Whether the shirt hits its target of providing enhanced comfort will be determined by the volunteers, who were asked to fill out questionnaires at the end of the experience.
"The feedback from the fit/wear participants will be utilized to make any final adjustments to the fit or design of the improved maternity shirt," said Mayer. "This participant feedback ensures that we have a final product that meets the user's needs."
A wave of potential updates
This new maternity shirt is just the latest installment in a number of uniform changes that the Air Force has recently implemented to meet the needs of pregnant troops and new mothers alike. Last November, pregnant airmen at Wright-Patt were testing a maternity airman battle uniform. The camouflage maternity uniform, which featured pants with a full-stretch panel and an adjusted chest fit for the blouse, was so comfortable, according to Air Force Capt. Mollie Eshel, that her co-workers didn't even notice she was pregnant until her 34th week.
Talk about a successful camo outfit!
Many storied or technologically-advanced developments have come out of Wright-Patt over the years, but updated uniforms for expectant mothers actually serve a rather valuable and unheralded purpose.
"Women suffer in silence on many of the uniforms that don't fit. And they've never fit," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. "The amount of money that women are spending altering essentially a men's uniform to fit a female frame is unsatisfactory. So we're going to get at this."
Working with only a $1.7 million budget and 18 staff members, the relatively small uniform office headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is tasked with the order to "get at this." When you consider that the team is responsible for outfitting hundreds of thousands of Air Force personnel serving all over the globe – and above it – it's hard not to respect their service.