Aramid – The Unique Fabric of the Nomex Flight Suit

The Nomex Flight Suit is an essential uniform that protects hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women in the US military. DuPont developed the fibers for the Nomex material in the early 1960’s. The fibers consist of para-aramid and meta-aramid fibers. The combination of these durable, flame-retardant fibers is found in bullet-proof vests, firefighter uniforms, flight suits for pilots and crewmembers, as well as a variety of other forms of body armor and safety gear.

The word aramid is derived from two words, “aromatic” and “polyamide.” Aramid material is synthetic and has many molecules that are linked together and form “chains.” You have heard the quote, “there is strength in numbers.” Well, the same applies here. Aramid fibers consist of chains that have many molecules within in the chain. The strand of molecules provides remarkable strength to the aramid fabric.

Three primary companies manufacture this material around the world. These companies include DuPont, which is here in the US, Teijin, a Japanese corporation, and Kolon Industries in South Korea. The most familiar brands that are common in America are Kevlar and Nomex. Unfortunately, there are conflicting dates about when Kevlar and Nomex materials were discovered. However, what we do know is that Aramid did not dissolve quickly in liquid. DuPont wanted to make this material more useful for the public, and a DuPont research scientist named Stephanie Kwolek is responsible for discovering the lyotropic liquid crystalline aramid material. She and Mr. Paul Morgan incorporated ways to dissolve the amines and acids in different liquids. They used very low temperatures during their experiments. Once the aramid material was finalized, Ms. Kwolek invented a unique spinning process that kept the material light-weight, as well as durable. This para-aramid composition of substances became known as Kevlar.

Nomex, on the other hand, is made of the meta-aramid fibers. These fibers have an incredible tolerance for heat up to 572˚F or 300˚C. According to the website, Aramid does not become brittle, or melt when exposed to such temperatures. Another outstanding characteristic of these fibers is that they do not melt and are “self-extinguishing” when in contact with normal oxygen levels. The fibers in the Nomex material are twice as strong as fiberglass or nylon, and it’s five times stronger than steel. The meta-aramid material also resists organic substances. When exposed to high temperatures as mentioned above, Nomex maintains its strength and keeps military personnel and civilian public servants safe.

Some other uses for the aramid fabric are snowboards, sailing cloth, asbestos replacement, fiber-optic cables, and electrical insulation. Aramid fibers are also used for various forms of sporting goods, like hockey sticks, in addition to reeds for wind instruments, and engine enclosures for airliners.

Aramid is a unique combination of fibers that make the Nomex Flight Suit flame-resistant with material that has a high melting point. Another essential quality of this product is that it is lightweight with solid durability. These characteristics of the flight suit are critical for the protection and comfort of the men and women who wear this article of clothing while serving in our armed forces.