In the early seventies, a new goggles/helmet combination to better protect SAC's aircrews against nuclear flash blindness was developed by the Air Force. The protection device ( helmet-mounted special goggles containing four lenses) was developed under a $7.2 million contract managed by Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The requirements for the goggles was orchestrated by Cal Crochet, SAC Life Support System program manager, who was the direct interface with Sandia Laboratories at Kirtland AFB, NM. The idea for the goggles came from Cal's experience during his early days of flying helicopter (1957) at Eniwetok Atoll during nuclear tests under "Operation Hardtack" and later from his experiences with the flash curtain, gold goggles and eye patch problems encountered as a SAC B-47 and B-52 aircraft commander with the 306th and 509th Bomb Wings..
Flash blindness is a temporary visual impairment caused by a tremendous amount of light emitted by a nuclear weapon's explosion. The sensitive rods and cones on the surface of the eye's retina become overloaded or 'bleached out'. This is the same phenomenon experienced when a person exits a darkened theater into bright sunlight. Just as an auto driver can be temporarily blinded by a set of of oncoming headlights, an aircrew member's ability to maintain control of an aircraft can be seriously jeopardized. The goggles provided both flash blindness and thermal protection for the area covered. The thermal flash blindness protection device operated on the same principle as a pair of polarized filters that, when oriented 90 degrees to one another, stop all light from passing through. Rotation of the optical lenses was accomplished electronically through application of an electro-optic material containing lead, lanthanum, zirconium and titanium. Under normal light conditions (open state), the lenses looked like ordinary sun shades. When a bright explosion occurred, a simple photocell and transistor amplifier caused the lens to become totally opaque (closed state) for as long as the triggering flash remains. During this condition (closed state), the crewmembers will continue to have visual acuity (similar to viewing through welder's goggles); whereby, their respective duties can still be performed without the effects associated with flash blindness. The lenses could close off light in microseconds, and absorbed as much as 25 calories of heat per square centimeter.
The goggles were affixed to the helmets by the individual aircrew members when their use was required. To get them in place, a crew member had 20 seconds to pick them up, raise them over head and while holding them out horizontally, slide them down the front of the helmet onto the connections and then snap the protective devises on. The PLTZ goggles were sealed in plastic inside a canvas bag that was attached with velcro under the glare shield in front of the TFR scope.
First production goggles were delivered to Chanute AFB, Ill. for the training and maintenance personnel. In early fiscal year 80, SAC FB-111 aircraft at Pease AFB, NH and Plattsburgh AFB, NY did undergo cockpit modifications to accommodate the power pack of the thermal flash blindness protection device. The lenses are energized by low amperage 28 volt DC current. The goggles first arrived on July 23, 1980 at Pease AFB after specified modification to the FB-111A, aircrew helmets and oxygen masks had been completed. When the goggles became operational, the 509th BMW set two firsts as alert aircrew Maj.Jack Pledger and Capt.William Rauschenbach, respectively pilot and navigator with the 393rd BS, became the world's first aircrew to be equipped with the new goggles while on alert status with FB-111A 68-0252. Soon after, the entire alert force of the 509th had achieved initial operating capabilities with the new flash blindness goggles. Each alert aircraft was fitted with two sets of goggles.
To end this file, I will let you read some of Cal's comments;
"It certainly was a pleasure that I was able to develop this goggles for my SAC peers so as to, not only protect them, but to provide an added capability in accomplishing their job, if required, during nuclear combat. Also, it was a thrill for me to have this item become first operational in SAC on a 393rd BS's FB-111A, as I was a former member of this squadron during my B-47 days. Was a great organization."