A Sound Solution - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

A Sound Solution

White River Junction, Vermont -- April 9, 2007

Flying a jet in the Air Force is not an easy task. It's loud and that can add to the stress. Noisy cockpits are a major cause of hearing loss for fighter pilots.

If fact, hearing loss is one of the most prevalent disability among Veterans as a whole.

"I would say that 99 percent of the patients we see have hearing loss. There is very few that come to us with normal hearing," said Jennifer Bukowski of the V.A. Medical Center in White River.

A small company located on the third floor of an office building in White River Junction is making a lot of noise in an the world of sound.

The 6-person team called Sound Innovations recently signed a $1.5 million contract from the Air Force to produce high-tech earplugs for pilots.

"The basic principle is that if you have two sound waves that are exactly the same, and they cross paths and one is at the peak of the wave and the other is at the trough, they actually cancel each other out," said Chris Pearson of Sound Innovations.

Engineer Matt Maher describes the technology-- known as Active Noise Reduction-- in this diagram. The red curve is a sound wave.

"The green curve would represent the sound curve generated by our ANR earplug. And if the two are summed together, the goal would be the blue curve or essentially a quiet environment," Maher said.

ANR is not new. But, enhancing the technology and making it the size of a finger nail, small enough to fit inside a pilot's helmet, is.

"The concept of active noise reduction has been around for a very long time, decades, and it is the way we are implementing it and the way that we are tuning the algorithm to make it stable with different noise sources, that is what is unique," said engineer Toby Deitrich.

The sound experts say their earplugs can cut out at least half of all background noise in a cockpit. They say that will protect the pilots' ears AND make them better at their jobs.

"That can have a big impact, one on your hearing protection, and also on fatigue. If you are in a noisy environment all day, it is a very tiring thing to be in," Pearson said.

The contract will not lead to any immediate jobs in the area, but it will allow the company refine its product in the hopes of cementing a future here in the Upper Valley.

Adam Sullivan-- WCAX News

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