with Virgin Galactic and Y-3 collaborating on a new range of flightsuits and apparel, we take a closer look at the high-tech material inside...
ever wonder how Formula 1 drivers walk away from fires not on fire? it’s all down to a fabric made by DuPont™ called NOMEX®. originally developed in the 50s, it was first used to make fetching US Navy flight coveralls in the 1965, and soon became the standard for fireproof gear across the military, firefighting, motor-racing and other industries in which people catch fire
no matter what you do to NOMEX®, it just won’t burn – or even melt. at worst, it will slowly char, giving you time to get out of your fighter jet and coolly walk away in slow motion like in Top Gun. it works because its chemical structure is inherently non-flammable. for the chemically-minded among you, it’s a meta-aramid, poly(meta-phenyleneisophthalamide), prepared from meta-phenylenediamine and isophthaloyl chloride in an amide solvent. for the rest of us, you just need to know that it's a series of connected rings of atoms, bound into tough, long chains that make incredibly strong fibres
according to DuPont, the fabric helps to reduce burn injuries in other ways too. the fibre itself absorbs heat energy during the carbonisation process and swells to seal openings in the fabric, decreasing air movement and heat transfer. the fibre and the fabric also both thicken, increasing the insulating barrier
the largest application for NOMEX® remains the flightsuits used by all four services of the U.S. Military. if you want to look for one on eBay, the standard issue ones are ‘Flyers Coveralls (27/P)’ – part of "an ensemble that includes anti-g suits and flyers jackets (36/P and 45/P)”. NOMEX® coveralls are also used for ground and engineering crews, and these days the diffusion range also includes gloves, underwear, balaclavas and cold weather gear
this is an edited version of an article which originally appeared on the now-defunct Vice Style website