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Outer Limits: the aerospace exhibit at IFAI Expo 2013

Industry News, Markets | December 6, 2013 | By:

This year’s Specialty Fabrics Showcase on the exhibit floor at IFAI Expo featured a 1,000-square-foot display of aerospace products made from specialty fabrics: everything from an eye-grabbing hang glider from Gray Bird Air Sports and an astronaut cooling suit from the University of Minnesota to a debris shield (Aerospace Fabrication & Materials), a Pyro Tex FR pilot’s uniform (ICF Mercantile LLC), a Vector 3M parachute (United Parachute Technologies) and composite heat tiles and quilted blankets from NASA, among other items.

As an added attraction, Jean L. Wright, a docent with the NASA Speakers Bureau, was on hand to explain how she used her sewing experience at United Space Alliance (USA), a contractor for NASA, to work on “soft goods” for the space shuttle:

“Here’s a brief history: I worked at the Thermal Protection Systems Facility (TPSF) for United Space Alliance (USA), a contractor for NASA. I was one of 16 ladies that worked on soft goods—or fabric items for the space shuttle. Though technically we were Aerospace Composite Techs, we affectionately called each other ‘Sew Sisters’ because we were such a small group.

“We sewed, or ‘built’ as we called it, all 2,300 of the blankets in the cargo bay (beta cloth) , 5,000+ Thermal Control System (TCS) blankets made of polyimide that lined the floors and walls of the shuttle, much like the insulation in your home. You wouldn’t see these gap fillers, that functioned like their name, filling the gaps and spaces between the tiles so they wouldn’t rub against each other. But by far, what surprises everyone that gets a chance to see the shuttle is what we called ‘FIBS’ or Fibrous Insulated Blankets that cover the upper surfaces of the shuttle! Looking like small quilts, they’re made of a quartz fabric exterior: fiberglass backing fabric that’s filled with a quartz batting called ‘Q-felt’ or Saffil batting (the commercial name for it). These blankets replaced over 7,000 tiles and can withstand temperatures between 700-1,200 degrees!

“I loved doing my small part of representing aerospace at the IFAI Expo,” Wright added. “I met plenty of people in the industry, in particular Paul and Colleen Matte. They’re owners of Thermal Control Products, a company that manufactures many items similar to what we did for the shuttle. In fact, I talked to them at length about that. But what I thought what was so interesting about them was that their company does a lot of thermal protection for NASCAR! Our facility was also asked years ago to help the drivers ‘keep their cool’! I definitely would like to attend another Expo!”

Next year’s showcase: extreme sports! If you’d like to participate, please contact Barbara Connett, event and education manager, at

Galynn Nordstrom is senior editor of Specialty Fabrics Review magazine.

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