What I've Got:
I picked up an Eagle Aero SOFBAV (hereafter - Aero) vest on eBay with the Granite Gear CHIEF loadlifter assembly. I did not receive the extra components of the assembly, and I have reached out to both Eagle ATK and EntryGear to try to acquire some of the optional/additional parts. I previously owned a Crye Precision AVS, but traded it when I knew that I was going to receive the Aero. I kept several components of the AVS to test fit. None of them worked (more details below).Overview:
The Aero is Eagle's counterpart to Crye Precision's Adaptive Vest System for the SOFBAV (Special Operations Forces Body Armor Vest) program, and shares most of the same general features. From talking with someone who's seen a copy of the SOFBAV requirements some things, like the scalable cummerbund, interchangeable front flaps, and interchangeable back panels are standard features. The rest are each company's take on the same basic design.
Crye has two patents on their family of body armor (8353065 and 8056191) which specifically address how their AVS, CPC, and CAGE chassis are assembled. As a result, Eagle's design is similar, but constrained by patent law to be a different solution. In some ways I think it's superior. In others, it's on par. The Eagle Aero, if released for consumer purchase as planned, will be a sure competitor to the Crye AVS suite.
The vest is an evolution of the Eagle MMAC (Multi-Mission Armor Carrier), according to their literature. The MMAC is itself a copy of the London Bridge Trading 6094 design. I think a closer version of the truth is that the Aero is an combination of the old Plate Carrier and CIRAS vests with a 6094-style cummerbund. Updated 25NOV14 - the Eagle AERO manual is available hereMaterials
Eagle has used 500D cordura with Durastretch Tweave fabric for select parts. Webbing is 1", 2", and 3/4" Murdock Multicam webbing - this webbing is much stronger and holds color longer than the solution-dyed stuff, and I much prefer it! Velcro is tan for the hook and loop in select portions, but mostly Multicam-printed loop, which loses color faster but blends better. Yes, that's mostly an aesthetic choice. The internal plate pockets include Omega mesh and the crossgrain ribbon is a mixture of Coyote and Multicam. Hypalon is used for several key reinforced areas where webbing offers no advantage. All thread is #69 bonded nylon, with solid stitching. This is not the Eagle from the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico that hits the commercial market - there is much higher attention to detail!Plate Bags
Each plate bag is designed for the MBAV cut soft armor, but can fit SAPI-profile soft armor. The vest I have is a size large, and Velocity Systems L/XL MBAV armor fits perfect. Large SAPI plates fit snugly - there's no room to go up a size, as there is with the Crye AVS plate bags. The plate and soft backers fit into two separate compartments within each plate bag.
The front plate pocket has an admin pouch built into the top, like the Crye AVS. Unlike the AVS, the Aero admin pouch has cable routing behind it to run hydration tubes, push-to-talk cables, remote cables, etc. This may be one of the reasons why the AFSOC seems to prefer the Aero for their JTACs and TACPs. The admin pouch has plenty of room. Similar to the AVS, the front panel has an interchangeable front flap secured by four columns of webbing. The modular front flaps are not
interchangeable between the AVS and Aero family. The AVS panels are slightly too small and the straps are slightly off in position. They could be modified with a sewing machine, but the flaps are still too short.
The Aero also has two velcro wrap cable loops at the top, next to the admin pouch. This is an improvement over the AVS, which lacks them. The push-to-talk loops on either side of the admin pouch are both vertically aligned, unlike the 't' pattern on the AVS plate bag.
The rear plate bag is very similar to the AVS plate bag, with a velcro and two zippers to secure optional back panels. Unlike the AVS, the Aero cummerbund (which I'll cover shortly) resembles the CIRAS design, and the back plate bag has a flap which allows for cummerbund adjustment. The flap is secured with two metal snaps attached to hypalon tabs, and stays closed until adjustment is needed. The (optional) quick release system feeds into the same area. The AVS back panels do not fit the Aero - the zippers are different dimensions, and it looks like Eagle went down a size on the zippers. That being said, the geometry is the same. If you can match the zipper, the panel should be an easy modification to fit.Shoulder Straps/Pads
The shoulder straps use the 6094 design (copied in the MMAC). I much prefer this to Crye's solution. They are easy to adjust and easy to secure. The pads are similar to the MMAC pads, without loops on the side for hydration tubes, antennas, or cables.Cummerbund
The cummerbund I have is the basic all-purpose type. It has pockets for two magazines plus a radio on each side. Both PRC-148 and PRC-152 radios fit into the pocket, I haven't tested the PRC-154 but I don't see why it wouldn't fit. The radio pocket is lightly padded and insanely comfortable. Also built into the cummerbund is a 6x12" (approximately) soft armor pocket and a side plate pocket that can fit both 6x6" and 5x7" standard side plates. My 6x6" MSAP plates fit perfectly, as does MBAV soft side armor. The cummerbund has 550 cord to help grab it and coyote velcro to secure it to the inside of the front flap. The cummerbund is resizable with shock cord, just like a 6094/MMAC cummerbund. I much prefer this cummerbund to Crye's design. Yes, the Crye option is more scalable, but I don't need scalable for the cummerbund.Granite Gear CHIEF
The CHIEF loadlifter is two laminated carbon fiber sheets secured together (maybe adhered?) for strength attached to a padded belt by a bolt. The CHIEF frame is removable, leaving just the padded belt. There is no consideration for armor in the belt, and from Eagle's product presentation at the 2013 SHOT SHOW they're currently trying to crack that nut. The carbon fiber sheets curve outward and follow the spine's natural curvature. The CHIEF slides into the Aero's back panel behind the MBAV soft armor (closest to the body) and is secured with a g-hook on a 1" webbing strap. This should, at least in theory, prevent the frame from slipping out.
The belt is standard MOLLE, with no provision for running a drop-leg holster on it. This is a drawback for me, since I use a UBL 1.5" drop from Safariland as a standard holster option. I need to try this out more under load on ruck marches to see what I think about it, but that is a concern for how I integrate my issued equipment and weapons. That being said, I am interested to try a Crye blast belt and look to adapt the CHIEF to it, but I'm not keen to spend the coin for the belt with no guarantee that the solution will work.
I can't compare the CHIEF to the StKSS system (also patented - 2448445, so no copying by Eagle), because I have no solid experience with the StKSS system aside from some light use. More to follow once I can properly test this out.Additional Parts Updated 26OCT14
The included adapters for an assault pack are nice. All buckles are female - the top adapters velcro into the shoulder strap and have a pass-through for the straps. Easy, low-profile, and simple. The lower adapters are buckles with a 1" adapter that slides through a column of MOLLE and snaps on itself. I've paired the vest with an AWS beavertail assault pack which included the strap kit. The strap kit is a copy of the Eagle adapter set and includes the necessary hardware to mate with the Aero vest. Pictures below. The kit is simple and easy, and much better than directly attaching the pack to the back in my opinion).
The cable routing I was talking about. Love this.
The PTT webbing is arranged differently. I like this method, in my opinion it's more versatile than Crye's orientation on the AVS.
The admin pouch.
Cummerbund flaps and front flap securing method. You can see the obvious similarity to Crye's AVS. Again, front flaps are not interchangeable between the two systems.
The back of the front plate bag. All durastretch fabric, very comfortable. All inside-facing surfaces are durastretch.
View from behind.
The carry handle. Not sure I'd use it as a drag strap. It has a row of 1" MOLLE behind it.
The rear flap. You can see how the cummerbund is tucked away like the CIRAS design.
The cummerbund. Filled with soft armor and a 6x6 MSAP plate on each side. It also has a nylon stiffener to keep the cummerbund from flopping around, which I like.
The inside of the carrier, as worn.
The shoulder pads. Very streamlined, and very comfortable.
The pocket for the CHIEF insert. The webbing ladder (barely visible) allows you to adjust tension and secure the CHIEF insert. Pretty ingenious design!
The vest and assault pack. I've started to customize the vest for my use.
The top adapter. Two come with the vest.
The bottom adapter. Two come with the vest.
All secure. I didn't tape up the straps for this, since I have been running the pack separately.