JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.
When flying an aircraft, situational awareness is key for a pilot to have. However, breathing is also important for a pilot.
To help pilots learn how their body is feeling and reacting to the lower amounts of oxygen at higher altitudes, the 1st Operations Group Aerospace and Operational Physiology team uses the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device, which is designed to induce hypoxia symptoms.
“Any aircrew member in the Air Force that's going to fly in an Air Force aircraft has to go through altitude training,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Hoopes, 1st OG AOP flight chief. “So [to start], those individuals would go through initial aircrew training. For initial training, they have to go through an altitude chamber to feel the effects of altitude on their bodies.”
Once individuals have gone through that initial training then they may use the ROBD to conduct their refresher courses.
“With an altitude chamber, we would limit our classes to 16 individuals at a time and with those 16 individuals, we could put all of them in the chamber, we could train them all at the same time,” said Hoopes. “But in order to do that, we needed a crew of seven to nine members just to run the chamber”
According to Staff Sgt. Lakishmie Christian, 1st OG AOP technician, the ROBD allows them to train more people throughout the day than the altitude chamber but with fewer AOP technicians. It also gives pilots the ability to get same day training and still be able to fly a mission later in the day.
“With the ROBD we are able to quickly and efficiently train [people],” said Christian. “It’s simulating what they do in the aircraft and still allowing them to safely recognize hypoxia symptoms on their own.”
The ROBD also provides a more personalized training environment for individuals participating in hypoxia training.
“It helps me as an aerospace physiology technician to get to know my customer base more and we can tailor that training more to them, where we couldn't necessarily do that in the chamber,” said Hoopes. “Individuals are more willing to be open with us [about their symptoms] as they're going through it.”
While operating the ROBD, the AOP technicians speak with the individual training to keep them active, all while monitoring their vitals as they reduce the amount of oxygen the individual has to breathe.
Some symptoms that individuals have to look out for are tingling in the fingers and toes, air hunger, nausea, lightheadedness and mental confusion. Hypoxia can also affect someone's eyes and their ability to see.
“Hypoxia affects the brain and the brain is going to pull oxygen from any place that it can get to continue to function,” said Hoopes. “With the eyes being the closest source of oxygen, it will pull oxygen away from the eyes, causing dimness and some graying out effects.”
Once an individual notices one of these symptoms, they are instructed to supply themselves with 100 percent oxygen. Aircrew members are taught multiple different measures to take in case one may fail to ensure they have oxygen at all times.
The ROBD efficiently trains pilots and aircrew on recognizing their hypoxia symptoms in order to keep themselves and their fellow wingmen safe. Allowing them to safely continue the mission here at Joint Base Langley Eustis, Virginia, and support our allies down range.
Editor's Note: This the final part of a series highlighting the various advanced technology simulators available for training across Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.