Air Force Featured Stories

Surviving the altitude

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erin O'Shea
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Many issues may arise when flying as aircrew, including hypoxia, which can be life-threatening if the proper procedures are not taken to correct it.

Hypoxia is rare, but there’s special training, unlike any other base in U.S. Air Forces in Europe to prepare for those types of emergencies. The 48th Aerospace Medical Squadron instructs aircrew members using the only Hypoxia Familiarization Trainer 2.5 in England.

"We can provide all the organic training here within maybe five hours' time, versus two to five days of temporary duty that they would spend going to another location," said Maj. Shawnee Williams, a 48th AMDS aerospace and operational physiologist.

Hypoxia is a condition in which the tissues of the body do not receive enough oxygen, causing the individual to lose consciousness while flying. Various organs in the body, including the brain, are impaired, causing the aircrew member to become dizzy and lose cognitive functions. This condition can impact aircrew if they are unable to recognize the signs and symptoms.

"We want them to be able to recognize their symptoms, see that something's wrong, then do their corrective procedures," Williams said.

After experiencing hypoxia symptoms, aircrew can take corrective procedures by increasing the airflow of oxygen into their masks.

An individual's body can physiologically change and alter between each refresher course, which is why the course is admitted every five years.

"Sometimes, they don't experience [hypoxia] in the aircraft during that time, so they can forget what the symptoms actually are," Williams said. "This is a good way to reintroduce them to that, and have a system that's applicable to what they fly and duties that they perform in the aircraft."

The aircrew members attend four hours of academic classes, followed by the hypoxia training, which takes approximately 20 minutes. Each aircrew member goes through specific academics related to the aircraft in which they fly. Once they progress to the hands-on training, a flight profile similar to their aircraft is pulled up on the hypoxia familiarization trainer and is used for their training. Aircraft such as an HH-60G Pave Hawk or CV-22 Osprey can be simulated on a screen for the pilot's recognition when running the simulator.

"We can change it and have the stick and throttle, [or] have a yolk on there for the KC-135 Stratotankers or the C-130 Hercules; so we actually have the accoutrements allowing them to perform duties similar to their flight profile," Williams added.

The training takes place weekly for nine different mission design series, including adjunct officers and individuals in specialty positions, such as aircrew, who require the training.

"We want something that's applicable to all of them, so when they recognize their symptoms, muscle memory is part of it too," Williams said. "The more realistic we can be, the more likely they are to recognize it in the aircraft sooner."

According to Williams, they are proud to have the first Hypoxia Familiarization Trainer 2.5 in England.

"It's the highest fidelity of training we can provide without them actually being in a simulator," Williams said.