Breathing Required: Faster, Stronger, Cheaper

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rusty Frank
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Imagine sitting inside the cockpit of an aircraft, flying alone in an F-16 Fighting Falcon in the blue skies and feeling the warm sunlight beaming on your face through the canopy.

As you fly, you start to feel a little "off." Then the more you fly, the worse you feel.

You feel pressure on your chest, dizziness in your head. You start sweating like you've just completed the fastest 5k run of your life. You can't see, and you aren't sure what you're doing anymore.

It's not a mysterious illness: it's hypoxia.

According to the National institutes of Health's Medline Plus website, hypoxia occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen.

Maj. Brad Brough, 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight surgeon from Cedar City, Utah, said that hypoxia is be especially dangerous for pilots because they can experience decreased reflexes, loss of consciousness or even death at higher altitudes with no oxygen.

U.S. Air Force Fighter pilots train to deal with these symptoms in flight. Historically, they go through a high-altitude chamber to learn how to cope with these potentially deadly factors.

However, there is a new training simulator that's been around since 2010 called the reduced oxygen breathing device that saves the Air Force money and man-power.

Maj. Christy Zahn, 52nd Operations Support Squadron aerospace and operational physiology training team flight commander from Los Alamos, N.M., said that there are four ROBDs in U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa that are at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Aviano Air Base, Italy and Ramstein Air Base, Germany and here.

"It takes two people to run the ROBD," said Tech. Sgt. Charles Myers, 52nd OSS NCO in charge of aerospace and operational physiology team, and Frenchtown, Mont., native. "It takes a minimum of seven people to operate a high altitude chamber."

Myers said during this training, pilots learn how to recognize the symptoms of hypoxia and know how to react accordingly.

Thanks to the ROBD, units do not have to send pilots on temporary duty assignment to a base with a chamber as they can access a ROBD right here, said Myers.

According to Myers, a big difference between the ROBD and the high altitude chamber is when pilots use the ROBD, they fly in a simulator and actually work with the regulators and physically go through emergency procedures.

"At Spangdahlem, we are set up for F-16, E-3 and C-130 pilots," Myers said. "We are just getting started on training people who fly in the back seat of the aircraft. We always want them doing something they would normally do in the jet, so they can see how they can get distracted with their own job specific tasks and how the symptoms of hypoxia can sneak up."

Myers said that after students use the ROBD, they don't have to wait for an extended period of time before returning to the cockpit able to fly, unlike the high altitude chamber. They can fly a jet directly afterwards, and return to the flying schedule.

This training simulator keeps the aircrew safe in flight and mission ready. Thanks to dedicated Airmen and innovative training, the U.S. Air Force can do what it does best: fly, fight and win.