New system saves money, provides better training
By Staff Sgt. Jason Barebo, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 09, 2010
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
The 509th Bomb Wing recently received a mobile hypoxia familiarization trainer to provide refresher training for pilots here.
Pilots go through extensive training to be able to fly. Part of that training is a trip to an altitude chamber to help them experience the effects of rapid decompression on the body.
Among the most lethal effects is hypoxia, a condition defined as a deficiency of oxygen to the body that can cause an impairment of function.
"As aircraft fly at high altitudes, the air pressure and oxygen levels become dangerously low," said Maj. Troy Faaborg, 509th Medical Operations Group aerospace medicine flight commander. "That is why many aircraft use a pressurized cabin. Another safeguard is the use of supplemental oxygen through the aviator's oxygen mask that we use in military aviation."
The training allows Air Force pilots to become familiar with their specific symptoms of hypoxia in a training.
"Pilots must learn to recognize their signs and symptoms of hypoxia so they can immediately recognize any malfunction of the aircraft oxygen delivery system or a loss in cabin pressurization," Major Faaborg said.
For 60 years, altitude chambers have been used as the sole platform for hypoxia recognition training. Following their initial qualification, aircrew members are required to attend refresher training every five years.
"In order for aircrew at Whiteman to get their refresher training, a trip to a local altitude chamber for a day was required," Major Faaborg said. "This took valuable time and money to schedule and attend."
The HFT cost approximately $30,000 and will require sustainment costs of $900 a year. Compared to the cost of an altitude chamber, about $1 million per unit with a $1.9 million annual sustainment budget for all units.
"Financially, this is a great way to go," Major Faaborg said. "This represents the first major change in physiological training in the last 60 years.
With the new system, aircrew members can now complete their refresher training here at Whiteman.
"This system is pretty cool," said Maj. Alex Jernigan, Detachment 12 commander and B-2 pilot. "The cockpit displays and simulator add to the realism and distract us from just sitting in the chamber waiting for our symptoms to kick in. I actually think it's more effective training."
Pilots sit in a simulator style set-up with an LCD screen in front of them and all the flight panel instruments necessary to conduct the refresher training. Pilots use their own helmets and connect them to a reduced oxygen breathing machine.
The training device also incorporates a flight simulator program and flight controls so the pilot can perform a more operationally relevant task, bringing fidelity and realism to the training. The pilot is closely monitored by trained aerospace and operational physiology experts.
During the training, pilots are given similar instructions to what they would receive during an actual flight, from take-off to landing. A member of the 509th MDOS aerospace medicine flight acts as the air traffic controller.
Upon take-off they are given specific headings and altitude restrictions to comply with. At a randomly selected time, the reduced oxygen breathing machine uses a mixture of compressed gases to dilute the pilot's air according to an established training profile.
Without a sufficient amount of oxygen, the pilot will start to feel several symptoms and may not be able to comply with given tasks. The medical personnel record all data and work with the pilot to determine what they were feeling and seeing when their oxygen was being diluted. The entire training session is also recorded and can be burned to CD for the pilot's reference.
"The big thing we get out of this training is finding out what our individual signs of hypoxia are," Major Jernigan said. "It can vary from person-to-person. My symptoms are that I usually get a little light headed, a hot-flash feeling and tingling fingers."
Whiteman is the third base in the Air Force to receive the HFT equipment and the first in Air Force Global Strike Command.
"Our pilots can train using B-2 configured oxygen equipment rather than in an altitude chamber that's not equipped with the same switches our pilots are familiar with," Major Faaborg said. "Our next step is to incorporate this equipment with the B-2 weapons system trainer to provide pilots with an even more realistic aircraft-specific training to better prepare our aviators for contingencies during combat operations."