BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Aug. 17, 2017 —
After pilots complete their initial aerospace physiology training, they occasionally go through a refresher course to maintain their flying status.
To complete the course, aircrews here work with the 9th Physiological Support Squadron for a variety of reasons, including a hypoxia demonstration.
"Hypoxia is a state of oxygen deficiency," explained Air Force Master Sgt. Jennifer Flecker, the squadron's support flight chief. "When a person goes up in attitude and breathes less oxygen, they become susceptible to cognition errors, situational awareness errors, loss of coordination and visual impairment."
Until recently, exposing pilots to the conditions that cause hypoxia required 9th PSPTS airmen to spend a lot of time and manpower completing hypoxia demonstrations, but acquisition of the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device has significantly reduced the resources needed for those demonstrations.
"It saves us a lot of manpower and time," said Air Force Airman 1st Class Mariah Rosenberg, 9th PSPTS aerospace physiologist technician. "A hyperbaric chamber flight takes us about an hour and a half to do the entire thing, and with the ROBD it takes us about 30 minutes."
Rosenberg said pilots prefer using the ROBD instead of the hyperbaric chamber because they aren’t required to wear the full pressure suit and are able to spend more time on the mission, as opposed to training.
In addition to the time saved, demonstrating hypoxia with the ROBD is safer for aircrew going through the training, Flecker said. "The ROBD demonstrates hypoxia without exposing aircrew to altitude threats," she added. "It takes oxygen, nitrogen and compressed air and mixes them up to different percentage levels a person would be exposed to at various altitudes."
Because students aren't exposed to high altitudes, Flecker said, they aren’t restricted from flying as they used to be when using the hyperbaric chamber was necessary for hypoxia demonstrations.
"The ROBD is freeing up our pilots because they aren’t restricted from flying," she said. "They can actually fly a mission the same day."
The time being saved by aircrew and 9th PSPTS airmen goes a long way in allowing them to focus on other aspects of the mission. The aircrew can get back to flying sorties and providing high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, while the squadron's airmen can focus on ensuring that their equipment is working properly.