Combatting hypoxia: Robins flight prepares aircrews to recognize signs

  • Published
  • By Joseph Mather
  • Robins Public Affairs

Pilots and aircrew members recall removing their oxygen masks and simple tasks becoming more difficult when they performed their hypobaric, or altitude, chamber testing. What the Airmen were feeling was hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen in the blood.

At Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, the Aerospace and Operational Physiology Training Flight with the 461st Operations Support Squadron trains aircrew members on the dangers of hypoxia in a safe environment using a Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device.

“Our primary mission is to train aircrew on the physiological hazards of flight,” said Capt. Pierre Nelson, Aerospace and Operational Physiology Flight commander. “We serve as the regional trainer for the Southeast region.”

All airmen receive initial training before being allowed to fly as pilots or aircrew.

“All aircrew are required to receive hypoxia training every five years,” said Nelson. “The ROBD coupled with the Hypoxia Familiarization Trainer allow the crew member to get hypoxic while simulating airborne flight duties.”

Hypoxia has a range of symptoms like tingling in the fingers and toes, nausea, lightheadedness and confusion, and can affect the eyes and the ability to see clearly.

“By training aircrew on the physiological hazards of flight, we equip them with the tools needed to handle in-flight emergencies,” said Nelson.        

With the use of an ROBD here at Robins, the physiology flight is providing significant cost savings to the Air Force.

According to Nelson, it takes up to 200 days per year to send aircrews on temporary duty assignments to altitude chambers, and the costs of maintaining a chamber are approximately $120,000 per year. The use of an ROBD brings significant cost savings to the Air Force.

“With the ROBD we only have to have a crew of two individuals versus a unit of 15 individuals and only spend about $1,500 per year on maintenance costs,” said Nelson.

The physiology office personnel also serve as instructors and subject matter experts on the human factors that can affect personnel across the base.

“That expertise is also used to support ground personnel, maintenance, security forces, medical, etc.,” said Nelson. “We brief topics such as fatigue countermeasures, thermal stressors and situational awareness at various commander’s calls and venues, as needed,” said Nelson.

With a regional reach in the Southeast, the Aerospace and Operational Physiology Training Flight at Robins prepares our airmen for a global reach to support the warfighter.

“It’s rewarding to provide physiological training for any aircrew member who needs it,” said Nelson.