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U.S. Air Force Maj. Tom “Vito” Massa (right), 633rd Aerospace Medical Squadron Physiological Flight commander, flies an F-22 Raptor profile on a reduced oxygen breathing device with assistance from 1st Lt. Kimberly Dowd (left), 633rd Aerospace Medical Squadron aerospace physiologist, at the Physiological Training Center at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Feb. 14, 2012. The ROBD exposes aviators to lower concentrations of oxygen, mimicking atmospheric gaseous concentrations at various altitudes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John D. Strong II/Released)
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Got oxygen?

Posted 2/21/2012   Updated 2/23/2012 Email story   Print story


by 1st Lt. Kim Dowd
633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron

2/21/2012 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- A lack of oxygen can lead to disastrous results for pilots; so training is crucial in order to recognize the symptoms and side effects. The 633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron is the latest Air Force unit to upgrade its equipment to train Langley's aviators.

Aerospace physiologists at the 633rd AMDS, and across the Air Force, are utilizing a new, high-tech Hypoxia Familiarization Trainer, Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device. The new trainer exposes aviators to lower concentrations of oxygen, mimicking atmospheric gaseous concentrations at various altitudes.

The primary concern for aviators when they are flying at high altitudes is hypoxia, which is "a state of oxygen deficiency, sufficient to cause impairment." In other words, you begin to lose mental and physical functions when the amount of oxygen delivered to the brain and extremities is significantly reduced.

In the past, aviators received hypoxia training in a steel chamber. The science behind the chamber encompasses unpressurized flight, essentially sucking the air out of the chamber to reduce the partial pressure of oxygen in the air at that altitude. Potential concerns are the threat of Decompression Sickness and trapped gases because barometric pressure is altered.

These problems are eliminated with the use of the ROBD. Pilots using the ROBD become hypoxic through mixed concentrations of nitrogen, oxygen and air. The ROBD produces oxygen concentrations equivalent of air at given altitudes, which are programmed in the system.

The training objective of the ROBD is the same as the chamber: to experience/recognize signs and symptoms of hypoxia and execute aircraft specific emergency procedures to correct the problem. However, a benefit of the HFT is it is more realistic; aircrews are actively involved in flying tasks and train on the same oxygen equipment they utilize in their aircraft. They complete the training in a flight simulator and perform basic maneuvering and handling skills, all while becoming hypoxic.

The ROBD has been an integral player in maintaining local training requirements for F-22 Raptor pilots, who are put through a gradual onset hypoxia profile along with a night demo. The profile allows pilots to feel what it is like to become mildly hypoxic at night to see if their symptoms differ from those experienced during the daytime profile. Both scenarios help enhance pilots' situational awareness of how their bodies experience hypoxia, which helps them recognize potential problems and initiate the proper safety procedures.

What's in store for the future? A new training device, the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Environment may be the next great thing here. Essentially, aircrews would be sitting in a "tent" where the atmospheric gases inside are altered to those at given altitudes, again with the objective of recognition and correction for hypoxia.

Aircrews would be able to perform mental and physical tasks in this environment as they become hypoxic. Machines extract oxygen from the environment to induce hypoxia without hypobaric pressure changes. The ROBE would allow training of various customers, such as enlisted aircrew, intelligence personnel, medics and high-altitude parachutists.

If you have any additional questions or would like more information, check out the BSC Knowledge Exchange website at, or contact your local physiologist.

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