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NEWS | Dec. 16, 2014

633rd AMDS makes a big change

By Airman 1st Class Devin Scott Michaels 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The 633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron used the hypobaric chamber for the last time at Langley Air Force Base on Thursday, Dec. 11. The 633rd AMDS used the hypobaric chamber to teach Service members how to recognize, endure and mitigate the symptoms of hypoxia and the physiological effects of a low-oxygen environment, such as the upper atmosphere.

Due to recent advancements in technology, the chamber is no longer the premier tool for the job. Instead, the 633rd AMDS recently switched to Reduced Oxygen Breathing Devices, which have been used for the past few months in a testing period.

The chamber is an air-tight, metal box with a decompression system and 18 re-breather masks, which feed pure oxygen to the students inside. As they breathe the air from the mask, a percentage of the air in the chamber is sucked out, simulating higher altitudes. The students remove their masks and breathe the decompressed air to induce hypoxia and other effects safely while the 633rd AMDS Airmen run cognitive and physical tests on them.

"These tests help them recognize the effects of hypoxia and the atmospheric condition," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Kernan, 633rd AMDS flight chief. "Showing them all the different ways lack of oxygen affects their body and mind prepares them for the worst, so they may realize the true dangers of an emergency situation, adapt and overcome."

The hypobaric chamber was capable of training 18 individuals in one hour, but it required nine people to operate. To increase the chamber's efficiency, Service members from around the nation would have to travel to Langley Air Force Base on temporary deployment to be trained in a class of 17 others.

"With the adoption of new technology, we no longer need to spend as much time and money training Service members for high-altitude missions," said Kernan. "Reduced Oxygen Breathing Devices will replace the hypobaric chamber because they are easier to use safely, require less manning, are less costly to operate and they cover more of the specifics involved in training pilots and aircrew members."

Unlike the chamber, the ROBDs don't use decompressed air to induce hypoxia. Instead, the devices induce hypoxia by changing the chemistry of the air that feeds into the mask. Each device only requires one technician, and it trains one student in a span of 30 minutes.

An ROBD training facility only requires one commissioned officer and two enlisted personnel. Other ROBD facilities will be established across the nation, so Service members do not need to travel to Langley Air Force Base on a temporary deployment, thus saving time and money, said Kernan.

In addition to its efficiency, it also provides a more varied training environment.

"An ROBD station uses a video game-like computer system to simulate a flight, and the station's components can be reorganized to replicate different planes' cockpits," said Kernan. "This shows pilots and other aircrew members exactly what type of situation they would be in while becoming hypoxic. This training is getting better with technology, and we hope it will help us save more lives."

For more information, call the 633rd AMDS at 764-7827.