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JBSA News
NEWS | March 7, 2013

New simulator targets hypoxia symptoms

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Members of the 359th Aerospace-Medicine Squadron Aerospace Physiology and Operational Flight have a new tool to help aircrews combat the effects of hypoxia, and they are poised to take their knowledge to other bases.

The hypoxia familiarization trainer is a multiple-airframe simulator that, used in conjunction with a reduced oxygen breathing device, allows aircrew members to recognize and respond to the symptoms of hypoxia due to changes in altitude. Hypoxia, an oxygen deficiency, results in a range of symptoms, from dizziness and fatigue to nausea and mental confusion.

One of the advantages of the hypoxia familiarization trainer is that it offers an alternative to the altitude chamber, Tech. Sgt. Andre Scott, 359th AMDS Aerospace and Operational Physiology Flight craftsman, said.

"We decrease the risk of pilots getting decompression sickness," he said. "They're no longer exposed to that environment."

Scott said the hypoxia familiarization trainer is also "more realistic for them than an altitude chamber.

"This actually simulates what they'd be doing," he said.

According to Air Force Instruction 11-403, the reduced oxygen breathing device, which is integrated into the hypoxia familiarization trainer, produces normobaric hypoxia by delivering a precise mixture of nitrogen and reduced oxygen from pressurized cylinders.

Using the reduced oxygen breathing device control interface, instructors choose the appropriate training profile to control the altitude and concentration of oxygen in the gas mixture that will be delivered to aviators' oxygen masks.

"The reduced oxygen breathing device's altitude limit is 34,000 feet, but we stop at 25,000 feet for the hypoxia demonstration," Scott said.

Sitting in the "cockpit" of the hypoxia familiarization trainer, pilots are able to experience the symptoms of hypoxia and meet other AFI 11-403 objectives, including the performance of "aircraft-specific emergency procedures" and the demonstration of the "correct positive pressure breathing technique during emergency oxygen activation."

Another benefit of the hypoxia familiarization trainer is that it can simulate every Air Force aircraft, Scott said.

"That makes hypoxia training more realistic and compatible," he said.

Hypoxia training is designed for aircrew members who need refresher training, or about every five years, Scott said. That includes mission crew members such as loadmasters, boom operators, flight engineers and linguists.

The aerospace physiology flight has had the hypoxia familiarization trainer since November, when a team from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., assembled the equipment, Scott said. Maj. Dan Roberts, 359th AMDS Aerospace and Operational Physiology Flight commander, trained other flight members on the hypoxia familiarization trainer.

Two aircrew members have received hypoxia familiarization training so far, Scott said, "but we will start using it more and more."

Roberts, Scott and other flight members are part of a mobile training team visiting other bases that have acquired hypoxia familiarization trainers. The presence of hypoxia familiarization trainers on bases throughout the Air Force will save the service money, Roberts said.

"The hypoxia familiarization trainer is cost-effective, especially by reducing temporary duty costs in locations that do not have an altitude chamber," he said.

Like Scott, Roberts noted that hypoxia familiarization trainers do not subject aircrew members to the risk of decompression sickness or having their ears or sinuses damaged. He also said hypoxia familiarization trainers provide more realistic training.