Back to Rocket Science

Pilot training more efficient at McChord Field

Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device allows aircrews to experience hypoxia without leaving the ground

62d AW commander Col. David Kumashiro, pictured here with Capt. Julianne Gillespie, completed the ROBD training in late March. Courtesy photo

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Training at McChord Field recently became easier and more efficient with the addition of a new device that is indispensable to anyone in the aviation field.

The device's testing allows aircrew members to learn their own body's warning signs for hypoxia during flight. Hypoxia occurs when tissues in the body are deprived of oxygen; the lack of oxygen decreases the brain's ability to perform cognitively and can lead to loss of consciousness, which in turn, can lead to the tragic loss of lives as well as military assets.

Aircrew members and pilots must undergo the mandatory refresher training every five years, but previously that entailed travel to a hypobaric chamber, or altitude chamber. Now the airmen of the 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th AW can complete this training without going outside the gates.

Capt. Julianne Gillespie, a 62nd AW aerospace and operational physiologist, is in charge of the refresher testing, which is conducted on the newly acquired Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device (ROBD) at the McChord Field Medical Clinic.

"This training is quicker, more cost effective and safer since there is no risk of decompression sickness when using the ROBD," said Gillespie, who has a master's degree in clinical physiology and has received extensive training on aerospace physiology.

The ROBD allows aircrews to experience hypoxia without leaving the ground. The simulator can mirror almost every aircraft in the Air Force, allowing pilots to focus on a task they normally would while flying.

According to Gillespie, the ROBD is still very realistic; while the altitude chamber sucks the air out and creates hypobaric conditions, the ROBD ensures that the subject notices the effects of hypoxia on their own since the device will first be calibrated to an altitude of 25,000 feet at which point the subject will begin to receive seven percent oxygen, as opposed to 21 percent, through their masks. Therefore the pilots are never aware when they are off oxygen. When a pilot experiences hypoxia, the correct response is to either put on their oxygen mask or drop the aircraft below 10,000 feet.

Furthermore, using the ROBD costs the Air Force less than $60,000 per year, as opposed to the hefty $2 million price tag attached to the altitude chamber annually. Aircrew members will still have to experience the altitude chamber during technical school training, but subsequently they can use the ROBD throughout their careers.

The ROBD training is a combination of an academic portion, which is delivered first and lasts approximately 3.5 hours, that includes reminders on related safety topics and then the actual ROBD simulation, which takes between 20-30 minutes and is conducted one-on-one by Gillespie.

"They don't have these at every base or installation so this is great for us," she said.

As the closest physiologist with access to a ROBD, Gillespie has already conducted the training for almost 60 aircrew members since the training became operational at the end of January, including 62d AW commander Col. David Kumashiro. Most recently she worked with pilots from the Portland Air National Guard Station who traveled north to utilize the newest technology at McChord Field.

In fact, the ROBD training will be available to pilots and aircrews across JBLM as well as any other servicemembers in the region, regardless of branch, who require the refresher training.

comments powered by Disqus