Navy, Air Force Team Up to Get to Bottom of Oxygen Deprivation Among Pilots

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor departs the runway May 9, 2017, while a U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet and another F-22 crawl up the ramp in preparation for takeoff. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Gordinier)
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor departs the runway May 9, 2017, while a U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet and another F-22 crawl up the ramp in preparation for takeoff. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Gordinier)

VIRGINIA BEACH -- The Navy and the Air Force are teaming up to get to the root cause of oxygen deprivation among its pilots, which officials have said is their biggest safety concern in aviation.

Pilots flying the Navy's F/A-18 Super Hornets and the Air Force's F-22 Raptors have reported in recent years experiencing hypoxia-like symptoms while flying, and solving it has proved difficult for both branches.

Hampton Roads is home to both aircraft, with Super Hornets based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach and Raptors at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.

Hypoxia symptoms include nausea, tingling, fatigue and disorientation. Pilots also have been experiencing decompression sickness, which causes double vision, headaches, dizziness and other issues. Broadly, the episodes typically are related to unscheduled pressure changes or pilots breathing gas.

"We want to gather and share as much information as possible to bring viable solutions to the table," said Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman in a statement. "This joint effort will help us to minimize risk faster and smarter. We owe it to our aviators. This partnership will help us tackle the complexities of physiological episodes on a broader scale by eliminating redundant efforts and maximizing the application of resources. It's a win-win across the board."

The Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, is already building several aircraft-specific life support system simulators to reproduce the breathing environments of the T-45 and F/A-18 aircraft. The facility's new respiratory physiology laboratory will study the effects of variable breathing gas mixtures, in-line breathing resistance, breathing gas pressure and flow disruptions, as well as flight equipment fit on aircrew physiology and cognitive function, according to the Navy.

The Air Force announced the new partnership, called the Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team, at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

"Adopting a common team name, creating the Joint PEAT and better leveraging our joint data, research and resources will improve safety and combat readiness," said Brig. Gen. Edward Vaughan, AF-PEAT leader.

The services broadly refer to the incidents as physiological episodes and the Navy already has a website dedicated to it at https://www.navy.mil/local/PEs/. The Air Force said that site will soon be co-branded and include Air Force physiological episode information as well as new joint findings.

This article is written by Brock Vergakis from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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