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Aircrew training device saves AMC time, money

Staff Sgt. Katherine Stanton, 15th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, completes one-on-one hypoxia training in the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device and Hypoxia Familiarization Trainer. For the training, Airmen fly a C-17 flight task simulation as the ROBD precisely mixes nitrogen and reduced oxygen to equivalent oxygen concentrations at higher altitudes. This allows Airmen to see how hypoxia affects their motor skills and to experience their symptoms in a low risk environment.

Staff Sgt. Katherine Stanton, a 15th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, completes one-on-one hypoxia training in the reduced oxygen breathing device and hypoxia familiarization trainer. During this training, Airmen fly a C-17 flight task simulation as the ROBD precisely mixes nitrogen and reduced oxygen to equivalent oxygen concentrations at higher altitudes. This allows Airmen to see how hypoxia affects their motor skills and to experience their symptoms in a low risk environment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. William A. O’Brien)

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (AFNS) -- Members of Joint Base Charleston celebrated the standup of the Total Force Aerospace and Operational Physiology Team along with the unveiling of the reduced oxygen breathing device (ROBD) and hypoxia familiarization trainer during a ceremony here May 2, 2017.

The ROBD is used to provide 437th and 315th Airlift Wing aircrews with aerospace physiology refresher training. Hypoxia is a lack of oxygen rich blood supply at the tissue level.

“While an altitude chamber induces hypoxia by decreasing the total pressure surrounding an individual, the ROBD functions by delivering a breathing mixture with reduced oxygen,” said Lt. Col. Trevor Schar, the 628th Medical Group vice commander. “This method removes all risks to conditions associated with exposure to low barometric pressure such as the bends or ear and sinus blocks.”

By using the device, Airmen receive their five-year required physiology training in a realistic simulation, locally and without the risks associated with the hypobaric chamber.

"This is a more accurate representation of what would be happening if I were to experience hypoxia," said Staff Sgt. Katherine Stanton, a 15th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "In the aircraft, I would be wearing this mask during High Altitude Low Opening operations and performing airdrop tasks, which are not simulated in the hypobaric chamber, so this gives me a realistic situation to test my reaction to hypoxia."

The ROBD will save nearly $225,000 and 240 days of manpower annually because aircrews requiring the training will no longer need to travel to the nearest available altitude chamber. The hypoxia demonstration in the ROBD takes 30 minutes compared to almost two hours in the altitude chamber.

“This device epitomizes Airmen seeking innovation,” said Lt. Col. Erin Meinders, the 437th Operations Group vice commander. “There was no plan for any of this even a few years ago and then a few squadron commanders identified an inefficiency and took action to correct it. These are the results of those actions.”

The ROBD provides Airmen with one-on-one hypoxia training. Airmen fly a C-17 flight task simulation as the ROBD precisely mixes nitrogen and reduced oxygen to equivalent oxygen concentrations at higher altitudes. This allows Airmen to see how hypoxia affects their motor skills and to experience their symptoms in a low risk environment.

“Everyone’s symptoms are different,” said Maj. Kasie Gaona, an Air Force reservist. “This training allows each student to experience their own unique symptoms in a task specific environment.”

The second portion of the hypoxia training demonstrates the effects of low oxygen on night vision. During the training, oxygen levels are slowly decreased while Airmen, in the dark, are looking at a color wheel. After a few minutes, 100 percent oxygen is administered and Airman typically see a great improvement in their vision.

About 1,200 members of Joint Base Charleston will receive training using the ROBD each year. In its first day of operation, five Airmen received training on the device.

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