Teaching high-altitude safety at 50 feet below sea level

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Leigh Bellinger
  • Detachment 4, Air Force News Agency
An NCO from Ramstein AB is preparing Airmen for a flight up to 30,000 feet while never leaving the ground.

Master Sgt. Doug Schmidt takes his position outside the hyperbaric chamber while a dozen or so students inside strap on their oxygen masks in a training facility in a part of the Netherlands that is 50 feet below sea level.

It's all part of chamber training at the Royal Netherlands Air Force Center for Man and Aviation. Students from all over Europe get hands-on training in the Dutch-owned chamber. And it's here they learn about the importance of aerospace physiology.

Aerospace physiologists assigned to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe use the Center for Man and Aviation one week a month. It's part of a five-year agreement USAFE has with the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

"Aerospace physiology is where we bridge the gap between man and flight," Sergeant Schmidt said, "and make sure everybody is prepared for those threats that are up there at altitude."

Those threats up there in the wild blue yonder can include hypoxia, which is a loss of oxygen to the bloodstream.

"It's really a good hands-on time for them to become a little more familiar with the equipment that we talk about in theory in the classroom. And they actually have the opportunity to use the equipment," Sergeant Schmidt said.

That equipment includes the all-important oxygen mask. All students wear masks once inside the altitude chamber. Then a giant vacuum removes the air inside, reducing the barametric pressure and that simulates altitude.

The chamber can take students up to the danger zone where there is little oxygen. The students remove their masks and perform common tasks and wait for signs of hypoxia. Once they have a symptom or two they go back on oxygen. The effect is almost immediate.

One of the students, Tech. Sgt. Michael Overton, flies with a critical care air transport team back in Germany.

"I don't do enough of this to actually use the masks," Sergeant Overton said, "so if I have that ability and I'm able to take these classes so I learn, it's a plus."

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