LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Capable of flying at high speeds and altitudes, pilots perform one of the most exciting and dangerous jobs the military has to offer. Flying like this is no easy task, and requires special equipment and techniques to do it successfully. But what happens when that equipment becomes faulty and a pilot's life is on the line? That’s where the Air Force’s aerospace physiology career field steps in to help instruct and train pilots on what to do in case of these emergencies.
“We are kind of a hidden gem,” said Senior Airman Jada Peters, 47th Operations Support Squadron aerospace physiology technician. “Not many people know about us, but we are an essential part of every pilot's flying journey.”
Peters and the rest of her team, work hard to teach our student pilots techniques and skills to stay safe and alert during flight. Being one of the first steps in a student’s journey, they are one of the most important instructors the students interact with on the way to earning their wings.
“We’re the first stop in undergraduate pilot training,” said Peters. “We teach the students basic knowledge about the equipment they will be using to fly. We also teach them about situational awareness, fatigue management, altitude threats like hypoxia, and more. The information we provide these pilots introduces and prepares them for what they will be experiencing in an actual flight and the techniques that can help save their lives.”
The aerospace physiology flight utilizes many pieces of equipment to educate the necessary skills to fly safely. These include aircraft seats, so students can be trained to successfully strap into the seat and simulate safely ejecting from the aircraft. They also have a Barany chair, which spins the student, disturbing their vestibular system and creating spatial awareness illusions. This chair can also help pilots get over their air sickness. Aerospace physiology teaches parachute procedures like swing-and-drag landing training in case a pilot has to egress from the aircraft they have the proper body technique for each type of landing environment. A hypobaric chamber is also used to allow pilots to experience hypoxia for the first time and learn the symptoms they may experience.
“We have the students get into the hypobaric chamber, which simulates them going up into the air and losing oxygen,” said Peters. “Whenever the body loses oxygen, it causes them to go hypoxic, and there are many different symptoms of that depending on each person. They can include tingling, hot or cold flashes, dizziness, and more. We train these students to recognize these symptoms in case they ever lose pressurization during a flight, so they know what to do next for their safety.”
The Laughlin aerospace physiology team was recognized for how well they train students and the part they play in the mission of preparing the world's best pilots. By achieving “Aerospace Physiology Flight of the Year” for 2022 in the entire Air Force.
“We attribute this to our willingness to consistently support the entire Department of Defense and international partners to provide aircrew training for members across the world,” said Master Sergeant Nathan Higgens, 47th Operations Support Squadron aerospace physiology flight chief. “In addition to our primary mission of providing world-class training to our student pilots.”
Aerospace physiology technicians study and train hard to make sure that each student pilot is provided the essential techniques and skills for mission success. Aerospace physiology technical training school is held at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
“In technical training school, we learn all the ins and outs about the body and how it works,” said Peters. “Then towards the end, we go through the hypobaric chamber ourselves to experience what we’ve learned and get familiar with what we are teaching.”
While there is a lot of knowledge to remember and training to be done, the job comes with great career opportunities.
“I’ve been on multiple temporary duty (TDY) assignments where I had the opportunity to help train Special Warfare Airmen, I’ve gone through special training courses involving night vision goggles, and things like that,” said Peters.
There are also great benefits and learning opportunities to take advantage of.
“My favorite aspect of the job is that I am always learning something new and that I am able to help each of our student pilots get over whatever hurdles they are facing in their flying careers,” said Peters. “This job has also really helped me with my public speaking skills and has boosted my confidence, so I am also really proud of that.”
Aerospace physiology is an essential part of every pilot’s journey that comes with a lot of responsibility; however, it’s very rewarding.
“It feels great to be able to help our pilots succeed,” said Peters. “I’ve run into some people I’ve trained outside of work, and they’ll say ‘your spatial disorientation training really helped me because I actually experienced this when I was in the aircraft,’ and things like that. It’s very rewarding to see the impact we have on the student pilots who come through our training.”