PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- The Naval Survival Training Institute announced May 17, the Navy is fully integrating the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device (ROBD) into aviation hypoxia training as a bridge to the more permanent normobaric hypoxia (oxygen reduced) trainer.
The portable ROBD is replacing the large, room-sized low-pressure chambers that were decommissioned at all eight Aviation Survival Training Centers in March, said Capt. Michael Prevost, NSTI assistant officer in charge.
The ASTCs execute the Navy's aviation survival training program and are probably best known for their water survival training for pilots and flight crews. But they also train aviators to recognize the symptoms of hypoxia -- a condition in which the body is deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen. Instructors do that by inducing hypoxia in the aviators.
Typically when pilots become hypoxic, it can greatly affect their ability to fly a plane. Ask pilots what it feels like, and they may compare it to "not feeling right" or simply feeling "a bit strange." To put it medically, the signs and symptoms are quite varied but can range from lightheadedness and a tingling sensation to complete unconsciousness.
The decommissioned low-pressure chambers had been a part of aviation training since 1947. The chambers induced hypoxia by reducing the atmospheric pressure and oxygen level. However, physically changing the atmospheric pressure puts students at risk of decompression sickness, which typically occurs with a change in air pressure.
ROBD eliminates this risk. Instead of changing the atmospheric pressure, ROBD uses bottled gasses to feed an adjustable oxygen and nitrogen mixture to a pilot's oxygen mask to produce the atmospheric oxygen contents for altitudes up to 34,000 feet.
ROBD training is also more realistic. In the traditional low-pressure chambers, hypoxic pilots and flight crew members were required to perform tasks that required simple coordination. By contrast, ROBD can be packed up and taken to a fleet simulator, permitting context-specific hypoxia training.
"Instead of sitting in a low pressure chamber playing patty cake or playing with a shape box or something like that, we can put them at a set of aircraft controls and have them do aviation-type tasks," Prevost said.
Prevost explained hypoxia is the number-one human factors issue for the F/A-18 Hornet and for the commander of Naval Air Forces. He said ROBD addresses this issue by giving him and his team a much better way to train aviators for hypoxia. In addition to its mobility is its ability to allow the pilot train and re-train for hypoxia -- something that was rather limited with the low pressure chamber due to the reported cases of decompression sickness.
Low-pressure chambers are expensive to operate and maintain, and they have reached the end of their operational life. By shutting them down the ASTCs avoid the risk of pushing them structurally, Prevost said.
In decommissioning the giant, steel low-pressure chambers, the Navy is losing a longtime staple of the aviation training community. In its place is a more mobile and efficient tool. The shift to a less expensive, more efficient and permanent training solution will be complete by 2017. All pilots will use the ROBD trainer until the full implementation of normobaric hypoxia trainers occurs. Once those trainers are in place, only pilots who fly with masks will continue using the ROBD.
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