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What happens to fighter pilots' brains at high altitudes , BBC News

Yrys

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Nothing new in the article, I presume, for most folks, except maybe the 3min 30s video


Altitude and that woozy feeling

"I'm in a simulated altitude chamber under the watchful eye of Des Connolly of QinetiQ's Human Performance division,
and they're about to suck most of the air out.

It's all perfectly safe - for much of my simulated journey into the skies I'll be wearing a mask that provides air, much like
the one fighter pilots wear. But for four minutes, I'll drop that mask and see how it feels to breathe the thin air at
7,600 metres (25,000 feet).

QinetiQ carries out such tests on fighter pilots to instruct them on the effects of hypoxia, or oxygen starvation. They also
use the chamber to test life-support systems for high-flying jets such as the Typhoon, systems which are designed to
whip into action in the event of sudden depressurisation.

The symptoms are mild, and they rob the mind of the ability to reason, so if it sneaks up on you, hypoxia will have you
unconscious and then dead before you notice a thing. At the altitudes that a Typhoon can fly, that time could be as little
as five seconds. Luckily, I've got physiologist and pilot Tim D'Oyly at my side in the chamber to watch over the proceedings.

Last gasp

The problem is that there's less oxygen at higher altitudes (and less nitrogen and less of everything else). At 5,500 metres,
there is just half as much as at sea level. As a result, passenger planes are kept pressurised - but only to an equivalent
altitude of around 2,000 metres. Building a plane that could maintain full, sea-level pressure inside with drastically decreased
pressure outside at altitude would make them bulkier and more expensive.

Which means that if you've flown by plane, you'll have experienced the same symptoms I did: ears popping and the need
to clear them (that sort of yawning that one does to equalise the pressure across both sides of the eardrum, I learned, is
called the Frenzel manoeuvre). But as the air was sucked noisily out of the chamber and we quickly ascended to an
equivalent altitude of 7,600 metres (25,000 feet), I encountered first-hand experience of the ideal gas law that relates
temperature, pressure, and volume: it got cold.

Once we reached cruising altitude, I dropped the mask and got immediately to work on a number of tasks as my blood
used up the oxygen floating around in my blood and the tiny amount in the air. My time without the mask on was called
out in 30-second, and then later, 15-second intervals. I wrote down my address, tried a spot-the-difference exercise,
and was asked to remember a four-digit number.

When I started hyperventilating, my body's attempt to take in more air, I didn't even notice. Apparently I had taken on
a sickly grey colour, as had my fingernail beds, and my blood oxygen level plummeted from 99% before the exercise
to just 61%. I, however, felt like I was doing pretty well. The worst I felt was a bit of a warm flush, as if much of me
was blushing. Near the four-minute mark, I found myself literally trying to put a square peg in a round hole; this child's
toy is a popular test of cognition in hypoxic scenarios such as this.

The result? My handwriting went way downhill, I didn't spot the differences very well, and only remembered two of the four
digits when I was asked later. When I put the mask back on and got my first blast of blessed sea-level air, I had the worst
case of seeing stars I've ever experienced.

I think it safe to say that until I've had much more training, no one should put me in the cockpit of a fighter plane.
But I'll keep at it."

 

PPCLI Guy

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Fighter pilots have brains?  I thought it was all "package"...
 
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aesop081

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I remember being in the chamer in Winnipeg. When i put my mask back on, the coulour returned to my vision. I had not even noticed that everything had gone black and white !!
 

dapaterson

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PPCLI Guy said:
Fighter pilots have brains?  I thought it was all "package"...

Fighter pilots have at least the same brains as infantrymen.


Not that I'm disagreeing with you...


 

Fishbone Jones

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dapaterson said:
Fighter pilots have at least the same brains as infantrymen

.....but it's jammed way in the back of the skull by the monsterous ego that occupies the same space ;D
 

PMedMoe

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Magic said:
Here is a good example of Hypoxia. You can see the rapid deterioration of the pilots cognitive thinking. Its funny to watch but scary as well. Look at 2:40 how confused and disorientated he is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLQMupV3DLk

Interesting stuff.

If my eyes aren't deceiving me, when he says two of hearts, isn't that the two of spades?
 

Magic

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PMedMoe said:
If my eyes aren't deceiving me, when he says two of hearts, isn't that the two of spades?

Exactly, you see the mental symptoms of hypoxia, disorientation and confusion in this case.
 

PMedMoe

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Magic said:
Exactly, you see the mental symptoms of hypoxia, disorientation and confusion in this case.

I just thought it was very early in the video, but you don't know how long his mask has been off.
 

Magic

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I would assume it was very early in the testing since he was very responsive, However, turned sour quickly.
 
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aesop081

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PMedMoe said:
I just thought it was very early in the video, but you don't know how long his mask has been off.

Everyone is affected at different rates. It took a bit for me to start getting confused but the guy next to me was out to lunch very early on.
 

Ex-Dragoon

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CDN Aviator said:
Everyone is affected at different rates. It took a bit for me to start getting confused but the guy next to me was out to lunch very early on.

Thats a first ;)
 

snyper21

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Hey guys I just have a question about getting selected to fly fighters. I met this pilot trainee last summer and he told me that the guys who select people to fly fighters much prefer ones who have graduated from RMC. Also, watching Jetstream I noticed that all of the pilots were from RMC. Can anyone verify this for me? Thanks.
 

pipstah

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snyper21 said:
Hey guys I just have a question about getting selected to fly fighters. I met this pilot trainee last summer and he told me that the guys who select people to fly fighters much prefer ones who have graduated from RMC. Also, watching Jetstream I noticed that all of the pilots were from RMC. Can anyone verify this for me? Thanks.
        The selection is a very complexe process. There's alot of stuff put into considerations as for exemple: course ranking, attitude....

        As for my personnal experience, I was surprised to be one of the youngest on my course in Moose Jaw at 26 years old. Wich mean, there was alot of people in the 30's and 40's. That being said, those people tend to have a family. Sometimes the said family doesnt want to be stuck between the two jets bases. But in the other hand, a fresh RMC guy with no girlfriend, baby to take care of, will be more focused and able to go through a demanding course like the F-18 OTU. That is my personnal point of view.

          The last thing I would say is: the biggest factor is how many put that now has their first choice...  ;)
 

SupersonicMax

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snyper21 said:
Hey guys I just have a question about getting selected to fly fighters. I met this pilot trainee last summer and he told me that the guys who select people to fly fighters much prefer ones who have graduated from RMC. Also, watching Jetstream I noticed that all of the pilots were from RMC. Can anyone verify this for me? Thanks.

Where did you meet that guy?
 

Steel Badger

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Let us not forget that fighter pilot's brains are subject to other conditions: consider for example high G turns....





SB







 

retiredgrunt45

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I liked this one, The pilot says tall skinny guys pass right out when pulling G's, but short bald fat guys who drink lots of beer and eat plenty of red meat, just take it all in stride, shake their heads and keep on going. I'm one of those bald short fat guys  ;D Must be all that cholesterol keeping the blood from draining out of my brain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJi1vi9XHWY&NR=1
 

Good2Golf

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retiredgrunt45 said:
I liked this one, The pilot says tall skinny guys pass right out when pulling G's, but short bald fat guys who drink lots of beer and eat plenty of red meat, just take it all in stride, shake their heads and keep on going. I'm one of those bald short fat guys  ;D Must be all that cholesterol keeping the blood from draining out of my brain

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJi1vi9XHWY&NR=1

True, big time.  My jet instructor was an ex CF-5 pilot, about 5'2", stocky and could take G all day long without even a whisper of the M1 'grunt'.  I, on the other hand, at 6'2" and as they say in Texas, "a tall drink of water"...had to work hard to even try keeping up with my instructor in the G department.

G2G
 
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