U.S. Military Tackles Vexing Issue of Physiological Episodes

The U.S. military has confirmed one thing: the physiological episodes (PEs) that pilots occasionally experience because of oxygen deprivation or decompression sickness present a “complex, perplexing issue,” to use the Navy’s words. A spate of recent incidents involving high-performance Navy as well as Air Force jets suggests that PEs are a recurring condition the services need to manage and not a problem they can simply fix.

There is also a wild card in the deck—the human in the loop known as the pilot. “There is no fixing the human; every human reacts differently to every situation,” Capt. Cliff Blumenberg, head of the Navy’s aerospace medicine branch, told reporters during a September teleconference. “Even the same person in the same aircraft on different days or different flights might experience a physiologic episode at one time and maybe not the next flight. It depends on what you’re doing, how hydrated you are, how well rested you are, what else is going on in your life. Do you have a mild cold that you didn’t recognize?”




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