Pilot students learn effects of oxygen deprivation
'Human factors' course deals with issue
By Keener A. Tippin II
Students in the professional pilot program at Kansas State University at Salina know what it is like to suffer the effects of hypoxia or oxygen deprivation.
In his "Human Factors" class, Ken Barnard, professor of aviation, teaches students how oxygen deprivation can affect them when flying a plane and what signs to look for, as well as procedures to follow when hypoxia is experienced.
"It's important that a pilot understands the physiology of his or her body and the effects to their respiration system when exposed to the atmosphere surrounding an aircraft during flight," Barnard said. "If an aircraft's pressurization system fails, they might experience hypoxia. Students need to know what they can do to prevent it, as well as know how to handle the situation if it should arise because in most cases there isn't much time before they would lose consciousness."
Barnard takes his class on an annual trip to the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City, Okla., to study the effects of hypoxia. At the institute, students learn about physiology and the related effects of flight on the body and the changes in gases in the atmosphere as they ascend and descend.
The institute also has an altitude chamber, which creates a high-altitude atmosphere environment. Students learn first-hand how oxygen deprivation affects them personally, and they also experience a rapid decompression from 25,000 feet to simulate the effects of an aircraft suddenly losing cabin pressure at that altitude.
"It's important they realize what symptoms they would encounter during flight if the cabin started decompressing because every person is affected differently," Barnard said. "This FAA training is invaluable because unless you experience it, you really don't know if you could react quick enough to get a mask on and get down to a lower altitude. This value-added experience is another tool to assist them to become a more safe and informed pilot."