Indra and iAltitude, a Spanish company specialising in high altitude sports training, have developed the world’s first simulator aimed at training military pilots to identify and counter hypoxia in the cockpit. The innovative system will be installed at the Aerospace Medical Instruction Centre (AMIC) and will train Spanish Air Force pilots to detect the symptoms of hypoxia – a dangerous state brought about by lack of oxygen that can cause loss of consciousness in just a few seconds.
The simulator recreates, in a controlled manner, the conditions that cause hypoxia in high-altitude flights and measures pilots' physical and cognitive reaction while completing a mission. It will help them detect symptoms to react to a situation that, while exceptional, would be critical for their safety.
Pressure in a combat aircraft cockpit decreases as the aircraft gains altitude, thereby reducing the oxygen availability in the air. To overcome this problem, pilots use a backup oxygen mask to breathe but, if something fails, they must be able to identify the symptoms that precede hypoxia. They will be able to react quickly only if they receive adequate training.
To this end, Indra has integrated iAltitude's normobaric hypoxia equipment in the C101 jet, the same aircraft in which Spanish pilots train before they take control of an F18 or TYPHOON. This system regulates the oxygen concentration pilots receive through their mask, reducing it progressively to analyse their resistance and reaction capacity. Instructors can monitor trainee pilots’ physical and cognitive response in real time: any change in their physiological variables or in the speed with which they react to the stimuli will be recorded for analysis.
With these data, AMIC will have one of the most advanced tools available to design training programmes and strengthen pilots’ skills, abilities and safety. To date, hypoxia has been conducted mainly in sealed hypobaric and normobaric chambers, in which the trainee can perform exercises to detect loss of ability, without any direct linkage to flight-related tasks. This new system will offer a more realist environment.