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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 Jul 1;115(1):145-9. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00094.2013. Epub 2013 Apr 18.

A strategy for in-flight measurements of physiology of pilots of high-performance fighter aircraft.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


Some pilots flying modern high-performance fighter aircraft develop "hypoxia-like" incidents characterized by short periods of confusion and cognitive impairment. The problem is serious and recently led to the grounding of a fleet of aircraft. Extensive discussions of the incidents have taken place but some people believe that there is inadequate data to determine the cause. There is a tremendous disconnect between what is known about the function of the aircraft and the function of the pilot. This paper describes a plan for measuring the inspired and expired Po2 and Pco2 in the pilot's mask, the inspiratory flow rate, and pressure in the mask. A critically important requirement is that the interference with the function of the pilot is minimal. Although extensive physiological measurements were previously made on pilots in ground-based experiments such as rapid decompression in an altitude chamber and increased acceleration on a centrifuge, in-flight measurements of gas exchange have not been possible until now primarily because of the lack of suitable equipment. The present paper shows how the recent availability of small, rapidly responding oxygen and carbon dioxide analyzers make sophisticated in-flight measurements feasible. The added information has the potential of greatly improving our knowledge of pilot physiology, which could lead to an explanation for the incidents.


G forces; acceleration atelectasis; cognitive impairment; gas exchange; hyperventilation; hypoxia

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