OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) set up a station designed to train pilots for a sudden loss of oxygen in the air, by walking them through a similar situation under the watchful eye of staff on the ground.
FAA Aerospace physiologist J.R. Brown explains the chamber is designed to simulate oxygen levels at 27,000 feet. At this altitude, he says the air is somewhere around 7% oxygen, about one-third of the 21% concentration typically found at sea level. He explains that exposure to such a low level of oxygen can cause serious problems for pilots, and can begin affecting them before they even realize what's going on.
“The problem with Hypoxia is you’ll have something called loss of effective performance time," Brown explained, "when you lose your effective performance time as a pilot, that means you lose vision, you lose hearing, you lose hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and especially judgment and decision making go downhill. The problem is, you don’t even feel these."
Brown cautions that the levels of hypoxia in the chamber can cause pilots to lose consciousness in under seven minutes, and can be fatal in under 25.
Eldridge Evangelista took part in one of the demonstrations. He said he felt dizzy within one minute of entering the chamber and had to put the mask on within four minutes. Evangelista said the experience was helpful in teaching him about the warning signs of hypoxia and just how serious it can be.
“It’s very serious number one…" he said, "...the moment you feel that first symptom, now that you know what your symptoms are, then you really need to make an effort to get that plane down or get some oxygen inside you.”
In order to avoid suffering from hypoxia, Brown encourages pilots to carry extra oxygen when flying above 12,500 feet.