Thanks to Industry Partners, Student Pilots Learn How to Recognize Hypoxia While in Flight

Isabella Hinz is a professional pilot major in the College of Aeronautics and Engineering who is learning firsthand everything she needs to know about flying an airplane, including how dangerous it is when your oxygen levels drop in high altitudes.

Hinz had the opportunity to experience the condition hypoxia in the Hypoxia Recognition Training/Portable Reduced Oxygen Training Enclosure (PROTE) that was available Dec. 6-9 at the FedEx Aeronautics Academic Center at Kent State Airport. 

Hypoxia is a condition that occurs when a person is deprived of oxygen, which can be fatal if untreated. People may experience this when flying at high altitudes in an unpressurized aircraft.

Six specialists from the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, ran the event, according to Ben Satyshur, aviation safety program manager at the FedEx Aeronautics Academic Center. The FAA Safety Team at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport also hosted the event in partnership with the College of Aeronautics and Engineering. The training illustrates the deep partnerships that the college shares with the aviation industry.

Hinz, a sophomore from Cary, North Carolina, recognized her hypoxia symptoms after one minute and 30 seconds in the training enclosure and administered oxygen to herself. Here she is talking with Kent State Today about the experience.

The enclosure simulates a high-altitude environment with a ground-based excursion flight up to an altitude of 25,000 feet by reducing the percentage of oxygen in the air. The event is intended to train pilots on aeromedical factors associated with hypoxia and high-altitude operations, giving pilots a chance to experience their own unique symptoms first-hand in a controlled environment.

About 180 pilots were expected to go through the training over four days. Pilots had to have a valid FAA Class I, II or III medical certificate to participate. The Stow fire, police and EMS departments were informed of the training in the rare event that any medical issues arose, according to Satyshur. 

A briefing was held before the flight that explained how the enclosure operates along with the signs and symptoms to look out for.

Once participants entered the training enclosure they were asked to check off their hypoxia symptoms and their current oxygen saturations using a pulse oximeter. Participants will be able to stay off of oxygen for up to five to seven minutes.

Izzy Wilks, 34, of Cleveland Heights, is a flight instructor who heard about the hypoxia training and came to Kent State to participate. Here Wilks got the full effect of what hypoxia can do to your body.

Wilks said it was interesting to experience how dangerous hypoxia can be and he is grateful that Kent State hosted this lab.

“I did this for the awareness of what I might experience in an airplane,” Wilks said. “I felt pretty okay up until that point. It was very enlightening to see how quickly it can go from fine to not okay."

Photo Credit: By Bob Christy

POSTED: Thursday, December 7, 2023 12:45 PM
Updated: Friday, December 8, 2023 03:49 PM
April McClellan-Copeland