Sunday, April 14, 2013

Week Two: Bye-Bye Physio, Hello Systems

Hello again,

This week was a pretty interesting one, and overall went pretty well. On Tuesday we had our altitude chamber flight. For anyone who doesn't know what that is, imagine getting into a very large steel box the size of a small room. Once you're all set up in your oxygen mask, the room is closed off and depressurized, allowing them to "bring you up to altitude" by sucking air out of the room. This has a couple of different effects: your ears will start to pop because of the pressure differential between the room and your body, and the quantity of oxygen in the room would rapidly decline. The whole point is to demonstrate how much our bodies rely on oxygen and how it affects our mental acuity.

Before ascending, we had to breathe for 30 minutes on 100% oxygen. Normally when we breathe we take in more nitrogen than oxygen because that's just how the atmosphere is. But when you go to a significantly lower pressure level too quickly, nitrogen bubbles can possibly leave our blood and go into the joints, causing decompression sickness (aka "the bends"). Not good. So they had us take the precaution of eliminating as much nitrogen from our systems as possible.

Once we reached 25,000 feet in altitude, we had to remove our oxygen masks and see how we reacted from the lack of oxygen (aka hypoxia). I had already experienced this due to my altitude chamber flight as a four-degree at the Academy, so I knew what to expect. My symptoms are a really warm feeling throughout my body, noticeably increased heart rate, and eventually a feeling of relaxation and calmness. This last one is really bad in an airplane, because imagine flying around at high speeds feeling completely relaxed and lazy, all the while losing oxygen until you pass out. Reeeeeally not good. So in the future if for some reason I start to go hypoxic I know what to look for. Or feel for, in this case. My hands started to shake visibly as well this time, so that's another good sign.

We also had some other cool practical things in Aerospace Physiology this week. We did our Fighter Aircrew Conditioning Test, which is a baseline test measuring your anaerobic physical fitness. If I track to the T-38 after the T-6 (which I want to), I will have to take this again. The increased forces on the human body in a fighter plane require you to be in peak physical condition, so it'll be important to keep up a good workout regimen over the next year.

The T-38 Talon, the aircraft you train on after T-6s IF you're selected to go fighters.

We also did our parachute training course, which was pretty fun. Having done the jump program at USAFA, I have some experience with this. We had to demonstrate a Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) which is how you're supposed to fall to the ground when you're landing with a parachute. We also went through parachute operating procedures while hanging from a harness, and of course, got dragged around (by our buddies) in order to practice detaching from a parachute if you're being dragged across the ground by the wind (which would probably happen if you had to eject in Oklahoma, because the wind is ridiculous).

Our last physiology test was this week as well, and I busted my 100% streak by missing a couple questions. But I still passed, and that's all that really matters. That was it for Aerospace Physiology! The real stuff is just beginning...

The first block of academics is called Systems. To give you a sense of this exhilarating block of study, I will ask you a question. Picture your car. Now tell me the route a gas molecule takes, starting from the gas tank and ending with the exhaust. In detail. Can you do that? Well, that's the level of knowledge we're expected to have, just with the T-6. And the fuel system is only ONE we have to know (that's why they call it Systems... emphasis on the last 's'). So we've spent the week learning the propulsion system, fuel system, electrical system, hydraulic system, and flight control system. Seriously fun stuff right here. And! Systems 2 is next week. Woot.

Ahh... the beloved hydraulic system diagram.

The method of instruction is even better. The majority of information given to us is presented in these things called CAIs. Computer Aided Training. So basically you click through a computer program that gives you all the information you'll need to know, with little pictures and diagrams. It's not TOO bad, it actually does a good job of explaining everything. But gone are the days of humans teaching humans it seems haha. We still have instructors to teach us, but it's mostly in a review format. I had a bit of trouble during the first hydraulics CAI... And my classmates deemed it fitting to capture the moment for me and put it on Facebook.

Pressure release valve... selector manifold... actuator lever...

The good thing is you can do CAIs at whatever pace you want.

The last couple of cool things this week were visiting the T-6 maintenance hangar to check out the plane we'll be flying in a little less than a month. And then our first simulator "ride", in which we sat in a stationary cockpit of the T-6 and went through all of the switches, levers, buttons, and dials we'll be pressing in some form or another. "Switchology" as it's called. So that was pretty awesome. I didn't take any pictures unfortunately. I'll try to grab some in the future.

Besides that we had an ice storm, so that was cool. And then like two days later it was warm and sunny.

That's it for this week. Sorry for the wordiness, but the details are what make it interesting!

Stay classy,

~ Dakota

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