NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Aerospace medicine does more than keep aircrews fit to accomplish their day-to-day operations.
The 99th Aerospace Medicine Squadron performs a number of operations ranging from certifying aircrew medically to responding to medical emergencies on the flightline. They are also responsible for certifying, maintaining and treating all pilots, aircrew and flightline workers in support of flying operations.
Although medicine is in the name, the squadron does much more than that, said Maj. (Dr.) Kenji Takano, 99th AMDS flight surgeon.
“It is medicine, but it’s also a lot of physiology and understanding of the occupational and physical stresses that [aircrew members] face out there,” he said.
One way AMDS Airmen accomplish this mission is by experiencing firsthand what the fliers go through mentally and physically through a variety of training opportunities.
“We also experience the [altitude chamber], where it simulates going up in elevation,” said Staff Sgt. Natllely Quintero, 99th AMDS aerospace medicine service technician. “We feel all the physiological symptoms and [gaseous changes] in our body.”
The altitude chamber provides a controlled environment where aircrews learn to recognize what their individual physiological responses are to a low oxygen environment.
The Airmen also get to conduct familiarization training with the various aircraft here in order to understand their differences.
“The key about flight surgeons is they fly with the units,” Takano said. “They hang out at the squadron, they fly with these guys, and they understand what these guys go through every day. “
This familiarization gives the flight surgeons a better understanding of what pilots’ bodies go through when flying, as well as giving the doctors an advantage in understanding the pilots’ needs.
According to Takano, Nellis is different from other bases in the fact that it has so many different airframes; ranging from HH-60 Pave Hawks to F-16 Fighting Falcons to F-15 Eagles to F-15E Strike Eagles to A-10 Thunderbolt IIs to F-22 Raptors to F-35 to F-35 Lighting IIs.
“An entire base is dedicated to the RPA mission,” the doctor said. “We take care of all the operators and flyers in those missions.”
Also, every aircraft causes its own type of medical issues.
“Fighter pilots have a lot of neck issues, [and] helo guys get a lot of back issues. There’s a lot of work related stressors and sleep issues that happen to our [RPA] community,” the doctor said. “Being deployed at home is not easy.”
The ability to see firsthand what aircrew experience really helps Quintero relate to them.
“I have a lot of respect for [pilots] and any flier as to what they do, what their bodies go through and their work,” she said. “It’s a lot of wear and tear on the body from hearing to their back.”
One reason aircrews receive so much wear and tear on their body is the environments they work in.
“The aviation environment is a very harsh environment – very loud, very cold,” Takano said. “For instance some of the altitudes those jets fly at … if the pilots were exposed to the environments at those altitudes, they would have seconds to live. For instance, I fly with the helo squadron, the 34th [Weapons Squadron], they fly HH-60s. It’s not just a helicopter ride like you see the news crews do where there talking about the traffic. It’s a lot of vibration, it’s a lot of temperature extremes, very cold to very hot.
“It’s hard on you; it’s not an easy place to function.”
The 99th AMDS uses all the tools they have available to keep Airmen safe and healthy.
“The Air Force has spent a lot of time and money to train these people to do what they do, and we have to work hard to keep them up there and insure flight safety,” Takano said. “Our overall mission is to keep the fliers flying.”
From first responder roles to actively participating in aerial flights and training, the 99th AMDS provides a support role to the Nellis and Creech aircrews in aim of their mission.