A new Research using a new skill, Navy Aerospace Medical Institute (NAMI), a detachment of Navy Medicine Operational Training Center (NMOTC) investigated that could potentially become an early-warning signal to military pilots who are experiencing inflight physiologic events such as hypoxia.The senior medical officer of Naval Aviation Schools Command (NASC), who coordinates all NAMI research, is working with new Electroencephalogram (EEG) technology for use in hypoxia detection. 

Hypoxia is a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching tissues in the body, and can carry symptoms of confusion, rapid heart rate and shortness of breath. Navy pilots training in the T-45 and pilots flying the F/A-18 Super Hornet and even the new F-35 have reported physiological episodes because of oxygen deprivation. Helping make the project possible is the departure from “wet” gels and the multiple wires associated with traditional EEGs.

Conventional EEG equipment is perhaps best known for its use in sleep studies and evaluating seizure-type disorders. Instead, Rice is using new EEG technology that is wireless and uses highly conductive retractable silver coated electrodes.  Rice said the primary objective of this protocol is to detect brainwave patterns that correlate with a reduction in oxygen saturation and subsequently a reduction in cognitive performance.

If the group accomplishes this goal, the next phase would be to evaluate the technology in actual flight helmets where the data could be used as an early-warning sign for pilots who have become hypoxic or fatigued. Subjects are then fitted with a standard aviation flight mask, which is connected to the Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device (ROBD). The ROBD was co-developed by Rice and is used by NMOTC to train about 18,000 pilots and aircrew students a year.

The Dry-EEG is then placed on the subject’s head and is calibrated for everyone’s normal cognitive performance range. The subject is then given trials on a flight simulator at various altitudes and assorted levels of low- to high-stress environments. Cozad said, “Independent of the recent physiological episode events we’ve seen in the fleet, the research Capt. Rice and his team are conducting eventually points to a key enabler, and that is maintaining peak human performance in our fleet aircraft.”

“It’s motivating knowing our team’s hard work and ingenuity could save lives and help keep pilots and flight crews ready, healthy and on the job. That’s what our team, NAMI and Navy Medicine are all about.” NMOTC and its detachments are part of the Navy Medicine team, a global health care network of Navy medical professionals around the world who provide high-quality health care to more than one million eligible beneficiaries.