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The Flight Surgeon

The Flight Surgeon

Welcome to the exciting world of Flight Medicine! Also referred to as either Aerospace Medicine or Aviation Medicine, this specialized branch of Occupational Medicine focuses on the unique medical needs required by professionals and enthusiasts of aviation.   Although many medical students and even doctors are unaware of this medical discipline, the chosen few who have entered aviation medicine find a fascinating world full of unique opportunities. The umbrella term Flight Medicine can be separated into three broad divisions – Civilian Aviation Medicine, Military Aviation Medicine, and Space Medicine.

 

Dive Medicine and Wilderness Medicine do not technically fall under the category of Aerospace, but the similar practice of medicine with patients of normal physiology in an abnormal environment lends to significant areas of overlap between these disciplines.

 

 

 

Related posts

Pilot Education: LASER Exposure & Eye Injury

LASER exposure continues to be an increasingly frequent problem in both military and civilian aviation.  Typically, these exposures arise from people pointing green commercial LASERs directly at flying aircraft.       The FAA has been tracking the number of LASER incidents since 2005. This number has been increasing every[...Click Below to Read More]

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LASER Eye Injuries in Aircrew

A separate post written as a resource for pilots and aircrew on LASER exposure/eye injury can be found here.    The crux of aerospace medicine is the identification of medical conditions that lead to sudden and unanticipated incapacitation of the flyer. Screening for disease is performed during the initial flight[...Click Below to Read More]

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Become an Aviation Medical Examiner Today!

Last weekend, I attended a medical seminar held by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Denver, CO.  The seminar was a refresher training seminar for Aviation Medical Examiners (AME).  Although I had not yet been designated an AME, my experience and training as a USAF flight surgeon allowed me to[...Click Below to Read More]

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Top Knife – Fighter Pilot Tactics for Flight Docs

This article discusses an awesome opportunity specifically designed for USAF flight surgeons to gain a firmer understanding on fighter and combat aircraft operations.  This course is a good use of time for any military flight surgeon, but is an absolute necessity for any flight doc assigned to a fighter squadron,[...Click Below to Read More]

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In Flight Emergency – Cabin Pressure & Hypoxia

I was recently in Estonia for a NATO military training exercise.  Flying in the back seat of an F-16D (two seater), I was ‘gently’ reminded of the importance of human factors in flight and the constant, inherent danger in combat aviation.  Even in the training environment, significant risks and aeromedical stressors[...Click Below to Read More]

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Clearing Your Ears

Most aviators learn early in their career that flying with a simple upper respiratory infection or seasonal allergies can be painful.  Gases in the sinuses and middle ear expand in accordance with Boyles Law as altitude increases and pressure decreases. [For a full discussion on the Gas Laws that apply[...Click Below to Read More]

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‘Fitness for Flight’ – Mental Health & Antidepressants

The recent Germanwings tragedy has called commercial aviation’s concept of ‘Fitness for Flight’ into question.  In case the reader has just returned from a week long hike in the wilderness and missed the news headlines – on 24 March 2014 an Airbus 320 carrying 150 passengers destined for Dusseldorf, Germany from[...Click Below to Read More]

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U.S. Military Aerospace Physiology

Aerospace and Operational Physiology (AOP) has the unique challenge of bridging physiologic sciences with the operational environment.  Many people think “they just work with pilots and do altitude chamber training.”  While we do frequently work with pilots and other aircrew, many are unaware of other human factor issues on which[...Click Below to Read More]

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Does Bilberry Extract Improve Night Vision in Pilots?

BLUF:  Bilberry is probably not effective in improving night vision visual acuity or contrast recognition. It recently was brought to my attention that some pilots have added bilberry to their diets and others have been willing to shell out cold hard cash on bilberry extracts or leaves in pill form.  Why? For[...Click Below to Read More]

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The USAF Pilot-Physician Program

I have been thoroughly blessed to serve as an active member of the USAF Pilot Physician Program (PPP) officially since 2008 but unofficially since 2002, when I entered pilot training as a “former flight surgeon”.  Although the USAF Pilot Physician Program was officially created in 1954, the legacy of medical[...Click Below to Read More]

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Gas Laws in Aerospace Physiology

There exist a huge number of Laws in Physics & Chemistry.  However, there are only a few that are really important in aerospace medicine.  Most of these are the basic Gas Laws. Let’s review some of the most important ones.         Ideal Gas Law  PV = nRT[...Click Below to Read More]

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Dr Story Musgrave – Physician, Pilot, Astronaut

I recall seeing an inspiring commercial from US Navy recruiters (see below) some years ago.  After showing a series of action-packed video clips, the narrator asks the provocative question: “If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?” When I first learned about Dr Story Musgrave and[...Click Below to Read More]

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Ground Collision Avoidance Technology

On a recent flight in a Block 40 F-16 with our squadron’s weapons officer I was introduced to the new pilot-activated recovery system (PARS).  Starting at about 20,000 feet (FL 200) we rolled inverted and started a rapid 30 degree nose-low dive.  The pilot pressed a button initiating the PARS.  Immediately the[...Click Below to Read More]

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Aviation Podcast “Slipstream Radio” Features GFM

In January 2014, F-22 Raptor driver and creator of TallyOne, Rob “Shotz” Burgon partnered with commercial aviator Brent Owens of iFlyBlog to create a unique podcast for aviation enthusiasts called Slipstream Radio. This past week, Slipstream Radio discusses topics relevant to aviation medicine and featured GoFlightMedicine during an interview with GFM creator, Rocky “Apollo”[...Click Below to Read More]

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Investigating Pilot Error in Plane Crashes: A Human Factors Analysis

Although horrific plane crashes continue to make the headlines and the media seems to agitate the public by suggesting otherwise, traveling by air remains the safest form of transportation.  Period.  According to data compiled by the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archive, there were 265 fatalities during air travel in 2013[...Click Below to Read More]

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The Risk of Flight – Training Accidents

Guest post by fighter pilot and editor of Tally One Rob Burgon When was the last time you remember hearing about a U.S. fighter aircraft being lost in air-to-air combat?  How about the last time one of our fighters was shot down in combat?  I bet you’d really have to dig for[...Click Below to Read More]

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Why do Flight Surgeons Fly?

In the United States, Flight Surgeon is the title used by the military (and NASA) to designate a medical doctor who has completed specialized training in aerospace medicine and has been awarded an aeronautical rating.  This contrasts with the term Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) used by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA).  AME’s lack the flying requirement that flight[...Click Below to Read More]

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KLM-Panam Tenerife Disaster

The Boeing 747 was first introduced in 1970 by Panam Airlines. The 747 was the first aircraft to earn the moniker ‘Jumbo Jet’, which has now become synonymous with all large passenger aircraft.  Even after more than 3 decades, this incredible double-decker aircraft remains one of the largest in the fleet today.[...Click Below to Read More]

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Dietary Supplements in Aircrew

“Ok, I got this nailed- Vitamin M, dip, coffee, Jack & Coke.  That’s what makes a fighter pilot” ~ Anonymous Fighter Pilot Although this may be the typical formula that fighter pilots from decades past relied on for optimal performance, the modern combat aviator tends to take a much more sophisticated[...Click Below to Read More]

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Incentive & Familiarization Flights in Military Fighter Jets

Many times large number of incentive and familiarization flights are offered to maintenance and operational support personnel during temporary duty (TDY) deployments.  Flight surgeons play a crucial role in this process educating and medically clearing potential candidates.  In this setting, the flight surgeon may be without their standard materials, computer,[...Click Below to Read More]

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Cosmic Radiation

Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR’s) are considered a threat to aviators, flight crews and frequent air travelers.  This risk to astronauts is even greater (possibly even lethal) and continues to pose a significant obstacle to long expeditions into outer space.  Cosmic radiation is comprised of high-energy subatomic particles from all of the natural elements[...Click Below to Read More]

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Ebola Risk & Response for Airlines

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a webpage dedicated to providing updated recommendations to airlines on high-interest infectious diseases.  The current website offers guidance to airlines on the measles, flu, cholera, and Middle-East respiratory syndrome (MERS).  On August 11 2014, they added airline guidance for Ebola. Ultimately, the CDC’s recommendations emphasize[...Click Below to Read More]

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Tarnak Farm – Reckless Pilots, Speed, or Fog of War?

On 17 April 2002, as the Afghanistan conflict was escalating, a friendly-fire incident swept the headlines. An American F-16 being flown by an Air National Guard pilot mistook Canadians training in a live fire drill for Taliban insurgents and dropped a 500-pound laser guided bomb (LGB) directly on target. The result[...Click Below to Read More]

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Stimulants & Sleep Aids in Military Aviation

Chemical stimulants and sleeping aids have a long history of use in improving performance in military personnel.  The first pharmacologic stimulant, Amphetamine, became available by prescription in 1937.  It was used in WWII by the Japanese and Germans of the Axis Powers and the British on the Allied side.  The American military[...Click Below to Read More]

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United Airlines 173 – The Need for CRM

In late December 1978, a United Airlines commercial aircraft DC-8 carrying 181 passengers and 8 crew crashed outside Portland, Oregon.  8 passengers and 2 crew members died.  Although the crew did encounter a real malfunction of the aircraft, ultimately the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) investigation concluded it was the[...Click Below to Read More]

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Ejection Seat Safety & Reliability Improvement Program

Legislators of the Armed Services Committee recently published comments on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. This federal law is passed every year and specifies the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense. The 2014 law authorized a spending of $607 billion. It should be[...Click Below to Read More]

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Combat Stress Response & Tactical Breathing

I recently finished the book, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace, by former Army Ranger turned psychologist, Lt Col (ret.) Dave Grossman.  Although I have some concerns on how rigorous the science is behind most of the books precepts, the general concepts[...Click Below to Read More]

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Thermal Stress in the Cockpit

Fighter aircraft are commonly home to locations with stable weather patterns and abundant airspace for training purposes.  Many times, these advantages for military flight operations also coincide with very high temperatures.  Additionally, military aircraft often deploy to either hot arid desert or high-humidity tropical  climates.  Unfortunately, heat stress significantly diminishes performance[...Click Below to Read More]

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JFK Jr Piper Saratoga Mishap

On 16 July 1999, the son of former President John F. Kennedy took off in his privately-owned Piper Saratoga from New Jersey bound for Martha’s Vineyard. Although he held a private pilot’s license without an instrument rating, he departed in marginal weather at night. Accompanied by his wife, Carolyn Bessette[...Click Below to Read More]

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First Fatal Mishap in Powered Flight – Orville Wright & Lt Selfridge

Almost 5 years after the historic birth of controlled flight at Kitty Hawk, an updated version of the Wright Flyer was involved in the first fatal aircraft mishap in powered flight.  Many early pioneers in aviation, like Otto Lilienthal, had already sacrificed their lives in lighter-than-air and glider ventures, but powered[...Click Below to Read More]

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Combating Fighter Pilot Fatigue

Pilot fatigue is a constant threat to all aircrew. There are particular risk factors for those flying high-performance fighter platforms. Flying high-G sorties is physically exhausting. This is an tiring business and even well-rested pilots will find themselves fatigued from the physical and mental demands of combat flight operations. In order[...Click Below to Read More]

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First American Physician in Space: Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin

Happy 82nd birthday to Dr. Joseph Peter Kerwin!! Dr Kerwin was the first American physician to be selected as an astronaut and sent to outer space by NASA. Born 19 February 1932, Dr Kerwin was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in 1965 and served as science pilot for the[...Click Below to Read More]

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Be a Better G-Monster: The Anti-G Straining Maneuver (AGSM)

This installment will review the effect of G’s on the human body, the Anti-G Straining Maneuver (AGSM) and how you as the modern fighter pilot can decrease the likelihood of being the victim of a G-LOC (G-induced loss of consciousness). With the introduction of the new full-coverage G-suit, we expect[...Click Below to Read More]

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Trapped Gas – Air Expansion at Altitude

How many people have flown on a long commercial flight and landed at their destination only to find that a toiletry container had opened and spilled its contents all over their luggage? What causes this mysterious spilling of shampoos and lotions you may ask? And what does Dr Antonio Valsalva[...Click Below to Read More]

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Aeromedical Standards & Fitness for Flight

Aerospace Medicine is essentially a branch of occupational medicine. Unlike traditional medical disciplines where a patient in a normal environment experiences abnormal diseases and pathology, occupational medicine often provides medical services to patients of normal health and physiology in an abnormal environment. There are a variety of industries in which workers[...Click Below to Read More]

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Hypoxia in Aviation

Before becoming a flight doc, I often felt skeptical as the flight attendant showcased what appeared to be a yellow Dixie cup connected to an empty IV bag prior to takeoff on commercial airliners. This darting glance wavered as my attention faded. Then, it was back to a few precious final minutes[...Click Below to Read More]

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Decompression Illness in Aviation

Before English chemist, William Henry, took his own life in 1836, he discovered a simple physics law to explain how gas behaves in solution. This gas law, now appropriately known as Henry’s Law, together with Boyle’s Law, form the basis of the pathophysiology and treatment for Decompression Illness. Henry’s Law[...Click Below to Read More]

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Pulling G’s – The Effects of G-Forces on the Human Body

“After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden and drank thea, under the shade of some apple trees…he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasion’d by the fall of an apple,[...Click Below to Read More]

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Spatial Disorientation

Spatial disorientation (commonly referred to as Spatial-D) is the inability to determine one’s position, location, and motion relative to their environment. Spatial-D along with G-induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) are two of the most common causes of fatality from human factors in military aviation. Spatial-D regularly affects pilots in all aircraft, whereas only[...Click Below to Read More]

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