By Dr. Lionel D. Alford, Jr.
9 and 11 January 2012
Back in the Baron for a business trip. This was the best kind of business trip. I went down to Oklahoma City (OKC) for FAA physiological and survival training. The trip down was too easy. I flew IFR so there was a STAR (Standard Instrument Arrival) to contend with, and I flew to Will Rogers World (OKC) airport. The controllers did a great job and I didn’t have any problems. The traffic wasn’t that busy at the time.
What was great was the training. The official count is in, this was my 9th altitude chamber ride. My first was with the Navy in Washington State. My second and ninth was with the same physiology trainer, JR. JR was teaching physiology training at Laughlin AFB where I went through Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT). He’s working for the FAA now. Isn’t that something?
The purpose of physiology training and a chamber ride is to make you familiar with hypoxia (lack of oxygen) at altitude and your symptoms. The reason is that if you encounter hypoxia in flight, you will be able to do something about it before you lose consciousness. I found out for the first time why I don’t succumb to the worst effects of hypoxia like most people do–my blood oxygen was still at 70% at 5 minutes at 25,000 feet. I would have liked to go another minute to see what would happen. Maybe my slow heartbeat has something to do with it. During a chamber ride, you get to experience a rapid decompression (I’ve had two real ones) from 8,000 to 18,000 feet, you get to go hypoxic at 25,000 feet, and you get a demo of night vision loss due to hypoxia at 18,000 feet. The altitude chamber rides are all about the same–the training is necessary for high altitude fliers.
The next day was survival training and I got to do two events I never had before. I’ve been to many survival training schools and classes, but the FAA has a fuselage set up like a jet liner that you can practice evacuations from. The trick is that they fill the fuselage with theatrical smoke. The smoke is so thick you can’t see you hand in front of your face. We had seven people in our class and we lost two during the exercise. This was great practice and one that very few people get to experience.
The second new experience was escaping an inversion seat in the pool. You strap into a seat in a framework with seat and shoulder belts, they flip you upside down, and you have to unfasten the seatbelts and escape the framework. I don’t think I did it in UPT, but if I did this was a great refresher. These were just the peaks of the details, the overall training was excellent. I recommend it for anyone who can do it. If you have never been to physiological or survival training, do it with the FAA. The cost is very low and the instruction is fantastic.
My return to Wichita (AAO) was a little more exciting than the trip down. On the way, the weather was cloudy. I picked up light rime icing and turned on the prop and hit the windshield anti-icing. I did blow up the wings once, but the icing was so little it didn’t do anything. There was only about a half inch on the ends of the wings. The winds at 9,000 feet were light, but on the surface, when I took off they were gusting to 35 knots and at AAO, they were gusting to 42 knots. Luckily they weren’t much off the runway centerline only 20 to 30 degrees. I flew the GPS LNAV approach to 36 at Jabara. The plane flew great. The landing was a little sporty, but the aircraft handled well. THe big problem was when I stopped and started to unpack. My plane was bouncing around and the two Lear Jets in front of me were bouncing around. That will really get your attentions. Plus, when you see four linemen and a towing tractor fighting a Cessna into position, you know it’s windy.