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Neck pain takes flight

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Neck pain, especially for pilots, can be an occupational problem in the military. Addressing early symptoms of neck pain and certain exercises may help prevent chronic neck pain.

Neck pain in military pilots, particularly helicopter and fighter jet pilots, is a major concern. Conditions inherent in flying helicopters and jets put these pilots (and crew) at a greater risk for developing neck pain due to misaligned postures, the use of additional equipment on their helmets, and exposure to high G-forces. Effectiveness and readiness are compromised if a pilot is can’t fly because of pain. Pilots sometimes forego medical treatment for fear of being grounded or losing their flight status and, as a result, pain is left untreated.

Exercise programs specifically for strengthening the neck area can be helpful in preventing pain. “G-warmup” maneuvers can also be beneficial to prepare a fighter pilot for high G-forces. Military researchers are looking at improving and updating the ergonomics of aircraft seats and cockpits, as well as helmet fit. In the meantime, see your doctor if your neck pain doesn’t improve with rest and basic at-home treatments. And for more information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal.

F-22 jets under fire

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
On September 13, Air Force officials met on Capitol Hill to address the House Armed Services Committee over concerns about the physiological dangers of flying F-22s.

Why has the F-22 Raptor been depriving its pilots of oxygen for the last 12 years? Air Force officials recently told a House subcommittee hearing (a complete video of the two-hour hearing is also available) that they don’t know what’s behind the dizziness, confusion, blackouts, memory loss, fatigue, and eventually chronic cough (“Raptor cough”) that pilots experience while flying the stealth jets. After more than a dozen incidents between 2000 and 2011—and one fatal crash—where pilots were being choked by the plane, the Air Force’s entire F-22 fleet was grounded in May 2011.

Investigations ruled out low blood sugar and dehydration as possible causes of the symptoms and eventually concluded that the problem was an overinflated pressure vest that restricted breathing.

In response, a team of NASA engineers and Navy divers developed a new-and-improved pressure suit and back-up oxygen systems and removed a faulty charcoal air filter. These measures seem to have alleviated the problems—a dozen F-22s recently were deployed to Japan without incident. Now restrictions are being lifted, although the jets and their pilots are being closely monitored. Pilots currently must operate under altitude ceilings so that they don’t need to use the flight vests, and they must also stay close to emergency landing sites. Experts and scientists continue to investigate the primary cause of these incidents as well as improve safety and back-up systems.

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