JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- By 1914, the world’s militaries began to see the value of the new flying machine.
The mishap rate in that first year was abysmal. The British discovered that out of 100 aircraft related deaths, eight were due to mechanical problems, and only two were shot down.
The remaining 90 were a direct result of human factors. Consequently, considerable thought was put into human performance and aviation.
In the U.S. Air Force, aerospace physiologists study how the human body works within the parameters of the aerospace environment. They have always been organized within the medical career field…until now.
This year, the career field is transitioning to a new Air Force Specialty Code. The new AFSC is correlated to the operational side of the force, alongside the aircraft.
“I feel like it is a benefit and a new way of aligning to the Air Force mission,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Justin Recklau, Aerospace and Operational Physiology director, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. “It takes away a lot of the barriers. You really must be with the aircrew and experience what they go through day-to-day, to fully understand the lifestyle. They work significant hours in a demanding career that is accompanied by frequent circadian rhythm changes. That can become a tough situation for the human body.”
In tandem with his primary mission, as the sole facilitator in the Northeast for aircrew members to accomplish mandatory flight qualifications, Recklau has initiated a commander-approved study on JB MDL aircrew fatigue.
“My goal is to create a culture shift toward optimal human performance,” said Recklau. “One of the challenges that I am always up against is that people view the need for rest as weakness. Yet, the science just does not show that to be true.”
JB MDL is set to become the premier joint base to operate the next-generation refueling aircraft, the KC-46 Pegasus. Although it is a welcome asset that brings multiple positive expectations, it doesn’t come without new challenges to overcome.
“Sunsetting the KC-10 and bringing on the KC-46 will certainly reveal a degree of physiological issues,” said Recklau. “It is a dramatically different experience, specifically from a boom-operators’ perspective.”
Physiology conforms to the scientific method of exploring the differences and learning the challenges, and then distinguishing ways that things could be improved.
“It all starts with comprehending the mission-set, and then we determine how to optimize the human in that,” said Recklau. “After avoiding hypoxia, hyperventilating, or any of those type of issues, it is very much connecting assets that are available to the base. I believe the Air Force is committed to improving mission effectiveness, as well as improving the Airman’s quality of life. The continued pursuit of optimal human performance aspires to bridge the gap and produce benefits on both sides.”
The new AFSC is expected be official by this October.