Officer-led team to investigate physiologic events

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WASHINGTON — A general officer-led team will integrate and coordinate efforts to address aircrew Unexplained Physiologic Events, the Air Force announced Jan. 22.

Brig. Gen. Bobbi Jo Doorenbos will lead the UPE Integration Team, which will serve as Headquarters Air Force’s focal point for identifying solutions to optimize human performance in tactical aviation and eliminate or minimize the impact of UPEs.

A physiological event occurs when aircrew experience symptoms that can result from a variety of factors, including hypoxia, hypocapnia, hypercapnia or disorientation. These symptoms can hinder their ability to fly safely and effectively.

“As part of the integrated effort to address physiological events, the Air Force is providing more resources to understand UPEs, standardize response actions to such events and assess options for more robust aircrew training to recognize and respond to these events,” Doorenbos said. “Our ultimate goal is to prevent UPEs.”

Historically, rates for UPEs are low. However, heightened awareness has increased aircrew reporting of in-flight physiologic symptoms. This drives aggressive response actions from the Air Force and joint partners to address these events and implement recommendations to make operations safer.

Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, established the team to provide an operational focus for addressing UPEs and ensure prompt implementation of recommendations.

“Maximizing the performance of combat aircraft carries inherent risk, but it is our solemn duty as a service to provide the best equipment and training for our Airmen to ensure their safety is never compromised,” Nowland said. “The Air Force takes UPEs very seriously. Results from investigations into these events are shared between Air Force organizations, other military services and industry partners.”

Physiologic events are a recognized aviation hazard, so Air Force aircrew are trained to recognize and respond to physiological symptoms and safely recover their aircraft.

“Despite the serious nature of these events, the overall historic rate of UPEs is incredibly low. The probability that a pilot will experience a physiological event is less than 1 percent per year,” Doorenbos said. “Still, we are aggressively addressing these events and communicating with aircrew so they remain confident in their aircraft and weapon systems.”