Medical aspects of flight on show at Albatross

Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), ABIS Bonny Gassner (photographer)

Aviation Medicine students from New Zealand's Otago University visit the Fleet Air Arm Museum, HMAS Albatross. (photo: ABIS Bonny Gassner)
Aviation Medicine students from New Zealand's Otago University visit the Fleet Air Arm Museum, HMAS Albatross.

Doctor Glenn Pascoe holds a unique position within the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.  As the Specialist Medical Advisor Aviation Medicine he is required to maintain oversight of all medical fitness and human performance issues for Navy aircrew.

Dr Pascoe was recently able to pass on some of his experience of these unique challenges when 16 aspiring aviation medicine specialists visited HMAS Albatross.

The students, who are undertaking a Diploma and Masters in Aviation Medicine Program with New Zealand’s Otago University had travelled from their homes in Finland, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and Canada to participate in the annual residential course, which also provides a rare opportunity for the students and lecturers to physically meet, because their I.T. interactive distance program replaces the traditional classroom.

The day trip to Albatross provided the students with the opportunity to learn about military aspects of aerospace medicine with a specific focus on the requirements of naval aviation, such as flying over water and deck landings.

Dr Pascoe said there were many aviation medicine issues that helicopter aircrew faced and some specific to the military.

“These issues include general physiological challenges associated with flying, such as changes in air pressure, temperature, vibration, noise, potential for disorientation, visually demanding tasks and fatigue. Add to this use of night vision goggles and various military war fighting systems,” Dr Pascoe said.

“Flying a helicopter for the Navy is particularly challenging with precision flying requirements in order to safely get the aircraft back onto a moving flight deck, often in poor flying conditions. Thus we require our aircrew to be optimally trained and prepared for this challenging task, including understanding of the ways to deal with the physiological stressors of flight,” he said.

Dr Ben Johnson, Clinical Senior Lecturer Occupational and Aviation Medicine, said the experience gained from visiting various aviation work sites was invaluable for the students.

“It allows them to see first hand some of the things studied in the course. They gain a direct appreciation of being able to see the actual aircraft, the environment the aviators work in, the physical space involved and the equipment that they wear. They also get to speak first hand with the pilots and other crew about some of the challenges they face in their work place and to medical personnel who work with them.”

“This gives them a chance to get a more in depth understanding of some of the real practical issues facing people who work in aviation from a medical perspective,” Dr Johnson said.

Dr Pascoe agreed that the one of the most valuable aspects of the visit was the opportunity for the students to put some of their theory into perspective.

“Hopefully it may also encourage an interest in Military Aviation Medicine,” he added.