Engineering | The Polytechnic School

Del E. Webb High Altitude Training Chamber

Arizona State University is one of two universities in the United States that offers altitude chamber training courses related to recognition, treatment, and prevention of hypoxia.

The facilities at ASU Polytechnic campus feature two hypobaric chambers. The larger chamber is used predominantly for training purposes. The other is setup for research studies. Both are operationally flexible in that the rate of decompression can be a gentle climb to altitude or an explosive decompression. Both are capable of altitudes above 75,000 feet.

The Aviation Physiology and Human Factors courses conducted by ASU have been approved by Federal Aviation Administration (FAR Part 141). Altitude chamber training also is available to general aviation, commercial, corporate and government aircrew members, as well as other high-altitude enthusiasts.  All High Altitude Chamber participants are required by FAA regulations to read, speak, write and understand the English language.

Research, Testing, and Other Altitude Chamber Applications

Physiological Training for Altitude Operations

Why is physiological training important?

Inherent in aviation is the exposure to altitude. Increases in altitude result in a decrease in atmospheric pressure. Therefore, the risk of hypoxia is always present. The simplest definition of hypoxia is a deficiency of oxygen. The symptoms of hypoxia can range from unperceivable for most people at altitudes below 8,000 feet to incapacitating in seconds above 30,000 feet. The potential for exposure always exists. If protective equipment fails, and that does occur relatively often, the individual needs to be able to readily recognize their personal responses to hypoxia so that corrective action can immediately be taken to minimize the risk of impairment. Those not properly trained to recognize the symptoms of hypoxia are at a much greater risk of impairment progressing to unconsciousness and, potentially, death through lack of oxygen or the crash of an aircraft. These facts have been a part of aviation from the first balloon flights through current modern aircraft. There are other physiological problems related to altitude exposure. Similar to hypoxia, understanding them, the underlying causes, and associated mitigation strategies results in a much safer flight environment for everyone.

Basic Aviation Physiological Training Course

This course is consistent with the recommendations of the United States Air Force through AFI 11-403 and Federal Aviation Administration AC 61-107B. It is a one day training course covering the basic information regarding many of the physiological and psychological stresses that impact human performance at altitude. The first half of the day consists of classroom lectures and familiarization with oxygen equipment used during the chamber flight. The afternoon session is predominated by the chamber flight and associated pre and post flight discussions with participants. The chamber flight itself includes responses and performance during hypoxia (25,000 feet), rapid decompression (6,000 to 18,000 feet) and a demonstration of the impact of hypoxia on night vision.

This course and exercises at altitude familiarize each person with the knowledge of their individual response. Though generalized responses are very well known, how one cognitively perceives hypoxic symptoms is truly a unique experience influenced by a combination of factors such as age, gender, physical condition, and generalized stress levels. It is knowing and being able to recognize those symptoms as triggers to take action that have the potential to someday save your life and/or the lives of others in an aircraft.

Though aviation is the primary focus the benefits are not limited to aviators. Anyone that participates in activities at high terrestrial altitudes will benefit from this information and experience. Skiers, mountain climbers, athletes, and special operations people can all substantially profit from not only knowing their responses to hypoxia but having a basic understanding of the factors underlying the challenge of altitude.

Research Chamber and Capabilities

The research infrastructure currently offers unmatched abilities for a facility that is readily available to both government and civilian sectors worldwide. These include:

  • Accurate measurement of gas concentrations to 60,000 feet
  • Absolute cerebral oximetry
  • High performance pulse oximetry
  • Blood Pressure monitoring across altitudes
  • 12 lead EKG
  • Advanced breathing simulators
  • Temperature & Humidity monitoring
  • Pressure, Flow monitoring and control
  • Cycle ergometer, Treadmill
  • Computer Based Data Acquisition and Control

A major advantage of our environment is the flexibility we have to tailor resources and schedules to customer needs. We prioritize planning and subsequent schedules to have the important information available for effective decision making in terms of development or deadline requirements. Projects and programs can move forward efficiently saving resources in both the short and long term.

Through the years we have supported equipment testing at altitude, product development, performance for operational applications (military) and certification testing for commercial aviation companies. Examples include:

  • HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) Parachutist Support
  • Performance Criteria for Aviation Oxygen Systems Optimization
  • Space Suit Testing for Sub-Orbital Exposure
  • Transport Aviation Passenger Oxygen Systems Development & Certification
  • Transport Aviation Crew Oxygen Systems Development & Certification

In the course of these efforts, numerous protocols have been developed utilizing the use of human test subjects. All standards are regulations regarding human subject use are met and associated documentation approved by accredited institutional review board. Three examples of previous projects include:

  • Certification for aviation oxygen delivery system based on dose technology
  • Identification of hypoxia triggers for pilots of high performance aircraft
  • Oxygen delivery to attenuate the onset of hypoxia from rapid exposure to altitude

Chamber research operations are supported by a staff of dedicated individuals with long standing interest and experience in operational and developmental aerospace physiological issues both in terms of human responses and protective measures. We have created a collaborative environment including classrooms, conference room, and work spaces for visitors in addition to the chamber areas. These  are a valuable resource for any project that involves altitude operations supporting the current and future needs in aeronautical and aerospace endeavors.