Preserving fighter pilot readiness through preventative care

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Delaney Gonzales
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Preventive wellness programs are key to ensuring the longevity of a pilot’s career. During their day-to-day operations, fighter pilots undergo significant surges in G-force, which increases their likelihood for injuries. Ultimately, this can affect their ability to stay in the cockpit – decreasing their capability to fulfill assignments for worldwide deployments.

By preserving the overall health and fitness of the force’s experienced fighter pilots, the Air Force’s lethality is amplified to new heights – contributing to Air Dominance. 

“Based on a normal day with normal people, we withstand about one G of gravity, but fighter pilots can withstand up to nine Gs depending on the maneuvering of their aircraft,” said Diana Zaichenko, 71st Fighter Training Squadron athletic trainer. “That takes a tremendous toll on their body.”

In light of these health concerns, the Optimizing the Human Weapons System program was created to combat potential injuries that pilots are more susceptible to, thus strengthening the Air Force’s operational readiness.

The 1st Fighter Wing partnered with the 633d Air Base Wing to turn this into a reality for our resident fighter pilots.

 “The idea behind it is that jet pilots should be treated as collegiate athletes or weapons in their own right,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Morgan Carpenter, 633rd Medical Support Squadron Nutritional Medicine flight commander and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, registered dietician. “We should be doing everything in our power to make sure they are healthy from the inside-out.”

“The main goal of this is for us to come together as a team and ensure their necks and backs stay protected, so they can have a long career,” Carpenter added.

Neck and back injuries are common in individuals who experience significant compression from G-forces. OHWS takes the necessary steps through preventative care to reduce the rate at which these injuries occur.

“[OHWS] is just making sure pilots can get ready and stay ready for duty and deployment,” said Kosta Telegadas, OHWS strength and conditioning specialist. “For [the pilots] it’s also going to mean a reduction in pain by increasing their performance metrics so they can do better under high G flying.”

The Langley OHWS team is comprised of athletic trainers, massage therapists, a strength coach, a dietician and a physical therapist.

When a pilot becomes part of the program, the OHWS team quickly determines their health and fitness baseline. Afterwards, the pilot receives training and guidance to help develop their overall wellness plan in an effort to decrease the possibility of experiencing G-force related trauma.

The following are the four basic assessments the Langley OHWS program uses to annotate and track its participants’ health baseline and fitness improvement:

  • The InBody Composition Analyzer assesses each pilot’s body composition to include their body fat percentage and pounds of lean/skeletal muscle.
  • The Functional Movement Screening determines if there is any dysfunction in fundamental movement or motor control, which provides insight into their chance of sustaining an injury.
  • The Three Rep Max Trap Bar Assessment gauges the pilot’s total-body strength.
  • The Maximal Aerobic Speed Test establishes the pilot’s overall aerobic fitness level.

The main goal of the program is to reduce the risk of injuries; however, when injuries do arise, the OHWS team also supports recovery efforts.

“[Physical therapists] help any of the pilots who are specifically injured— if they have an area that is painful or tight, we will help them through that rehabilitation process,” explained Lt. Col. Becky Azama, 633rd Medical Group physical therapist.

OHWS is just one advancement contributing to the enhancement the Air Force’s total force capabilities—innovative processes such as this program are blossoming across the globe, paving the way for tomorrow’s military.