Ministry of Defence
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Aviation medics push limits to protect RAF aircrews

The RAF Centre for Aviation Medicine (RAF CAM) has been pushing the boundaries to keep combat pilots safe for the last ten years - now they are raising the technological stakes to a new level in the fight against the Taliban.     Report by Neale Adams.

Tornado GR4 crews currently deployed to Afghanistan are already benefiting from high-tech lifesaving equipment that has been tested and developed at the famous MOD site at Boscombe Down.

As well as the RAF CAM headquarters at RAF Henlow, there is an Aviation Medicine Flight at MOD Boscombe Down that flies two Hawk T1 jets that are specially adapted to test equipment such as pilots' G-suits, helmets, hearing protection and oxygen systems.

Apart from the Typhoon, the Hawks are the only aircraft in the RAF which are cleared to regularly fly at 9G and were instrumental in helping to test equipment being used in the Typhoon. The Aviation Medicine Flight is also assisting with the Joint Strike Fighter programme.

But the Flight is not just about testing equipment, as it also helps aircrew combat air sickness issues or helps to rebuild their flying ability after an injury.

Officer Commanding Aviation Medicine Flight, Squadron Leader Gaz Kennedy, said:

"We will trial new equipment coming into service, or modifications to existing equipment, to ensure they are 'fit for purpose'. Helmets with new night-vision goggles for example or oxygen masks must be comfortable for the pilot and not restrict their ability to fly.

"Any aircrew who suffer from air sickness or have had an injury will be referred to us through RAF CAM and we will put them through a flying programme tailored to their needs.

"A pilot with a neck injury cannot immediately fly up to 9G, so we will help to build up their ability to withstand G."

The Hawks are fitted with extra data recorders and all information is retained and later analysed to weed out any problems.

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