Job Demands in Naval Aviation

Andrew Markovits

The U.S. Navy Medical Corps is responsible not only for the care of all naval personnel, but also for the care of all Marine Corps personnel. Marine aviation is basically tactical and helicopter not particularly different from the aviation experience of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, so attention will be directed toward how Naval aviation differs from that of the other two armed services.

Most Naval personnel receive their eye care at Naval medical facilities. People at the cutting edge of Navy work, however, are people who get their eye (and other health) care on an aircraft carrier. Fleet carriers have between 2,500 and 3,000 “ship's company” aboard, with another couple of thousand people in the carrier air group. A missile frigate plus other support vessels in the fleet add another couple thousand people. The aircraft carrier is basically the home base for medical care at sea. The medical personnel on an aircraft carrier therefore look after about 7,000 to 8,000 people.

At present, there is no one with any special eye training aboard the carriers except Navy flight surgeons. The Navy has a 6-month course in aviation medicine, 6 weeks of which is flying and 4 1/2 months is didactic. We try to include as much practical ophthalmology and refraction into this time as we can. The Navy flight surgeon is a functional, if not an expert, refractionist when he finishes our course.

Naval aviators (pilots) are not permitted to wear contact lenses at this time. 1 Class 2 aviation personnel—the so-called backseaters, tactical bombardier/navigators, radar intercept officers, and flight surgeons, and enlisted

1  

There are certain helicopter squadrons requiring the use of chemical-biological-radiological protective hoods and laser protective goggles who are now waivered, and this policy is likely to be expanded.



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Considerations in Contact Lens Use Under Adverse Conditions: Proceedings of a Symposium Job Demands in Naval Aviation Andrew Markovits The U.S. Navy Medical Corps is responsible not only for the care of all naval personnel, but also for the care of all Marine Corps personnel. Marine aviation is basically tactical and helicopter not particularly different from the aviation experience of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, so attention will be directed toward how Naval aviation differs from that of the other two armed services. Most Naval personnel receive their eye care at Naval medical facilities. People at the cutting edge of Navy work, however, are people who get their eye (and other health) care on an aircraft carrier. Fleet carriers have between 2,500 and 3,000 “ship's company” aboard, with another couple of thousand people in the carrier air group. A missile frigate plus other support vessels in the fleet add another couple thousand people. The aircraft carrier is basically the home base for medical care at sea. The medical personnel on an aircraft carrier therefore look after about 7,000 to 8,000 people. At present, there is no one with any special eye training aboard the carriers except Navy flight surgeons. The Navy has a 6-month course in aviation medicine, 6 weeks of which is flying and 4 1/2 months is didactic. We try to include as much practical ophthalmology and refraction into this time as we can. The Navy flight surgeon is a functional, if not an expert, refractionist when he finishes our course. Naval aviators (pilots) are not permitted to wear contact lenses at this time. 1 Class 2 aviation personnel—the so-called backseaters, tactical bombardier/navigators, radar intercept officers, and flight surgeons, and enlisted 1   There are certain helicopter squadrons requiring the use of chemical-biological-radiological protective hoods and laser protective goggles who are now waivered, and this policy is likely to be expanded.

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Considerations in Contact Lens Use Under Adverse Conditions: Proceedings of a Symposium aircrew—are all allowed to wear contact lenses. About 90 percent of naval flight officers (NFOs) are ametropic, and 99 percent of them are in the backseat because of it. Until recently we were apparently the only service that had a large group of people who have legally been wearing contact lenses, that is, the NFOs and air crewmen. In most places, unfortunately, the Navy medical care system is unable to provide lenses, either their fitting or provision. CARRIER OPERATIONS Some things are specifically different about Naval aviation. Navy fliers, of course, have to land on shorter runways than most other pilots do. The carrier deck is 200 to 300 feet long with four wires to catch incoming planes. When the planes are caught, the pilots experience G forces of about 4 or 5 G's of “eyeballs out.” When the planes are on the catapult shot, they have the reverse, “eyeballs in.” I do not know of any particular problems with contact lenses in either case, although with glasses the possibilities are obvious. Once the pilots are down on the deck, they are still not home free. There are all kinds of tricky maneuvers to be done on the carrier deck, which frequently is pitching and rolling. Aircraft sometimes unfortunately roll off with people aboard, and, of course, the aircraft carrier turns into the wind to make launches and recoveries. A carrier is capable of about 30 knots, and on a good day with 20 knots of wind there can be up to 40 or 50 knots of air blowing across the flight deck. There are also jet fumes, particles, etc. If a pilot must eject, say, 100 miles from the carrier and he is in the water without his visual support, and if he is a myope, he could have a problem if he has to shine a mirror or fire a flare in the direction of a rescue aircraft. Another task is lining up the aircraft for refueling. The refueling line connects with the tanker; the final connection must be done, of course, in a few minutes. The depth perception of the pilot in this maneuver is what everything depends on. The other matter that must be dealt with in carrier aviation is the night landing; the trick is to get yourself lined up to try to steer the airplane onto the deck. Phil Briska, whom I replaced as Chief of Ophthalmology at NAMRI, was a carrier pilot and he swears that it cannot be done on a carrier with less than 20/40 vision, whereas, if flying onto a regular airfield, it could be done with 20/70 or 20/100 unconnected vision. HELICOPTER OPERATIONS As far as helicopters go, salt spray is more likely than fresh-water spray. I do not have any particular problem with a pilot study of contact lenses

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Considerations in Contact Lens Use Under Adverse Conditions: Proceedings of a Symposium with helicopter and patrol bomber and maritime people. Obviously, in certain cases helicopters with optical devices and protective chemical-biological-radiological gear clearly will put pilots with contact lenses at a disadvantage, although they probably will have fewer problems than with spectacles. We are considering waivers for ametropic pilots who must use CBR protective hoods to wear contacts. VISUAL ACUITY What is magic about 20/20 vision? It is my understanding that during the entire Vietnam war all air-to-air contact was initiated with visual identification because there were civilian airliners flying into Hanoi. It simply is not true that all work is being done with black boxes, radar sets, or electrooptical devices. But look what happens: if we had a fighter up there with that airbus in the Persian Gulf, I think he would have been able to tell the difference between an airbus and a hostile F-14. (I guess we have to pick the difference between a friendly and a hostile F-14 now.) Right now I am personally opposed to the use of contact lenses by Naval tactical aviators. The demands are a little different in Naval aviation, and, of course, there are concerns about support facilities. I do not know how we are going to get around that. I do not think that in the near future we are going to be able to put an optometrist or an ophthalmologist on every aircraft carrier to handle the problems that will arise.