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Hacking road map to physiological episodes mitigation in Air Force

  • Published
  • By Capt. Matt Murphy
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
The Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team, or AF PEAT, recently held a “hackathon” to update the service-wide road map to mitigate physiological episodes. Hackathons are sprint-like events where subject matter experts collaborate intensively to solve problems or establish a course of action.

Data scientists, engineers, human physiologists, pilots, maintenance leaders, acquisition professionals, and other defense experts spent the day hacking with representatives from academia and industry in Arlington to update the future course for reducing physiological episodes.

“Working closely with the Navy, NASA and other industry partners, the Air Force is making huge strides to better understand and solve issues,” said Brig. Gen. Edward Vaughan, AF PEAT team lead. “We are in a period of very positive, but disruptive, innovation. There are hundreds of efforts across the human physiology and aircraft ecosystems moving in many directions. AF PEAT brought some of the best minds together to establish a common roadmap with measurable milestones, while still permitting our network of designers to think and create solutions.”

The purpose of the AF PEAT is to make tactical aviation safer and more effective by collaborating, innovating, and accelerating solutions to physiological episodes. The AF PEAT’s full-day hackathon event covered essential topics to address physiological episodes from across the Air Force. Many of these concerns focus on coordination and communication between research, sensor development, and system improvements/redesign from the T-6 Texan II level, across other aircraft, and all the way up through Department of Defense level.

“This innovative approach to team problem solving helped fully develop our roadmap for the future. We are moving forward with real solutions and direction. Many of our efforts over the past years are already yielding results,” said Maj. Christi Opresko, chief, Aircrew Support Branch, an aerospace and operational physiologist, and chief of staff for the AF PEAT.

Ms. Jennifer Farrell, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Human Systems Program Office chief engineer, leads a team assessing the effectiveness of aircrew flight equipment such as helmets and wearables. “The secretary of the Air Force has unleashed all of us to think differently, be creative, and tear down organizational stove pipes to solve problems,” Farrell said. “Physiological episodes happen to people, not equipment. We must focus on design that enhances the human element.”

Event discussions ranged from simple algorithms, to data parsing, to deep learning. Some areas of interest included planning human sensor testing phase requirements from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center along with the Civil Air Patrol assisting with sensor testing and acquisition. Industry partners also played a key role.

Google senior artificial intelligence managers participated to provide some framework on how the AF PEAT can leverage technology and move into the future faster. “We’re moving from a null set of data regarding humans in the loop, to an overwhelming big data challenge,” said Vaughan. “We will lean heavily on industry experts to help us collect, model, and apply these data.”

The original charter established by Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, then-Air Force deputy chief of staff, for operations, created an integration team, now the AF PEAT, whose purpose is serve as AF/A3's focal point for recommending actions to prevent physiological episodes. According to AF PEAT, Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, Nowland's successor, tasked Vaughan and his team to accelerate ongoing efforts, push innovation forward faster, and drastically expand collaboration across all stakeholders. Since 2011, the Air Force has experienced physiological episodes affecting several aircraft fleets, to include the F-22 Raptor, F-15 Eagle, F-35 Lightning II, A-10 Thunderbolt II and T-6.